Nova Scotia

From laundry to cleaning, military willing to pay for creative solutions to pandemic problems

The Department of National Defence is offering up $15 million to innovators who can help it better cope with the coronavirus. 

'We know that there is some innovation out there that can help us do those things better and sometimes faster'

Canadian soldiers leave a Red Cross training course at Collège Ahuntsic in Montreal in April. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The Department of National Defence is reaching out to Canadians for innovative solutions to problems it's facing due to COVID-19.

The department is willing to pay $15 million for that assistance.

The effort is being funded through DND's Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security program, which pays for research by outside organizations, typically businesses and universities.  

In this case, DND has three specific goals.

The military wants to be able to rapidly sanitize workplaces and vehicles containing sensitive equipment like computers. It wants to be able to quickly clean uniforms and COVID-19 protective gear so it can be reused.

It's also looking for ways to gather data to support the early detection and monitoring of contagious disease outbreaks.

Eric Fournier is the director general of innovation for DND. (Cpl. Mélani Girard/Canadian Forces)

"We're reaching out to Canadian innovators because we know that there is some creativity out there, we know that there is some innovation out there that can help us do those things better and sometimes faster," said Eric Fournier, director general of innovation for DND.

He said DND is working with the Centre for Security Science Program, the National Research Council of Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada to hunt for solutions that will benefit the whole country. 

If a solution to any of the problems is found, it will be passed along to federal, provincial and municipal agencies.

"Although the program doing this is a national defence program," said Fournier, "we are doing this for public safety across Canada. So it's for the first responders, it's also for national defence, it's for everybody and those solutions will be made available to all those government entities."

Any military aircraft that carries a COVID-19 patient would have to be thoroughly cleaned, said Fournier. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Rapid, thorough cleaning is DND's goal.

Fournier said it can take a lot of time to sanitize by hand. During a crisis, that time can be in short supply, he said.

He said if a military aircraft is used to transport a COVID-19 patient, the entire vehicle, along with the uniforms and the personal protective equipment worn by the crew, would have to be cleaned.

"We want to make sure that the people are ready to respond, again and again and again and again," said Fournier. "In a pandemic like this, we see that people have to work constantly."

While dropping uniforms and flight suits into the washing machine might be an option, the military wants something faster.

"So we want to make sure you can do it quickly," Fournier said. "In some cases just putting it in the laundry might work, but we might not have the time to do it that way. We might need something to clean it up faster for reuse in a few hours, for example."   

It's the same thing with cleaning vehicles by hand. It works, but getting it done fast is hard to do.

Finding a way to sanitize aircraft, ambulances, offices and other spaces without damaging computers or other electronics is essential, Fournier said.

The military also wants to find ways to quickly clean uniforms and personal protective equipment like masks so they can be reused. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

He said it's also important to find ways to collect data on how the virus is moving through the population and to locate hot spots.

DND will choose several winners in each of the three categories.

The winners will be given up to $200,000 and up to six months to deliver on their solution. If the solution works, DND could provide them with more funding for fine-tuning or to adapt it for more widespread use. 

Anyone looking to apply for the program can go to the Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security website.

There have only been a handful of applications, but Fournier said that number usually jumps up in the final days before the deadline. Applications for the program are due June 23.


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