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Lee Danisch

Location: Fredericton, NB

Award: Award of Distinction

Category: Measuring Devices

Year: 2008

Innovation:

Inventor of the ShapeAccelArray that detects subtle underground movements before they turn into landslides or structural failures impacting construction sites, bridges and buildings.

News Release

Earth-Shaking Technology from New Brunswick Making Worldwide Impact

Canadian Wins Accolades for Landslide-Prediction Device

Calgary, AB (September 26, 2008) A new ground-motion detector has garnered lead inventor Lee Danisch a $25,000 award from the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation. Danisch, the Founder and President of high-tech start-up company Measurand Inc. will receive the Dave Mitchell Award of Distinction on October 3, 2008.

Danisch's award-winning technology, called ShapeAccelArray™ (SAA), automatically detects the subtle movements in ground or structures that forewarn of dangerous landslides or earthquakes, and relays this information over the wireless Internet. With the existing techniques that SAA replaces, such motion is impossible to detect in a timely manner. In contrast, SAA allows people to predict landslides before they occur, so they can take preventative action. "Peoples' lives are directly affected by what we're measuring," Danisch says.

Fully introduced just two years ago, SAA is now used to monitor dangerous landslide zones near highways, bridges, railroads and construction sites in Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia. The device is also used for research at earthquake-simulation facilities, including one of the world's largest, the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention in Japan.

The idea for SAA grew out of Lee Danisch's prior innovations in shape-sensing technology. Measurand are the makers of ShapeTape™, a ribbon-like, wireless device that monitors body movements and is used in crash-testing, computer animation and space science.

A 15-person company in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Measurand has made over one half million Can$ from sales of SAA since 2006.

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year the Foundation will award $165,000 in prize money. Four awards, totalling $145,000, will go to leading Canadian innovators. Another $20,000 will go to Young Canadians chosen at the 2008 Canada-Wide Science Fair.

The Foundation was established in 1980 in the name of prominent Alberta statesman, Ernest C. Manning, to promote and support Canadian innovators. Since 1982, the Foundation has presented over $3.9 million in prize money through its annual awards program. The 2008 awards will be presented at an awards gala on Friday, October 3 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

A Media Backgrounder about the innovators and their work is now available on the Foundation’s website, with video available after October 3, 2008: www.manningawards.ca

For more information on the Foundation, contact Bruce Fenwick, Executive Director: 403-645-8288 or bruce.fenwick@encana.com

For more information about Measurand and their products, visit http://www.measurand.com/ or contact Mr. Lee Danisch: 506-462-9119 or lee@measurand.com
 

Media Backgrounder

$25,000 Dave Mitchell Award of Distinction

Sponsored by the Friends and Laureates of the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

Mr. Lee Danisch

ShapeAccelArray™ (SAA) for the Detection of Tiny Movements in Soil and Structures to Warn of Disaster or Collapse

Who?

  • Mr. Lee Danisch (Master of Science, PEng) is the President of Measurand Inc. and lead inventor of ShapeAccelArray™

What?

  • ShapeAccelArray™ (SAA) is a new monitoring technology that allows engineers to visualize movement in the ground or in solid structures, simply by connecting to the Internet

Why?

  • SAA automatically detects the subtle movements in ground or structures that forewarn of dangerous landslides or earthquakes; with the existing techniques that SAA replaces, such motion is impossible to detect in a timely manner

Where?

  • Measurand Inc., the makers of SAA, are based in Fredericton, New Brunswick
  • SAA is used to monitor dangerous landslide zones near highways, bridges, railroads and construction sites in Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia
  • SAA is used for research at earthquake testing facilities in the United States, Japan and Korea, including the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention in Japan

When?

  • Lee Danisch established Measurand Inc. in 1993 in order to commercialize his idea for ShapeTape™, a ribbon-like device that monitors body movements; this motion-sensing technology would later inspire SAA
  • Measurand began work on SAA in 2003; the technology became available for research applications in 2005 and for site-monitoring in 2006; the first major patent for the technology was awarded in 2007

Motion-Sensing Technology Rocks World Market

Tiny ground movements near roads, bridges or construction sites can swiftly turn into landslides, putting lives and homes at risk. Likewise, the slightest tremor can signal a devastating earthquake. Until recently, such ground movements were frustratingly difficult to detect.

Fully introduced in 2006, ShapeAccelArray™ (SAA) automatically monitors sites to forewarn of disaster and collapse.

Lee Danisch, Founder and President of Measurand Inc., is the lead inventor of SAA. At construction sites or anywhere soil is waterlogged or disturbed, "there's always a danger," he says. The goal, he explains, is to predict landslides before they occur so that people can take preventative action. "Peoples' lives are directly affected by what we're measuring," says Danisch.

In recent months Measurand has been working with US geologists to monitor the banks of a reservoir in a residential area in New England. If the reservoir were to be drained as planned, there is a danger that the clay banks where the houses sit would collapse. Based on SAA data and the judgement of geotechnical engineers at the site, homeowners have been evacuated once already.

"We're resolving a millimetre of movement," says Danisch. "They are counting on the data every three or four hours," he notes. "It's a pretty intense situation."

In Alberta, researchers are using SAA to collect real-time data on a boggy stretch of land that the railroad runs across. "The soil moves around quite a bit when the trains are going by," Danisch observes.

Other landslide monitoring stations as well as earthquake-testing centres across Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia are now using SAA. Japan's National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention (NIED), one of the world's largest earthquake-simulation facilities, picked up SAA as soon as it became available.

In just two years, sales of SAA have garnered Measurand over one half million Can$, and the company has grown an average of 26 percent per year.

