What societal problems do you see through your lens?

In mid-January, Canon Canada launched the Through Your Lens competition to challenge Ontario post-secondary students to find problems and provide solutions that improve people’s lives, using existing Canon technology.

Last Friday, the six finalist teams pitched in front of a panel of Canon Canada executives: Ted Egawa, President and CEO; Tony Valente, Senior Vice President and General Manager; and Justin Lam, Vice President and General Manager.

“The intention for us to participate in this sort of thing was to identify what we do not see in our daily lives or our daily business lives,” Egawa said.

The six pitching finalists were:

  • RoadWatch, from the University of Waterloo
  • Life On Display, from the University of Guelph
  • CANFIT, from York University
  • C-Learn, from Wilfrid Laurier University
  • District.TO, from Ryerson University
  • Deterring Crime in Remote African Villages, from Wilfrid Laurier University

“I was hoping to see ideas that we had never seen in the past, and each one of these ideas gave us perspective and down-to-earth ideas,” Egawa said.

The teams covered a range of initiatives, from safe villages, accessible learning and tackling depression to preventing injuries at the gym, helping small charities with marketing and even reducing potholes in cities.

They arrived at the Communitech Hub in the morning and spent most of the day refining their pitches with coaching from Communitech staff and executives-in-residence.

Choosing a winner was a tough decision for Egawa, Valente and Lam.

(Left to right) Ted Egawa, Canon Canada President; Catherine Holloway and Osama Sidat of RoadWatch. (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)

“Even the ones who didn’t win the first three prizes, I don’t want them to give up their thoughts and the beauty of their passion,” Egawa said.

RoadWatch teammates Catherine Holloway and Osama Sidat, from the University of Waterloo, took home first prize of $10,000 and a Canon EOS 6D Camera each.

Their idea used Canon network cameras mounted to the undercarriages of public transit vehicles to detect potholes, so that municipalities could fix them before they grew and caused damage to vehicles.

“I am more of a technical person myself,” Sidat said. “But through this competition I was doing more of business/pitching role, and definitely, going through a few rounds of pitches was very beneficial.”

This isn’t the first time he and Holloway have teamed up. They participated in a hackathon last year, but the Canon competition was far different from focusing on building out a product in less than 24 hours.

It required more of a sense of thoughtfulness in coming up with the solution.

“It has inspired me to work on more projects like this; the victory means I will be more motivated, but even just participating in it opened up new connections and new doors and new ideas,” Sidat said.

In second place was CANFIT, an idea to make exercising at the gym safe with the use of Canon network cameras and analytical software to measure posture and equipment.

Sisters Andrea and Sherry Wong attend different universities and came up with the idea because they no longer work out at the same gym together, which prevents them from spotting each other to ensure safe practices. Fear of injury from incorrect form is a deterrent from using gym equipment.

“It’s a great opportunity; we’re so thankful to Canon and Communitech for providing this opportunity for university students to get involved,” Andrea Wong said.

Third-place winner Raghav Patel, of Deterring Crime in Remote African Villages, said it best during his team’s pitch: “People don’t care about things unless they see it happen or it has personally affected them.”

Patel’s team devised a system that uses Canon network cameras to improve life in remote African settlements by monitoring for illegal or harmful activity.

The Through Your Lens competition was about addressing often-unseen problems, in line with Canon’s corporate philosophy of Kyosei, or living and working together for the common good.

“We try to meet society’s requirements, but mainly those things are through the product and services we provide,” Egawa said. “By asking our employees to look at the areas where we never look, we are still driven by the business, so it’s difficult to broaden our perception of the potential market or the potential social value for our company.”

Egawa and his team weren’t sure what to expect from the competition when planning began, and the results “were eye-opening,” Egawa said.

“I’m interested in participating in this kind of program in the future, because it gives us the value of different or unexplored perspectives, and I think that has big meaning in the long run.”