Jauary 21, 2020 by Veronica
By Carol Moreira
Patsy Leadbeater, Commlet CEO
The pandemic has forced many companies to pivot. Commlet Technologies’ app and wearable bracelet were developed to track children on school trips, but now the technology is being refined to improve care for vulnerable adults.
Commlet was formed in Sydney in 2018 by teacher Patsy Leadbeater who wanted to make monitoring children easier and safer.
“We had a beta testing plan lined up with schools when COVID hit, but we are now launching with more health features than planned,” Leadbeater, company CEO, said in an interview. “This includes people with cognitive disease, mobility issues, and heart and lung patients.”
Leadbeater said Commlet’s device (the name means communications bracelet) has a vast potential market.
Worldwide, more than 50 million people have dementia, and nearly 10 million new cases are diagnosed every year. Prospective markets include the emergency forces, lone travellers, and pets. The technology could help locate lost mariners, as the bracelet sends out a notification when wet.
The market is already replete with wearable devices, but Leadbeater said Commlet’s is the only device designed for caregivers. It gathers health and movement data autonomously, including fall detection, and the company has a patent pending for a method of using a battery that gives very extended life per charge. The founders also plan to add energy harvesting and have been working with a MEMS (micro-electromechanical system) research facility on this.
Commlet allows the primary caregiver to share as much or as little of an individual's information with other caregivers as deired, so ensuring privacy.
Company CTO Veronica Merryfield lost her wife Marlo Gal to a heart condition. She recalls visiting a cardiologist with her wife who was wearing a personal fitness device to monitor her heartrate. However, monitoring the device was causing her anxiety, and the doctor recommended chucking it in the garbage.
“He said the anxiety the device provoked meant wearing it was not worthwhile,” Merryfield said. “The information was going to the wearer, not the caregiver. It would have made so much difference if I had been the one receiving the information.”
Leadbeater said the Commlet advantage includes being cheaper than comparable products.Many devices cost between $200 and $599, plus subscription fees of up to $60 a month. Commlet has an introductory offer of $99.99 for the bracelet and a monthly subscription of $30.
So far, the founders have mostly bootstrapped the company and received angel investment from family and friends. Leadbeater, then working solo, won $25,000 in the 2018 Innovacorp SPARK contest. The venture was also a 2018 Volta Cohort finalist and a 2018 Propel Incite finalist.
The founders are now seeking further funds. In order to meet their goal of producing 1,000 bracelets in the first six months, they need to raise $200,000; less if they qualify for government programs. They are also looking for a developer, but are having difficulty finding tech talent in Cape Breton.
They have received early interest in their product from the U.S., U.K., Africa and Australia. They are hoping to sell to global markets while manufacturing in Canada and remaining headquartered in Sydney. Leadbeater is a New Waterford native and British-born Merryfield has no desire to leave. “I love the familial feel of people here,” she says.
In keeping with Cape Breton’s rich history of community support and tech innovation, initial bracelets will be built with the help of family and friends.
“It will be a kitchen table operation,” Leadbeater said. “We are a classic startup. Our HQ is my garage."
August 4, 2020 by Veronica
First, we want to take this opportunity to thank health and essential service workers, and their families, for their efforts and care, knowing full well they are putting themselves and their families at risk even with the best possible measures in place. These are unprecedented times requiring unprecedented measures. Those in essential services such as health care, the food and medical supply chain have really stepped up to the plate. They are our heroes, an example to us all. But there are also the lesser seen heroes, the caregivers and people that shop and drop for those that need to stay at home. They are heroes too. We recognise you, honour you and with heartfelt gratitude, we thank you.
As many know, we were working towards a launch of our school supervision products with beta testing to commence Q2 2020, around now. The advent of CoVid19 has made this target impossible for all practical reasons and with the turmoil in schools, we know that deployment of these solutions is low on the priority list compared to the educational needs in schools, all of which are disrupted.
Our vision here has always been the protection of the vulnerable, be that children or adults. School children was our starting point, given our founder’s experience as a school teacher. She knows, first hand, just how difficult and complex the situation can be managing groups of children with a mix of needs coupled with a drive to educate all.
Our plan has always been to move our solution forward step by step, to integrate health monitoring for the vulnerable, to open our solution to individuals or small groups such as a parent or guardian with a child, to extended family care for one of more children, to the carers of a vulnerable adult with health needs, or to a carer of someone liable to wander.
