Complex systems like city transit and electrical grids offer the ability to influence beneficial changes through the use of technology. At the same time these systems offer challenges that can be hard to visualize and address before implementation takes place. RUNWITHIT Synthetics founded by Myrna and Dean Bittner looks to help organizations map out those issues and make complex ecosystems easier to understand.
Myrna Bittner got her start in technology in a non-traditional way as she built the foundation for RUNWITHIT Synthetics (RWI). She began with an undergraduate degree in English and Sociology, and then went on to do her MBA, both at the University of Alberta.
Between her first and second year of graduate school, Myrna and her partner Dean Bittner co-founded their first company, Bittco Solutions Ltd. Bittco used Groupware to provide real-time networked collaboration through shared whiteboarding, video conferencing and chat at a time when the Internet was only one year old.
From Bittco Solutions, the team jumped into their next company—Neuralvr Technologies Inc. which used neural net and 3-D visualization technologies to support search engine aggregation and intelligent data visualization.
RWI was launched in 2014. The original mission for RWI was to take Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation and create realities that showed the complexities of systems. Not just the one system in use but all interconnected systems and the people they interact with. When planning a new system, the focus is often on the data or the outcome but often it is hard to envision what and who it will impact.
For instance, with a large-scale critical system, a company might focus on infrastructure, data, and system integration without factoring in potential user or environmental factors that impact implementation and operations. These considerations can stretch outside the system and the company, linking to health, economics, and culture.
And, as you might guess, visualizing that in a way that people can understand is a challenge.
That is the complex problem that Myrna and her team continue to address. As an example of their work, RWI has been working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) on how to synthesize an energy grid beyond the engineering of the system. Engineers often have models and grids that lay out the structures and assets like power stations and transformers.
If a city were to experience a disaster that led to a power outage during the COVID-19 pandemic, what factors would they need to consider? How do you look at the impact of not having power on your population? Myrna says you have to start with human behavior. In other words, how do people use power? Are they working from home? Do they drive electric vehicles that need charging? How many people are in an area that will be impacted, and who is most vulnerable? Then tying this back to the grid and the priorities needing to be set.
Working with the EPRI, RWI modeled what would happen if the populations of Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona lost power. By looking at the people, their environment, and their health, RWI was able to show what would happen and who would benefit the most by getting power restored first. It also allowed them to understand what could build community resilience and improve trust in the power grid and company when planning how to address a disaster such as this one. It allowed the organization to be future focused and plan in advance by identifying what could happen.
Myrna and Dean are problem solvers, and seem a bit addicted to the process of seeing ways to address big issues by going outside of traditional approaches. They want to move away from looking at immediate concerns by allowing people to experience the potential issues beforehand to plan for the future. As their team grows, they see leading the charge on building resilient and dynamic systems and helping people understand the vulnerabilities in their plan.
One area RWI would like to become involved with is an initiative called Smart Cities. This initiative is about improving the lives of citizens through innovation, data, and connected technology.
Imagine you are planning a new metro line by reviewing the overall system and related systems it provides the opportunity to address issues before they happen. From a technology standpoint, it is possible to identify how the new line would integrate with existing transit technology. City staff could also see how the existing transit routes would work alongside the new line and how that can impact riders. Or look at how this would impact vehicular and foot traffic and how it would impact businesses.
It helps the city or government to model forward.
RWI’s goal moving into the future is to deliver hope. To take the complexity of these systems and make them approachable and to allow our society to celebrate the science happening around us.
When I asked Myrna why RWI is located in Alberta, she initially said it is because she is from Alberta. However, beyond the comforting familiarity, RWI had the opportunity to stay local but be successful nationally. There is not an entrenched cookie cutter way to build a business in Alberta, which opens up a lot of opportunity. The amazing talent from the University of Alberta has also ensured RWI can find talent that is up to date on AI, she said. While this team is remote, they are staffed from Edmonton for the most part.
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