Joe Ritacca
Director of R&D - Precise ParkLink
Part of the Spotlight on AI for SMEs

Canada Must Produce More AI-focused Students

Listen to the interview via our AI text-to-speech service.

Takeaways

  1. Institutions of learning should ensure that students are taught skills that are essential to the needs of the market. Government should guide our academic institutions to generate the graduates enterprises require.
  2. SME’s interested in integrating AI into their operations must approach that with a long-term view and must dedicate appropriate staff and resources to this operation.
  3. Government and industry need to collaborate with Canadian academic institutions to further develop their AI research by creating avenues for AI students to participate in industry.

Action

It is crucial that we optimize for the needs of enterprises and project for future results by producing more students who can work with AI and the cutting edge technologies defining the future.


What are some of the benefits of implementing artificial intelligence systems in parking services?

Everybody wants ease. No one wants to go home and have difficulty getting into their building or to have to wait a long time. We want to make parking easier for the average person, and AI helps us do that.

Some of the smart systems we implemented include a touchscreen that can receive and verbally respond to customer’s verbal commands or questions, like Siri or Alexa can. The screen can also deliver maps of the parking lot and give customers basic instructions on how to pay and park. Our goal is to adapt this to many different languages outside of French and English.

Unmanned operations like these allow us to run the parking business 24 hours a day in any kind of weather, and for us to always be available to our customers and answer their questions. We use AI to predetermine the most frequently asked questions by customers so that we are always ready for them.

We can also run certain systems of the parking business remotely with websites giving customers the option of paying online. More recently, we introduced license plate recognition so that customers can just drive up and the gates will open for them immediately.

If our unmanned parking offices and license plate recognition systems can get to a point where they work with 99.9% accuracy through AI, our parking lot operations will instantly become smoother.


What was your experience as an SME collaborating with academia on artificial intelligence development and implementation?

We started working with Durham College three years ago. Their students did some projects with us to figure out how some of the AI technology could work and be applied to our operations. We have since hired two of their students.

The way we approached it is that implementing AI as a business solution is not a short-term endeavour. Our philosophy was to invest in what we can do today that will help us in the years to come.  

“Implementing AI as a business solution is not a short-term endeavour. Our philosophy was to invest in what we can do today that will help us in the years to come.”

As a business, when you collaborate with an academic institution you need to have the readiness and dedication to give the institution everything they need in terms of information that will allow them to work to your interests. If Durham College needed information from us, I had to make sure resources were available for that. 

It takes two to clap – the worst thing we could do would be to have a collaboration with an institution without doing our part, and then later demanding to know why we had not seen results.


What is your advice to academic institutions on how to better prepare their students for the jobs and needs of companies in the future economy?

Academic institutions benefit from collaborating with businesses by learning what it is they should be teaching their students in order for them to work with and appeal to current industry needs and interests.If the students are not producing what people in the business world find useful, the academic institution is doing their students a disservice.

“Academic institutions benefit from collaborating with businesses by learning what it is they should be teaching their students in order for them to work with and appeal to current industry needs and interests.”

All of the newest and most advanced technologies should be coming from academic institutions. In today’s world, programmers are probably some of the most important assets schools can produce, because every company derives their edge from the software they create. Academic institutions need to invest in generating more programmers and tech experts.

The sooner that students start learning about IT and programming, the better. Students need to be taught how to understand what people want, and how to come up with a solution that is going to serve those needs. They need to be able to assess how the tools and infrastructure currently available will help businesses execute.


What can government or industry do to help promote the development of AI and its application to SMEs?

Government should listen to businesses and help guide our academic institutions to produce the talent and resources that enterprises require. If we promote AI development at every level of school, we can even make it so that not everybody needs to go to a university or spend a full four years there.

Furthermore, we need to make sure that both students and schools stay flexible. Technological changes will keep occurring, but students need to be versatile and learn how to apply what they learn in different scenarios and constantly innovate.

“Smaller companies should go ahead and try to get AI resources and employees from the school level. They should invest in having somebody within their field who is just out of school, through something like a co-op program.”

Hopefully, big companies like Apple and Microsoft will collaborate with schools to make places of learning that suit the students better. A lot of companies do not invest in the youth that come out of our schools, and this must change.

Smaller companies should go ahead and try to get AI resources and employees from the school level. They should invest in having somebody within their field who is just out of school, through something like a co-op program.


How do you see our infrastructure needs evolving in the coming years to support AI implementation?

I will give you an example: one of our customers, a hospital that has four different locations in different parts of their province, wants to run a single AI-enabled parking system. It may sound easy, but this requires full connectivity between these four locations to be up 100% of the time. Connectivity is crucial as we go forward. Communication between everybody and everything needs to be working to its ultimate limit. This is something we must invest in. The government needs to concentrate on the connectivity of the cities through data lines and better infrastructure.

“The government needs to concentrate on the connectivity of the cities through data lines and better infrastructure.”

Those basics have to be in place, because without those basics the smallest tasks will become a struggle and smooth operations will come to a halt. We want to optimize efficiency everywhere as much as possible and Canada needs to invest in top-of-the-line infrastructure and technology to enable businesses to do so.