CoVid19 has not only resulted in us having to rethink as a business, but has shown us the critical need for such solutions, required in complex times, to help care for the vulnerable. With that in mind, we are moving our solution to that end, advancing our business to serve the vulnerable and their carers. We will soon be launching our single and small group solution with health care monitoring without losing any of the group monitoring features. This is a complex time for us to maneuver the business, the technology and the solution. We know this is the right thing to do and this is the right time to do it.
We thank those of you that have shown interest in our schools beta program. Your patience and understanding in these difficult and unprecedented times are appreciated and we look forward to serving you when the school situation settles. We look forward to servicing this need in due course. Meanwhile, we look forward to providing this much needed solution to help those in need.
Please feel free to contact us at email@example.com
August 4, 2020 by Veronica
As part of pride week here in Cape Breton, our CTO, Vreonica, met with Greg McNeil of the Cape Breton Post.
Veronica Merryfield is shown marching in the 2019 Pride Cape Breton parade in Sydney. CONTRIBUTED – MIKE WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY – Contributed
SYDNEY — Since the tender age of four, Veronica Merryfield knew she was a little girl and not the firstborn son her parents insisted on raising.
She was born intersex, raised as a male, and was well into her 20s before officially revealing herself to co-workers.
To cut any tension related to an incorrect reference to “she,” her proper pronoun, she devised a clever take on the ‘swear jar’ concept and had co-workers donate to a local animal shelter whenever the incorrect pronoun was mistakenly used.
“When I had my transition at work I knew it was going to be a problem because I went home on the Friday night and came back Monday morning,” she said during an interview as part of Pride Week coverage with the Cape Breton Post.
“The real reason for that (jar) is that it broke the tension. When everybody did it at work, they knew it was wrong and it is very easy then to get very apologetic or upset about it and create a tension.”
At her workplace in England at the time, the incorrect use of the pronoun was unintentional and that’s often the case. With no jar in sight, she advises others who make the same mistake to just apologize and move on.
There are cases of intentional misuse, however, even recently in Cape Breton when she was bluntly asked “what are you, a man or a woman or one of those transvestite things?”
Pronouns “gauge your identity,” she said. Incorrect use can be triggering and the devastating impact of that can be suicide, especially among youth.
“That’s why pronouns matter. The repeated denigration of individuals by using the wrong pronouns is going to head them down that road.”
Merryfield is open about the frustrating and often emotionally devastating road she followed before finding happiness.
There’s a story of her mom tearing off a blue dress she caught her wearing when she was just five. Work at a hospital after university gave her access to proper medical professionals and an MRI machine that offered a revealing scan.
And something not quite right about her birth records prompted an investigation that led to information about surgical changes when she was just a newborn. Most of her realizations were on her own and dark thoughts came with them.
“I can kind of forgive (my parents) because in the 60s there was this kind of flux over what to do with intersex,” she said.
“What I can’t forgive them for is that at eight years old I asked for medical help for it and they refused and gave me the lecture about God doesn’t make mistakes. Now I know the truth.”
She mentors LGBTQ+ youth these days — any and all — who wish to have her time so that they do not have to go through such things all on their own.
“If somebody were to find me through the mental health unit I’d be there in 20 minutes. I’ve done that a few times in the last year,” she said.
“New people trying to find their feet, I’ll talk to them. Parents who have kids that are coming out, I do that too. I’m around, people know me, know where to find me. The more exposure I can get to that kind of thing, or exposure so people know I do that kind of thing the better.”
Merryfield’s Facebook page settings are fairly open to allow people to reach out to her for help through that medium.
She also teaches gender and sexuality to students in the nursing program at Cape Breton University, has spoken with social workers and was recently contacted about educational outreach for health-care workers.
Advising informed policy to places like Transition House and the Elizabeth Fry Society is also part of her upcoming agenda.
During Pride Week, a Cape Breton Partnership Zoom session on Aug. 6 at 10 a.m. will see her discuss inclusion in workplace training, including pronouns and why they matter. She’ll also host the Living Library for the third consecutive year.
Though much of Pride Week in Cape Breton will be online in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, she said it still matters that it is marked and commemorated.
She said it’s a celebration of ‘who we are’ and a reminder of what has happened in the past.