ShapeAccelArray Feels the Earth Move Under Our Feet

In the past, engineers had limited options for measuring soil movements. They could take measurements manually by putting a device in the ground, stopping every 60 cm (two feet) down a borehole tens of metres deep to take a reading. Time-consuming, awkward, error-prone and costly, this procedure could typically be performed only every few months to every year, making it impossible to see any trends in the short term.

Alternatively, in certain settings, in-place automatic devices can be used. However, these expensive monitoring systems often become trapped in the borehole when the surrounding earth deforms. Given the expense, not to mention the number of cables connected to each device, only a few points in an area can be monitored.

In contrast, SAA allows engineers to visualize underground soil movements or movements in solid structures simply by connecting to the Internet. One SAA replaces the equivalent of 100 manual measuring devices.

An SAA looks like a jointed garden hose with about 100 rigid metal segments. By threading it into a thin pipe in the ground or a solid structure, engineers can monitor movements remotely, sometimes every hour. The device is waterproof, so can be used in wet soil, and can operate from at least minus 20 to plus 70°C.

The 30 cm-long segments that make up the array are connected by flexible joints, which can bend but cannot twist. As the ground moves, the orientation of the segments shifts.

"The soil normally has a tremendous amount of force available to bend things right along with it," says Danisch.

Not unlike the innards of a bionic arm, each segment contains three motion-sensors, called accelerometers, connected to a circuit board. Every eighth segment has a digital thermometer and a microprocessor, which is wired to a data concentrator in an "Earth Station," up to 300 m away. As many as three SAAs can be connected to one Earth Station-a cabinet with an antenna, a cellnet modem and a solar panel to re-charge the cabinet's battery. The modem relays data from each SAA over the wireless Internet.

SAA depends on special accelerometers known as micromachined electromechanical systems, or MEMS. MEMS are miniature silicon structures that can exchange information with computers. The size of a baby's fingernail, an encased MEMS accelerometer is surprisingly hardy. In an SAA, the MEMS accelerometers provide information on the tilt and rotation of the segments and how fast they move.

In research applications, such as earthquake simulations, SAA data are collected 100 times or more per second. "You get a picture of the array in real time," explains Danisch.

The raw numbers from the MEMS accelerometers are crunched with a computer program particular for each SAA. Using gravity and the relative position of the segments as reference points, the shape of the array can be determined, and the amount, direction and speed of movement revealed. The data, available through the Internet, are presented as easy to read 2D or 3D graphs.

How Innovation Takes Shape

The 12 years Lee Danisch worked as a potter have been essential to his success as an inventor and entrepreneur, he says.

As a young "urban refugee" from the United States, Danisch travelled to the wilds of Canada's east coast to "get away from it all." On his way to Newfoundland he found home in the Fundy Hills of New Brunswick. It was in this haven for back-to-the-landers that Danisch set up his kiln in 1973.

This low-income life was "pretty close to the edge!" recalls Danisch. "One you've done that, then anything else seems easy in comparison." Without this experience he says, "I probably never would have started my own company to make some technical things."

For Danisch, "anything else" could be said to include "rocket surgery." Having dabbled with electronics since childhood, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he completed a Master's degree in electrical engineering, building microelectrodes and using them to conduct brain research. It was after working for some time at Boston University Medical Center that he decided to leave the big city behind.

Later the siren call of technology, and the need to support a growing family, took him back to engineering. For a time, he consulted, flying out to major centres in the United States when necessary. He then worked for the Research and Productivity Council of New Brunswick, helping researchers to develop their ideas. "You'd see all these cool things get developed," says Danisch, but not commercialized. "I wanted to change that," he says.

Eager to be his own boss and have a hand in production as well as development, in 1993 Danisch founded Measurand Inc. in Fredericton, New Brunswick. At first the company had only a few products and many did not sell. But in time Danisch found new ways to apply his idea for a ribbon-like array of fibre optic sensors to track body movement. "ShapeTape™" would lead to motion-capture products for computer animation, crash testing and even NASA research.

As the product line grew, Measurand got repeated requests for geotechnical sensors. "Every year or so when we were making ShapeTape™, there'd be somebody that would call that wanted to measure soil," Danisch relates. "We'd always tell them, 'it's not suitable for that…please don't try it!'"

"Finally they wore me down," he says. "It took quite a bit of thought," he concedes, but eventually he saw how he could use gravity-based MEMS sensors in place of fibre optic sensors to visualize ground movements. The evolving technologies have "cross-fertilized" each other, says Danisch, noting that there are MEMS sensors in some of the new ShapeTape™ products.

Key players in the development of ShapeTape™ and SAA have included Measurand's Vice President Scott Thomson, and Production Manager, Terry Patterson. Patterson is an electronics technologist, a hardware designer, and microprocessor expert. Murray Lowery-Simpson heads Measurand's software development, and his 3D math is at the heart of SAA joint calculations.

Measurand has been getting a lot of attention for SAA, including the 2007 National Award for New Technology from the National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) and 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Central New Brunswick.

Danisch says that recognition from the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation in particular sends an important message. "Other people can see that 'gee, there are companies that start from almost nothing, and survive, and are selling useful things'…we need more people seeing that it's possible to do."

Measurand now employs 15 New Brunswickers, which suits Danisch perfectly. "New Brunswick is a beautiful place…" he says, "we are really lucky to be able to do this work here."

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year the Foundation will award $165,000 in prize money. Four awards, totalling $145,000, will go to leading Canadian innovators. Another $20,000 will go to Young Canadians chosen at the 2008 Canada-Wide Science Fair.

The Foundation was established in 1980 in the name of prominent Alberta statesman, Ernest C. Manning, to promote and support Canadian innovators. Since 1982, the Foundation has presented over $3.9 million in prize money through its annual awards program.