Halifax-based Modest Tree, which sells augmented reality software, will spearhead a $2.2 million project from  Canada's Ocean Supercluster to develop a digital platform for ship and ocean equipment maintenance.

The system, dubbed “Tech Companion,” will aggregate design and maintenance information, including manuals and schematics, for use by technicians. It will be suitable for use with a wide variety of machinery, ranging from ship gearboxes to navy weapons systems.

Modest Tree CEO Sam Sannandeji said Tech Companion will simplify maintenance of ocean equipment by offering technicians a single portal through which they will be able to access all of the information they need to do their work.

“If a technician walks by equipment and he wants data on that equipment, it gets provided to him through mobile or augmented reality devices -- its condition, its status, how it’s running,” he said. “It’s being able to visualize or see things on equipment before he actually puts his hands on it.”

That could radically simplify maintenance and repairs, he said, because a typical ship can include components from 100 or more manufacturers, all of whom publish their own, individual manuals and schematics.

The system will also include artificial intelligence features. Technicians will be able to take photos of problem machinery, convert the photos into 3D images and begin “marking up” the photos by flagging malfunctioning components. And a machine learning system will compare new problems with data about historical faults.

The project is slated to only take a year, Sannandeji said, because it is building on technology already developed by Modest Tree and the other participants.

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For example, the platform will rely heavily on cloud-computing technology already sold by Microsoft, such as its IoT Hub.

“The foundational things for this project have been in development for many years,” said Sannandeji. “The Tech Companion product is the piece on top of some of the work Modest Tree has been doing for the past five, six years.”

Canada's Ocean Supercluster will contribute $1.2 million to the project. The rest of the money will come from the four participating organizations: Modest Tree, Renk, Mitacs, and Microsoft Canada. Renk, which is headquartered in Germany and part of Volkswagen Group, is a Modest Tree shareholder. Mitacs is a government-backed non-profit funding R&D projects.

Once Tech Companion is ready, the participating organizations will be able to use it internally or sell it to their clients.

The supercluster news comes on the heels of another announcement from Modest Tree: the company is also opening a new office in Oromocto, New Brunswick.

That branch will be run by Charles Richer, Modest Tree’s newly hired vice president of business development. Richer previously spent 21 years in the Canadian Army.

“In Nova Scotia, we’re scaling, but we’re having a bit of a problem with office space and finding good talent,” said Sannandeji. “And we’re finding that, in New Brunswick, we have that ability at the moment. We’re trying to take advantage of that and working very closely with the colleges. They’re allowing us to get some good talent joining the company.”

The Oromocto office will be followed by two more new branches, with details slated to be announced soon.

Modest Tree so far employs 56 people and will hire up to another 12 programmers and business development staff to work in the New Brunswick office, as well as six or seven people in Halifax. Sannandeji said he hopes to have close to 100 employees by the end of the year.

Along with the Modest Tree deal, the Ocean Supercluster announced almost $9 million of other projects Monday, including a hybrid diesel-electric motor suitable for retrofitting existing ships and a system for creating digital models of ocean infrastructure.

The hybrid motor project is led by St. John’s-based Duxion Motors. Leading the digital modeling group, will be Halifax’s Welaptega Marine, a division of Scottish Ashtead Technology.