“It’s a beacon of hope,” she added. “I see that on the Pride march itself when you have people standing at the side of the roads offering free momma hugs, free dad hugs. That’s huge. There are still people around who don’t have parental support, don’t have wider support who need to know that’s around.”
Pride Week is also a reminder that there is still work to do.
“The only thing we ask for is acceptance, to be able to live our lives. It’s still hard when you have pressure groups pushing for things like not being able to use the bathrooms, for instance.”
Find the article here.
April 3, 2020 by Veronica
Greg McNeil of the Cape Breton Post, a local newspaper from the saltwire network interviewed our CTO. This is from the publication.
SYDNEY, N.S. —
Even at an early age, Veronica Merryfield showed a knack for problem solving and a penchant for learning something new. It was a skill set that many Cape Breton startups would benefit from in later years.
She was around seven when she learned to play piano and, in her teens, when the sound emerging from an analog synthesizer caught her ear, she built her own. She would also carve out her own bass guitar, mostly because she wanted to play one.
Those would be considered projects or hobbies and not problems, so it was in her working life that a knack for seeing and solving issues others could not would start to emerge.
“I was born intersexed. I was initially raised male and I had to get all that sorted out in an era when the solution was probably electric shock treatment, and to parents who were fiercely religious,” Merryfield said during a recent Skype interview with the Cape Breton Post.“
As a young kid, I became very independent because I didn’t have the kind of support that I needed. I look back now and see there was a high degree of emotional, psychological independence because I had to be. That kind of tends to drive you differently.”
Merryfield was born in East London and would go on to study electronic engineering in the 1980s. Her first job out of university was as a technician at a hospital, fixing everything from life support machinery to toilets and all things in between.
Cost-cutting at the hospital meant a new job in the petrochemical industry working on density and flow meters. It was also the trigger for some world travelling that would eventually lead her to Cape Breton and its startup community.
Working with custom automation equipment, gas flow analysis for power stations, and then industrial inkjet printing would follow.
In the auto industry, Merryfield wrote the operating system for a Formula 1 race car and did work on commercial diesel engine controllers, which would lead to new experiences in Detroit working for Caterpillar, General Motors and others.
As her resume continued to grow, she found herself working with thermal cameras to identify failing brakes in large cement kilns and working with companies that make software for cellular phones.
She made her way to Israel in 2002 to work on solid state storage devices — new tech at the time but everyone uses flash devices and flash memory these days.“
I had a job offer back in England, one in Finland with Nokia and I had an offer in Vancouver with a consultancy company. I took the Vancouver one because I had been everywhere else and not Vancouver.
”Commuting regularly, Merryfield met someone working with BC Hydro who had a product not working particularly fast. She made a few successful suggestions after a 30-minute look. That connection led to work on parallel computer architecture, initially on an IBM contract, and then film production, particularly rendering for animators.
“All this time I was living around Vancouver,” she said. “My wife got ill. She was a clinical psychologist and had very serious heart issues and had to retire. She always wanted to retire to Cape Breton so I said sure.”
Merryfield worked from their new Cape Breton home, ramping down significantly while they checked off other bucket list items, before her wife Marlo Gal died in 2018.
“In coming to Sydney I started getting involved with the startup community much more significantly than I had been anywhere else. I did some teaching work for entrepreneurs who are getting into software products, how to avoid the pitfalls and that sort of thing.”
Dave Johnson’s company MindSentinel is currently developing a smartphone app he describes as a “check engine light” for mental health. The idea behind the app is to provide a user with early warnings that they may be at increased risk for declining mental health, depression in particular.
He met Merryfield in 2018 during her “pitfall” discussions and called that very timely and valuable information and immediately asked her to join his project. She has since made major contributions to the design of the software architecture for the app.“
I know what I want the app to be and Veronica is the one to begin translating that into actual code. I have no background in software engineering so she is my bridge and translator,” he said.
“In addition to her technical skills and international experience, Veronica brings a great deal of empathy and humanity. She has this fantastic, holistic view of the startup community. It’s not just ones and zeroes with Veronica. She cares deeply about the people who make up this community.”
When mentoring, Merryfield likes to ask the entrepreneurs a series of questions to help them think their project through.
“You have to think about the questions you need to ask yourself to process the answer to those questions. That’s something I just naturally do,” she said. “If I look at something and say, ‘how does that work,’ it will spark a whole pile of following questions and curiosity to figure it out. If you are doing that from a fairly young age, when you get to be 53 and you have the business or technology issues that have been presented to you by startups it is fairly easy to think those through.”
