Ottawa-based DLS Technology Corporation knew it had a great idea with its vKey – a miniature computer that plugs into a desktop or laptop and can be remotely “locked down” and disabled if it is lost or stolen.
Algonquin College's Woodroffe Ave. entrance.
By David Sali
What it didn’t have was the back-end software to help clients manage all the systems necessary to keep the vKey secure.
That’s where Algonquin College stepped in. Students in the school’s applied research and innovation program worked with DLS and its customers to design and create an interface to help clients manage the vKey software and make it more user-friendly.
Thanks to easy-to-use software Algonquin students created, companies whose employees use the vKey now have a program that can instantly identify the owner of a missing thumb drive and decommission it so it can’t be hacked.
“In that way, all the company files are safe in the cloud in a server at the company end...It’s totally virtual,” said Lulu Davies, who is going into her second year in the school’s interactive media developer program.
Davies was one of more than 100 students taking part in Algonquin’s second annual summer Applied Research Day on Friday.
More than 30 student projects were on display at the college, ranging from the vKey software to Algonquin’s “solar decathlon” entry from a group of architecture, construction and computer science students who are part of a worldwide competition to design and build the most energy-efficient solar home.
The projects are funded partly by corporate clients, and the school of applied research also receives government grants.
The Applied Research Day started 11 years ago, but the college decided to add a summer event to its calendar last year due to the growing number of projects.
It’s all part of an effort to showcase how its students are applying the knowledge they’re gaining in the classroom to help achieve practical breakthroughs in the real world, said Mark Hoddenbagh, the director of applied research and innovation at Algonquin.
“We want to give the students the opportunity to have that real-life experience,” said Mr. Hoddenbagh. “In the real world, you have to be able to take ideas, present them and package them ... (and) this is a great venue for them to do that.”
Part of the program’s goal, he said, is to teach students not just how to come up with practical solutions to everyday problems, but how to pitch them to potential clients so that their products and ideas end up finding a market.
“The students love it because they get to be out there showcasing their discoveries and work that they’ve done,” he said. “They built the posters, they come up with the scripts, they do it all themselves. They’re learning some skill sets they might not otherwise have had.”
While Canadian colleges and universities are very good at theoretical research, “What we’re not very good at is taking those ideas and putting them in the marketplace. We can help them get to the marketplace more quickly.”
Mr. Hoddenbagh said the applied research program is a win-win for students and their collaborators in the corporate and government worlds.
“The people who are working with us think it’s great because it’s giving them exposure,” he said.
Ms. Davies agreed the program has taught her skills she couldn’t learn in a classroom.
“When we’re a student, we design something that we think is beautiful … but in the real world, you have to think about the user and your target audience,” she said. “This is a very good experience for students.”
For some participants, the program has another valuable spinoff benefit, Mr. Hoddenbagh said.
“We tell the students, you’re doing a four-month job interview or an eight-month job interview,” he said. “You could be working yourself into a job if everything works out right. Very often, we have students who are hired” by companies they collaborate with in the program.