Measuring Pilot Fatigue

Few Canadians are left unaffected by the more than 6,000 fires that burn across the country each year, damaging 3.95 million hectares – according to the National Wildland Fire Situation Report.

Among them, are the hundreds of men and women who pilot loaded airtankers above the treetops to battle the nearly 2,000 wildfires that swept across the province each summer.

For Conair — a company specializing in aerial forest fire fighting — and its staff of experienced pilots, this is a seasonal reality and the driving force behind a new collaboration with the UBC Survive and Thrive Applied Research (STAR) initiative.

In July 2015, the Consortium for Aerospace Research and Innovation in Canada (CARIC) announced funding for the innovative project that brings together partners, specially selected for their relevant experience and expertise, from across the country.

Over the past three years, UBC STAR researchers have been collaborating with Camosun College, Latitude Technologies and Conair to analyze past flight data, conduct fatigue tests in regular and simulator flight scenarios, and identify and quantify fatigue factors.


Preventing Concussion

A partnership between UBC Okanagan and Imperial College London (UK) focused on development of a new helmet that could one day reduce sports-related concussions.

Professors Peter Childs and Dan Plant from Imperial College collaborated with Professor Paul van Donkelaar, director of UBC’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences at UBC’s Okanagan campus to explore applications for a novel new material called Armourgel — a light, flexible material that absorbs shock on impact and can reduce physical harm from falls or other kinds of contact.

“Sport-related concussion is becoming a major concern for athletes, parents, coaches, and sport associations,” says van Donkelaar. “Finding ways to improve the safety of contact sports is one key approach to mitigating the risks of concussion. The development of Armourgel helmets could be a step in the right direction to making contact sports safer.”

Professor van Donkelaar worked with Armourgel and Kelowna’s Helios Global Technologies to develop a helmet liner that could lessen the impact of blows to the head, specifically in contact sports.  His research examined the damage sustained by young athletes who have been concussed while playing sports, particularly those who have had more than one concussion.

Part of this work examines how concussions can affect blood flow to the brain, how this impacts neurocognitive function, and how to determine when young athletes are physically ready to begin playing a contact sport again.

“The access to first-class equipment at the STAR facility, as well as the world-class knowledge and expertise at UBC, is truly valuable on a global scale—and especially beneficial to SMEs. Being a part of a larger interdisciplinary team through STAR allows us to further our research and try new things we otherwise couldn’t do.”

-Daniel Plant, Founder and Technology Inventor, Armourgel Ltd.
Fellow, Royal Academy of Engineering, Imperial College London


In van Donkelaar’s lab, Plant presented several variations of the Armourgel product, and explained how it can be manufactured in different thicknesses, and can be applied in many ways. The goal now is to work on a prototype helmet liner that may one day become standard safety equipment for those who play contact sports.


Building a Prototype

Peter O’Brien exemplifies the measure of a successful early-stage entrepreneur.

He went from sleeping on the floor of his mentor’s lab to becoming a wearable-technology entrepreneur and co-founder of the VO2 Master, the world’s first Bluetooth oxygen-sensing device for endurance athletes.

Maximal oxygen uptake — VO2 max — is an indicator of an athlete’s cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance. Results are typically monitored in a clinical setting, under strict protocols, and miles away from an athlete’s natural training environment on the road, trail or track.  Conventional VO2 analyzers are big, bulky and expensive. They weigh at least five pounds (2.3 kg), are the size of a breadbox, and cost upwards of $10,000.

In early 2013, he co-founded VO2 Master with his former coach and mentor, Dr. Andrew Sellars, a physician with more than 15 years of experience actively testing and training athletes.  The two teamed up to create a new VO2 monitoring device that would eliminate the barriers of existing commercial devices.

After a year of trial and error, O’Brien returned to UBC Okanagan for research guidance and technical support to design, build and test a prototype of his invention.  He connected with the UBC Survive and Thrive Applied Research (STAR) initiative and Associate Professor, Kenneth Chau, an electrical engineer in the School of Engineering.

With grant support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the National Research Council of Canada’s (NRC) Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), O’Brien began working with a group of undergraduate and master’s level co-op students in the School of Engineering to design a hardware solution for his device.

When O’Brien was ready to move to the prototype phase of development, he didn’t have to go far. UBC’s Survive and Thrive Applied Research (STAR) initiative offered him affordable access to a high-calibre 3D printer, technical expertise and liaison support just steps away from Chau’s lab.  Over two years and 18 major mechanical versions later, the team produced a palm-sized prototype that could collect quality oxygen-consumption data and transmit it, in real time, to any smartphone or mobile device.

“Having access to both engineering talent and rapid prototyping, in close proximity, provided us with a foundation for success.”

-Peter O’Brien, Former UBC Okanagan student
Co-Founder of VO2 Master


The VO2 Master is the first analyzer ever designed to use the force of human breathing as a passive gas-sampling pump, making it lightweight, portable and easy-to-use.  VO2 Master recently launched its first post-beta, market-tested offering of VO2 Master Pros at the ITU Science and Triathlon Conference in Edmonton, Alberta.