Nova Scotia

Students float creative ideas for future Bedford ferry

University students across the Maritimes competed in the open-data challenge.

Data contest brings out ideas for measuring environmental impact, predicting ridership

A Halifax passenger ferry named after the late Craig Blake, who was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan, is seen in this file photo. Students from universities across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick recently took part in an open-data contest to come up with ideas for the new Bedford ferry. (CBC)

It may be a few years before people can set foot on the proposed Bedford ferry, but university students have already launched some ideas of their own.

Students from across the Maritimes in various programs recently took part in the Ocean Of Data Challenge, where they came up with solutions for a future Bedford ferry based on public data.

"We were looking for a way to talk about something that would be tangible to people about their daily life," said Jennifer LaPlante, executive director of the DeepSense program, which co-hosted the contest.

Dalhousie University-based research platform that helps companies in the ocean sector understand and explore artificial intelligence. It partnered with the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship in Dartmouth on the contest, which saw final presentations Nov. 9.

Jennifer LaPlante is the executive director of DeepSense, a research platform at Dalhousie University supported by IBM, the province of Nova Scotia and the federal government. (Danny Abriel)

A $3-million study was announced in June with funding coming from all three levels of government to plan for a new ferry and terminal building in Bedford.

Some projects examined how and where charging stations could be set up for an electrically powered ferry at the Halifax and Mill Cove terminals, while others suggested towing a tracing device to monitor environmental impact, or predicted how road traffic would be impacted.

The overall winners, Sea-nic, suggested installing a box on the ferry filled with oceanographic sensors and measuring techniques. The daily data the ferry collects would be displayed for the public and scientists, potentially through interactive panels on the ferry.

The ferry would run between Mill Cove in Bedford and the ferry terminal in downtown Halifax. (Pam Berman/CBC)

Team member and Dalhousie University biology student, Shannon Myles, said it's a common model used in Europe, but would be a first for the North Atlantic region. People could see how many passengers had been on board that week, and how many gas emissions were saved on a weekly or monthly basis by people ditching their car for the ferry.

"We wanted to ... enhance the commuters' feeling of doing good for the environment. Show them that their decision matters, and that it has an impact," Myles said.

Other team members included Liam MacNeil and Matt Peachey. 

The sensors would track temperature, density, salinity, and oxygen concentration of the water, Myles said, or even digital photos of the microscopic organisms living in the harbour. There are lots of stationary devices used to collect this data in Halifax harbour and the Bedford Basin, he said, but none that move throughout the waterways on a regular basis.

All that information keeps people engaged and informed in the climate change conversation if they can see the impacts and changes in real time, Myles said.

The winning team. From left, Shannon Myles, Liam MacNeil and Matt Peachey (Photographer from the Fondation Claude Mongrain, Patricia Peachey, Liam MacNeil)

Another Dalhousie team won the best design award for their ocean data science project forecasting ferry ridership.

Team member and computer science graduate student, Chu Wang, said their "ready-to-serve" prototype would allow Halifax Transit and the city to plan the ferry schedules around peak times based on existing data from the two Dartmouth ferries.

Chu Wang and his Dalhousie University teammates created a prototype for forecasting ferry ridership as part of the data contest. (Chu Wang)

The team also predicted the Bedford-Halifax ferry will cut down on Bedford Highway traffic by 14.5 per cent, and have 2,848 daily riders with an annual revenue of $4.1 million.

Other team members included Yuqing Yang, Fan Yang and Arjun Gupta.

"The main takeaway from this challenge is that we really need to think [about] the practical side of the bigger challenges," Wang said.

"You need to design a proper solution … all the other higher level managers, they don't know how to code. They just want to know the result of the prototype."

Contest judges included representatives from the Clean Foundation of Nova Scotia, the Halifax Partnership, and Halifax Harbour Bridges. 

LaPlante said she knows HRM will look through the students' video presentations and take notes on their pitches.

When asked if he'd like to work with the municipality on bringing their project to life, Myles said the door is "wide open."

Transit officials hope to have the new ferry up and running out of Mill Cove by 2024.

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