Merryfield also works with the Cape Breton company Commlet Technologies and a renewable energy company, among many others.
“There’s a lot of ideas coming out of people here,” she said. “I’m getting to the point where I can’t keep up with the number of people that come to me with ideas.”
She continues to advocate for improvements to the Cape Breton startup ecosystem and also does volunteer work with LGBTQ youth, and teaches about gender and sexuality at Cape Breton University, in its nursing program.
She continues to live in Cape Breton with her partner Joanne Landry and works virtually from their home with companies around the world.
You can reach Veronica at firstname.lastname@example.org
April 3, 2020 by Veronica
There are several answers to this question but the big one is power consumption. In a small wearable device it is important that the design is optimised as much as possible for low power use thus increasing the run time for a given power storage device. Given the small size of a wearable device, having a small energy storage device is also important.
Whilst there are some choices in the silicon market, many silicon makers opt to use ARM CPUs in their silicon. The phone you use almost certainly has an ARM processor in it.
The ARM processor has it’s roots in a small company that started in 1978 in Cambridge, England by the name of Acorn Microcomputer. Acorn became better known as the winner and builder behind the BBC Computer. These became ubiquitous in schools throughout the UK as the appetite to learn all things computing grew. The machines were based on the then popular MOS Technology 6502 also used in the Commodore PET (which incidentally is the 2nd computer I did any significant programming on around 1980 – for a cup of tea I’ll tell you about the first) and VIC-20.
The the development of a follow on product, the Proton, a young computer science graduate from Selwyn College, University of Cambridge, was working away on a new processor for the next generation of computers. In April of 1985 Sophie Wilson‘s design of the first ARM based processor came to life.
Designing a processor from the ground up is no easy task but Sophie had some particular goals in mind. She wanted to use a Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC) architecture to keep the silicon size down which helps minimise power consumption as well as optimise the instruction set for stack-orientated block mode structured programming language such as C. She also wanted to optimize for speed and low latency. Another key feature she introduced to the ARM was conditional execution. (For another cup of tea I’ll talk to you about that).
In 1985 the first ARM based computer was launched by Acorn Computers, the Archimedes based on the ARM2. This CPU core used about 30,000 transistors compared to the likes of CPUs from Motorola and Intel that used 40,000 (68K) and 134,000 (80286) to deliver similar performance. Transistor count is important to power consumption (another cup of tea and I’ll tell you how and why).
Acorn Computers created Acorn RISC Machines in 1990 and by 1992, Apple used the ARM6 based ARM610 in their Newton PDA. The ARM6 was a considerable advancement compared to the ARM2 but still only used 35,000 transistors.
By the time I was working in the mobile industry in 2000, ARM was used by almost every mobile device. All the users of the Symbian OS, where I was working were using them. As part of my role at Symbian, I was part of the liaison team to ARM representing our customers interests.
At an ARM TechCon conference in 2001 I had the great pleasure of meeting Sophie over, yes you guessed it, a cup of tea.
The ARM core is licensed to be built into silicon. The Commlet Bracelet uses a couple of ARM based SOCs (System-On-Chip) selected for their use of the ARM core and low power Radio Frequency functionality such as GPS and Cell Phone.
It’s sobering to think that today’s low power wearables owe their processing prowess to the computers of the early 1980s.
Listen to Sophie talk about ARM etc
To watch a docu movie about the times of the BBC Micro, watch Micro Men from the BBC.
Micro Men Movie
Pictured, BBC Micros from Acorn at a school. Sophie Wilson. Symbian OS phones.
March 19, 2020 by Richard
Our CEO and CTO sat down with Greg McNeil of the Cape Breton Post, a local newspaper from the Saltwire network. The following is taken from the official publication:
NEW WATERFORD, N.S.
Patsy Leadbeater still vividly recalls a 2017 educational expedition through the forests of England that quickly turned from a fun castle tour and some obstacle course activities to several moments of panic when a child became overwhelmed by the situation.
A teacher at the time, she had to assist that student through the obstacle course while trusting the other five-year-old students in her group to remain in their designated spot while she handled the situation.
That moment became one of the inspirations for a better way to monitor students on school trips. And not long after her startup known as Commlet Technologies was created as a tech supervision tool designed to ensure accountability for school boards and peace of mind for parents.
