10 inventions you didn’t know came from Waterloo

technologies collage
technologies collage
Waterloo researchers, students and alumni approach challenges differently. They unlock barriers by working together to develop creative approaches across disciplines. The futures they are transforming are not independent islands but an interconnected landscape of opportunities representing a path for Waterloo to foster lasting, impactful global change.

You have probably heard of innovations by companies like Blackberry and OpenText and their origins here at Waterloo, but there are many more inventions influencing industries around the world. Here are just some of the innovations that sprung up from the creative well here on campus.

BorealisWind ice protection system

Developed by Daniela Roeper and launched out of Velocity, the BorealisWind ice protection system prevents ice formation on wind turbine blades to ensure continuous energy production for wind power farms in cold conditions. The de-icing system works by heating the interior of the blade, thereby heating the exterior and shedding the ice. A blower, heater and duct system target heat to the tip of the blade. Not only does ice buildup result in millions of dollars in annual revenue loss, but it also impacts wind turbine efficiency, and where they can be installed. The extra weight of ice also causes increased wear on the drive train and blade surface, as well as additional load on the wind turbine structure. BorealisWind was acquired by FabricAir, a global designer and producer of custom air dispersion and air distribution solutions.

Dual-energy X-ray screen

This unique digital X-ray technology , developed by Waterloo spinoff KA Imaging,  allows for precise differentiation between bone and soft tissue in a single exposure, making it an invaluable tool for diagnosing conditions such as lung cancer and pneumonia. The company was co-founded by engineering alumni Amol Karnick (BASc ’95), Dr. Sina Ghanbarzadeh (MASc ’14, PhD ’21) and Dr. Karim S. Karim (BASc ’99, PhD ’03), a professor of electrical and computer engineering and associate vice-president, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship. Their technology has been installed in the intensive care unit at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, and will help quickly and efficiently diagnose chest injuries and illnesses.


DarwinAI, was a startup dedicated to optimizing artificial intelligence (AI) systems for efficiency and speed. The startup made the process of improving artificial intelligence for companies accessible, offering a complete solution to enhance product quality and boost production efficiency from start to finish in various industries from medicine to food production. Based in Kitchener-Waterloo, DarwinAI was founded in 2017 by Sheldon Fernandez (BASc ’01), Dr. Mohammad Shafiee (PhD ’17), Arif Virani (BASc ’05) and Dr. Alexander Wong (BASc ’05, MASc ’07, PhD ’10). Wong is Waterloo professor of systems design engineering and the Canada Research Chair in Artificial Intelligence and Medical Imaging and Shafiee is an adjunct faculty member. DarwinAI has been acquired by tech giant Apple.

Einstein tiles 

This mathematical discovery by Craig Kaplan, a professor in the Cheriton School of Computer Science, isn’t a physical invention, but a significant find, nonetheless. Einsteins tiles - also dubbed the hat - are 13-sided formations of shapes that interlock perfectly, like puzzle pieces, with no gaps or overlaps, but with an infinite never-repeating pattern. This discovery has significant implications in various fields, from material science to cryptography. It was named to the TIME’s 2023 Best Inventions List.

Greenhouse gas curbing nano-films 

Developed by Velocity startup, Evercloak, their innovative thin-film tech creates large, affordable nanocoatings, from single layers to hundreds of nanometers thick - roughly the thickness of a strand of spider silk, barely visible to the human eye yet strong. Founded by Evelyn Allen and Faculty of engineering Michael Pope, their eco-friendly process uses less energy and produces less waste to create materials like graphene and carbon nanotubes. Their flexibility in crafting films for various uses, from dehumidifying membranes to addressing environmental challenges, enables Evercloak to produce ultra-thin nanofilms that can significantly reduce energy consumption in air conditioning and assist in water desalination.


Maple is a powerful computational software tool encompassing symbolic and numeric computing, serving as both a development environment and programming language. Commercialized by Maplesoft, it tackles various technical computing domains like symbolic mathematics, numerical analysis and data visualization. With its roots tracing back to the Waterloo in the 1980s, its capacity for symbolic computing enables manipulation of mathematical expressions and solutions to problems, making it a versatile tool used in both academic and professional settings.

The MicroAngioscope

Vena Medical’s MicroAngioscope, another Velocity startup, is a breakthrough medical device offering high-resolution imaging of blood vessels. Founded by Michael Phillips (BASc ’17) and Phillip Cooper (BASc ’17), their advanced technology enables real-time visualization, aiding clinicians in diagnosing and treating vascular issues such as stroke with precision. Its tiny size allows minimally invasive insertion into vessels, capturing detailed images to detect abnormalities and guide interventions. This innovation has the potential to transform vascular diagnosis and treatment , improving patient outcomes while reducing the need for invasive procedures.

Nanocoatings for sustainable packaging

Nfinite Nanotechnology was launched on Earth Day in 2021. The startup is transforming the packaging industry with its cutting-edge smart nanocoatings designed for sustainable packaging solutions. Founded by Kevin Musselman, a professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering, and Chee Hau Teoh (MASc ’20) and Jhi Yong Loke (MASc ’21), who earned master’s degrees while developing the technology in his lab, their mission is to combat plastic waste. The company’s innovative barrier coatings enhance the durability of biodegradable packaging and improve the recyclability of existing materials. By extending the shelf life of products, Nfinite Nanotechnology is poised to significantly reduce plastic waste, contributing to global environmental efforts.

V-One: 3D printer for circuit boards

A team of students comprised of Alroy Almeida (BASc 13’), Jesus Zozaya (BASc ’13), Katarina Ilic (BASc ’13) and James Pickard (BASc ’13) at Waterloo, were frustrated with circuit board design inefficiencies. Traditional prototyping involved costly, time-consuming iterations. Observing the rapid prototyping capabilities of 3D printers, they envisioned a solution: a printer depositing circuits like ink. Together, they built the V-One, a 3D printer that enables circuit boards to be prototyped within minutes, eliminating the frustrations with traditional fabrication processes, and drastically reducing hardware development time.  The device is used in university engineering labs and by manufacturing companies like Dyson to prototype products.

Watcom C/C++

Watcom C/C++ is a highly influential compiler software used for programming in the C and C++ languages. It was developed by a team led by Prof. Wes Graham at the University of Waterloo. This compiler gained prominence in the computing industry due to its advanced optimization and compatibility features, making it a preferred choice for software developers, particularly during the era of DOS-based development in the 1980s and 1990s. Initially a commercial product, it has now been released as an open-source package called Open Watcom.

Researchers at Waterloo excel in a unique environment, integrating experiential education and entrepreneurship with disciplinary and interdisciplinary research. Waterloo’s focus on interdisciplinary research allows technologies to be applied in new areas and industries for the positive advancement of humanity.

If you’re energized by the culture of invention and research at Waterloo, check out the Global Futures in Focus podcast. Hosted by Dominic Barton, alongside leading experts from the University, the podcast examines the intersections of the transformational forces guiding our future and that space in between where solutions can be uncovered to make the world a better place for all.
Jordan Flemming