The Year Ahead: Science and Technology in 2023

Electric air taxis, an EV revolution, warp-speed Internet, and more in store in new Canadian tech

This story is part of our annual “Year Ahead” guide. Read the rest of our predictions for 2023 here.

Electric cars aren’t the only innovation on the block—though they’ll get a serious boost in 2023. Canada’s got a whack of shiny new tech coming down the pipe: delivery drones, lightning-fast internet and a hyperloop that’s sure to make Elon envious.

1. The James Webb telescope will reveal more surprises

Last July, the internet let out a collective gasp at the sharpest images ever taken of newborn stars, freshly captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. The Canada Space Agency made key contributions to the $10-billion tool: a fine guidance sensor that focuses on intriguing objects and a near-infrared imager and slitless spectrograph that can provide glimpses of galaxies mere minutes after they’re born. NASA regularly uploads dazzling new photos to a public Flickr account, and some astronomers even believe we’ll soon spot evidence of alien life.

2. New sleep tech will cure insomnia 

The pandemic proved to be a lousy relaxation exercise. Eighteen per cent of people worldwide (and 33 per cent of health-care workers) reported poorer sleep quality throughout. Eyeing an opportunity, some enterprising Canadian companies are rolling out technologies to help combat so-called “coronasomnia.” Smart Nora created a device that detects snoring and inflates users’ pillows, thereby opening stifled airways. Precision Nutrition, a software and training company for nutrition coaches, now tackles stress and sleep management. And for anyone who doesn’t love the idea of being covered in electrodes at a sleep lab, Toronto’s Bresotec has developed a take-home apnea test, which is pending approval from Health Canada. 

3. Drones will revolutionize commercial delivery

Last year, employees at Drone Delivery Canada in Vaughan, Ontario, controlled the flight of packages at the Edmonton International Airport, some 3,300 kilometres away. Using a short route between the EIA Airport Operations Facility to a site in nearby Leduc County, the drones shuttled cargo—in the form of 4.5-kilogram packages—to two nearby shipping companies, which then delivered the goods to their final destinations. These test flights could eventually become a permanent solution for Canada’s beleaguered supply chain, expediting deliveries and reducing emissions. The National Research Council is funding more studies on drone delivery, the federal government has launched an implementation plan, and municipalities (like Waterloo, Ontario) are eager to establish their own routes ASAP.

4. Albertans will zip to work on magnets

Move aside, Elon Musk: Canada is set to get its own high-speed hyperloop. The FluxJet, produced by Toronto-based transportation-tech firm TransPod, promises to shuttle passengers between Calgary and Edmonton in pods that magnetically levitate in a vacuum tube at speeds of up to 1,000 kilometres an hour. The trip will take just 45 minutes and cost 44 per cent less than a plane ticket. TransPod is currently focused on buying up land and conducting environmental assessments, and a 10-kilometre track is scheduled to be operational by 2027. If this all sounds a little far-fetched, the company has already secured $550 million from international investors, and also expects that governments will partially fund the project, estimated at $18 billion.

5. Quebec will buzz with electric air taxis

Here’s one sign that the not-so-distant future might resemble a Jetsons episode: electric air taxis could arrive in Montreal as early as 2026. The Quebec aerospace and aviation-component manufacturer Vertiko Mobility has partnered with Texas-based aircraft builder Jaunt Air Mobility to bring 70 of their eVTOL (or electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft to La Belle Province. Each vehicle can hold one pilot and four passengers, has a driving range of 195 kilometres and resembles a mashup of a helicopter and a turboprop. Vertiko is set to kick off full-scale testing next year. To make such flights possible, Montreal company VPorts plans to build 1,500 terminals (or “vertiports”) in cities around the world. 

6. Northern Quebec will lead the EV revolution

One of the bigger snags in the EV boom has been how to source the hard-to-find raw materials (like lithium) required for batteries. China currently dominates the rare-earth supply chain—a fact both Ottawa and Washington believe will change with the upcoming opening of the North American Lithium Project, a mine in Quebec northwest of Montreal. When the facility opens, it will be just the second reliable source of lithium in North America; better still, it’s a green dream, operating on hydro electricity and recycling water to separate minerals. The federal government has announced plans to pour $3.8 billion into the Canadian mining industry over the next decade. All that investment is already paying dividends, with the Dutch car company Stellantis breaking ground on a $5-billion-plus EV-battery factory in Windsor, Ontario—and creating 2,500 jobs.

 7. Future astronauts will train in northern Ontario

In Cochrane, Ontario, 385 kilometres north of Sudbury, an ambitious aerospace enterprise called Stardust Technologies has grand plans to train future astronauts. The facility, which spreads across 46 hectares, is the result of a partnership with Western University and the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. Aspiring rocketpeople will occupy inflatable domes for between two weeks and three months at a time to mentally prepare for the challenges of isolation. The company is also set to open an innovation hub, with the goal of building more interest in STEM disciplines among Canadian youth.

8. Canadian med-tech will improve remote health care

Recently, the Canada Space Agency and the feds were wondering how to keep space travellers in tip-top shape during long interplanetary trips—so they launched a contest. Among the 20 ideas shortlisted as semifinalists were wearables that monitor and diagnose respiratory and cardiac issues, an AI-powered virtual medical assistant and an ultra-light MRI machine. In 2023, we’ll see proofs of concept and a list of finalists. In addition to their lofty deep-space applications, the winning technologies will help solve issues closer to home, particularly in remote communities within Canada.

9. A Toronto company will churn out self-driving vehicles 

Waabi is poised to make driver​less cars a reality. The AI company, founded in June of 2021 by University of Toronto computer science professor Raquel Urtasun, has raised $83.5 million from Uber and OMERS ventures, among other investors. Waabi’s secret sauce is what it calls “the world’s most advanced simulator,” which limits the need for real-world test drives, and thereby lowers risks to innocent bystanders. Waabi’s self-driving AI brain also has the intuition and flexibility to make decisions in the face of surprise scenarios. Eager buyers abound, including members of the $800-billion trucking industry, which is in dire need of long-haul solutions. 

10.Internet speeds will accelerate by a factor of 10

Despite the prolonged controversies surrounding the effects of 5G internet—political and otherwise—Ottawa is already moving ahead with R&D for 6G, its much-hyped successor. The excitement is warranted: 6G would introduce speed capabilities roughly 100 times faster than 5G. It could also lead to the development of more advanced machine learning and more immersive experiences in the metaverse. That’s on Canadian schools and tech firms to figure out by 2030, when the technology is expected to roll out.

This story is part of our annual “Year Ahead” guide. Read the rest of our predictions for 2023 here.

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