“Halfway through that day I’m standing on a hill with the head teacher and I said ‘this is so archaic,’” the New Waterford native recalled, during a recent interview at Sydney’s Navigate House.
“I have a list of children in my back pocket on a piece of paper. I said ‘I have a chip in my dog’s back for 10 years, I can look on my app, change the temperature in my house. We know where our cars are because we have GPS but our children are our most valuable asset and we don’t even know where they are.”
FAST FACTS - Commlet Technologies Features
Her technology that’s rapidly closing in on a beta test is designed to provide extra supervision support during all indoor, outdoor and extracurricular activities.
Essentially, it is a communication bracelet with features like notifications to staff when students have left the set location, ongoing GPS monitoring of a student’s whereabouts, and even a heart rate monitor.
“One of the benefits of having the GPS bracelets is I don’t have to count children all day,” said Leadbeater. “That’s all I was doing, keeping them corralled, keeping them together and keeping them safe. Education was always secondary, so we could spend more time talking to children about what kind of tree that is, when it is in season, and having deep conversations we couldn’t have before."
There’s also an app component that cuts down on the preparation time for teachers readying for school outings. Keeping track of medications, allergies, and special needs are some of the things the app could make easier for educators trying to give the most vulnerable children the appropriate supervision.
“If you are making a list you have to think, ‘well Bradley runs, Rebecca has a bee sting allergy.’ If you are making a list you have to think of these things you don’t want to give a parent volunteer who hasn’t done it before.
”The app works as a stand-alone device but the GPS bracelet will only work in conjunction with the app.
In 2018, Commlet was one of four early-stage companies to earn seed funding from the Spark Cape Breton competition.
Leadbeater said it is designed with schools in mind but could be implemented across many platforms.
Interest in Commlet has already come from Florida, Massachusetts, Australia and Africa.
Inquiries can be made to contact email@example.com or online at commlet.ca.
November 3, 2020 by Veronica
Mankind has a long rich history of travelling and exploring. Land based communities have long used well worn paths, trade routes and landmarks as a means of navigating.
Island communities wanting to go out of sight of the coast line have had a harder time. Navigation by the stars has been a harder task given the movement through the night or being obscured by cloud.
Britain had a long history of sea faring and its sea farers had long known of the troubles navigating long ocean voyages using astronomical navigation. Cumulative errors resulted in them missing their targets with many ship wrecks.
It had been long known that one of the sources of error was the accurate measuring of time. Pendulum and escarpment based time keepers of the day were adversely affected by the movement of a ship. This had become such an acute problem that in 1714 the UK parliament passed the Longitude Act, a bill administered by the Board of Longitude with incremental awards being offered for simple and precise methods to establish longitude. Britain was by no means the first to offer awards for this.
The story of John Harrison, a clock maker, is one that is interesting and the subject of the TV series, Longitude, from the book of the same name by Dava Sobel.
The use of astronomical data for navigation meant the Royal Observatory at Greenwich was the base line for astronomical observations used by sea farers and thus the ‘zero’. This ultimately lead to Greenwich being the zero in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) or UTC(Coordinated Universal Time).
Early space exploration revealed some interesting and useful methods as scientists developed tracking abilities of deployed satellites. Whilst many names are associated with the development of GPS such as Roger L. Easton, Ivan Getting and Bradford Parkinson to name a few, I am going to single out Dr Gladys West for her work on the math for an extremely accurate geodetic Earth model, a part that is crucial to the accuracy of GPS.
In 1973, the US department of defence started the Global Positioning System project. The full constellation of 24 satellites entered service in 1993 with the first prototype launched in 1978. Although initially only available for military use, in 1983 the use of the system become available for everyone although the US military still had a better class of service than the public. This changed on May 1, 2000 with full public availability being made.
Although GPS is the most well known, there are other satellite based navigation systems with modern silicon devices being able to make use of them.
GPS works by using trilateration, deriving a position by measuring distance from a number of satellite signals and involves an accurate measure of time, something I am sure John Harrison would have liked to see.
Pictured below John Harrison and Dr Gladys Mea West
May 18, 2019 by Patsy
Forest schools in the UK, outdoor classrooms in Canada and the US, they are beneficial to everyone. With teacher’s workload, Commlet (communication bracelet) supports supervision, allowing exploration, creativity and confidence for all.