2021: A Year in Review at DarwinAI

by Sheldon Fernandez


As the year draws to a close, some pensive musing is in order: an opportunity to ruminate on a most interesting year at DarwinAI.   

Like many of you, remote work was the norm for our team during this unusual year. Although challenging, our capacity to relentlessly innovate and deliver excellence through skill and tenacity continued unabated. Partnerships and program accelerators, awards and distinctions, turned 2021 into a fascinating journey for our organization. 

As Julie Andrews said in The Sound of Music, let’s start at the very beginning…


Partnerships and Programs 

As if to herald the fun ahead, the year began with a bang as we announced an exciting collaboration with NGen and Aspire Food Group to radically transform insect agriculture with our AI technology. Aspire’s vision, which won them the prestigious Hult prize in 2013, is to create a ground-breaking protein production facility to address the acute and global problem of food security. 

Upon completion, their site will constitute the world’s first fully automated food grade and insect protein manufacturing plant. It will also be the first time that IIoT sensors, automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), and AI will be deployed in climate-controlled, indoor vertical agriculture setup with living organisms. In tandem with our COVID-Net initiative, 2021 gifted us unique ways to deploy our skills in service of humanitarian goals.   

Our Aspire announcement was soon complemented with a second. In a multinational effort to leverage the potential of robots to support human production workers with repetitive, heavy, and arduous tasks, we collaborated with Festo, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and the University of Waterloo on the FLAIROP Project, an innovative two-year initiative that focuses on object recognition through deep learning, robotics, and data security expertise. 

Through this project, we’ve been able to create meaningful data and performance analysis to show the benefits, practical scalability, and compounding network effects of robotic solutions within production lines.

In addition to these breakthrough projects, we also participated in the 5G Open Innovation Lab; a vigorous 12-week program centered on 5G and edge computing. The program entailed collaboration opportunities with Accenture, Amdocs, Avanade, Dell Technologies, Ericsson, F5, Intel, Microsoft, Spirent, T-Mobile and VMware, to develop solutions encompassing a broad range of technologies including AI, advanced driver assist systems, cybersecurity, and IoT.

Awards and distinctions 

As with years previous, 2021 smiled upon our organization with some notable awards and recognition. Foremost, we were honored for the second year in a row with inclusion on the CB Insights AI 100 List of Most Innovative Artificial Intelligence Startups.

As its name suggests, the AI 100 showcases the hundred most promising private AI companies in the world based on factors such as patent activity, investor quality, market potential, partnerships and team strength. Our recognition as one of five Canadian companies in this year’s edition from a pool of over 6,000 enterprises, speaks to the quality of our team and our commitment to transform industries by instilling trust in AI. 

The quality of our team was further highlighted by a prestigious distinction bestowed upon our co-founder and Chief Scientist Dr. Alexander Wong, who was ranked by Stanford University as one of the top 2% of scientists in the world. This comprehensive list provides a ranking of 100,000 top scientists using citation metrics to determine the relevance and importance of a given research topic. It is indeed a privilege to have Professor Wong at the academic helm of our organization.

The accolades above were punctuated by important awards relating to our work culture, a traditional strong point at DarwinAI.  

First, we were named as a Best Workplace in Technology by Great Place to Work Institute® Canada, based on direct feedback our team provided as part of an extensive and anonymous survey about their workplace experience. I spoke about the importance of this distinction in a video on our YouTube channel. 

Second, we were selected as the Toronto regional winner for the Best Tech Startup and Best Tech Work Culture at the 2021 Tech in Motion Events Timmy Awards. This was followed by our global award for Best Startup in North America at the national ceremony, an accolade that was especially gratifying given strong competition from regional winners in San Francisco, New York, Seattle, and Boston. 

Such accolades are especially gratifying as a reflection of our team members who continually demonstrate that Canadian entrepreneurship, innovation, and resilience can equal our determined neighbors down south.

Core offering 

Most importantly, 2021 saw us apply our core technology to the important problem of visual inspection – a use-case that spans numerous industries with particular applications in manufacturing. We’ve developed a powerful product offering in this area, which targets scenarios such as scratch detection, PCB inspection, and melt pool inspection for our aerospace, industrial, and automotive clients. To this end, our revamped website is now home to numerous case studies that illustrate the practical applications of our platform.  

Slowly but surely, we’re transforming industries by instilling trust in AI…

Until Next Year…

In reflecting on our company’s journey in 2021, the sentiments are numerous: pride in our team, thankfulness to our partners, appreciation for our clients, all mixed with a tinge of exhaustion during these atypical times. 

Like yourself, I’m looking forward to some downtime with family during the holidays as I recharge for an eventful 2022 (especially my ‘other’ startup, three-year-old Max Fernandez). 

As I wrote in my last medium piece of the year, much time has passed since the world was flipped on its head in March of 2020. The challenges and changes persist. But our work continues. The story goes on. And, to paraphrase a US president, an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm.

Happy Holidays, 

Sheldon Fernandez

CEO, DarwinAI