Aspire, DarwinAI project recognized as “outstanding” by United Nations’ AI research centre

The initiative was the only Canadian project to crack IRCAI’s top 10.

The International Research Center in Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI) has named a project from DarwinAI and Aspire Food Group as one of the best sustainability-related artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives in the world.

IRCAI recently selected the Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen)-funded initiative as one of the “top 10 outstanding projects” using AI to advance the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.

According to DarwinAI’s CEO this is “the first time” the startup has received recognition on a global scale.

The winning DarwinAI solution serves Aspire’s automated cricket production and processing facility, applying adaptive controls to optimize yield and provide insights into conditions and plant operations. The tech will make its debut later this year at the opening of Aspire’s new commercial facility in London, Ontario.

DarwinAI CEO Sheldon Fernandez said the award “speaks to the breadth of Aspire’s vision and the transformative power” of AI.

Last year, IRCAI, which exists under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), released a call for solutions. IRCAI saw “an overwhelming number of submissions,” from which it selected the top 100, designating 10 as “outstanding.”

Founded in 2017, DarwinAI is a Kitchener-Waterloo-based startup focused on using AI to improve product quality and production efficiency. The company’s patented, explainable AI platform, which serves “numerous Fortune 500 companies,” was built under the guidance of University of Waterloo Professor and Canada Research Chair in AI Alexander Wong.

In late 2020, DarwinAI secured funding led by Honeywell Ventures in the “in the range of” $5 million USD to fuel the development of its platform. Since then, the startup has undertaken commercial projects with FESTO, Lockheed Martin, and Honeywell Aerospace, among others.

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Founded in 2014, Aspire is a Canadian company with operations in Ontario and Texas that focuses on precision insect farming, an underutilized natural resource it believes can help meet demand for sustainable ingredients and materials. In 2013, Aspire won the $1 million USD Hult Prize for its work.

“A growing population and increasing demand for food and material requires sustainable, scalable solutions,” said Aspire CEO Mohammed Ashour. “We are honored that the IRCAI saw the value in an AI solution which will accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable ingredients and materials through insect technology.”

DarwinAI and Aspire’s collaboration was facilitated and supported by NGen, Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster, and Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC). In February 2020, NGen committed $16.8 million CAD towards the broader $72 million Aspire-led initiative.

Fernandez told BetaKit that while DarwinAI has won other awards and received other honours in the past, this is “the first time we’ve received recognition on a global scale.”

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“To this end, the accolade is a testament to the transformative impact our fundamental technology can enable,” he said. “Moreover, it is immensely satisfying to work on a project with such a humanitarian flavor and it is something our entire organization can take pride in.”

The Aspire-DarwinAI initiative was the only Canadian project named to the top 10, and one of only two in North America to receive the honour, alongside a NASA-submitted initiative. Fernandez argues that this illustrates that “Canada can compete globally when it comes to [AI],” expressing pride that DarwinAI has been able to contribute to the country’s standing.

According to Aspire, the London facility it plans to open will be “the world’s largest, fully automated cricket production and processing facility.”

Feature image courtesy of DarwinAI

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit reporter focused on telling and breaking Canadian tech and innovation stories. His coverage is more complete than his moustache.

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