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Ontario Tech student changemaker: Benjamin Fedoruk’s Brilliant Catalyst Challenge for Rural Canada experience

Second-year Faculty of Science student teams with friends to develop automated public transit system

Benjamin Fedoruk is a second-year Integrated Mathematics and Computer Science student in the Faculty of Science at Ontario Tech University.
Benjamin Fedoruk is a second-year Integrated Mathematics and Computer Science student in the Faculty of Science at Ontario Tech University.

As a university committed to accelerating economic growth, regional development and social innovation, Ontario Tech University is inspiring and empowering the next generation of innovative changemakers.

Entrepreneurship and ethical applications of technology are hallmarks of the Ontario Tech story. One of the places students can galvanize their academic learnings into new businesses is through Brilliant Catalyst, the university’s entrepreneurship and experiential learning hub that facilitates idea generation, collaboration and new partnerships.

In Summer 2021, Brilliant Catalyst organized its first Catalyst Challenge with a focus on rural Canada, to develop solutions in the areas of health care, education, and talent retention. The Challenge ended in a showcase event where new technology solutions developed by the country’s best young digital innovators were presented to an esteemed panel of judges. One of this year’s honourable-mention entries came from a group of Thunder Bay students, one of whom is now a second-year Integrated Mathematics and Computer Science student at Ontario Tech.

Over the next year, Benjamin Fedoruk and his Thunder Bay friends at other universities (Russell Frost, Kai Fucile Ladouceur and Harrison Nelson) will work on their plans for automated, electric public transit system in rural northwestern Ontario. Their plans won high praise in the Brilliant Challenge and earned a 12-month Brilliant incubation opportunity.

“Because rural communities are typically large distances apart and highly reliant upon cars for travel, one of the biggest hurdles in keeping young people in the community is the absence of good public transit,” says Fedoruk. “Car ownership and operation is often cost-prohibitive too. Our idea is to develop an affordable, on-demand self-driving electric car transportation system between communities in the Thunder Bay area.”

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A fare on the system called ‘Fiacre’ would offer crosstown Thunder Bay door-to-door electric vehicle rides for approximately $5 per person.

“The key to affordability would be a driverless, electric system with smaller vehicles,” says Fedoruk. “Ultimately something like this could evolve into something much larger, covering greater geographic areas, bring cost-effective transportation options to a large number of communities in the greater Thunder Bay area.”

As it builds its plans, Fiacre has been in contact with various regional groups including volunteer multicultural groups, the Ministry of Transportation and others. Potential ideas include partnering with existing transportation services like the local taxi company and Thunder Bay Transit.

“Everyone in the community has a vested interest in making transportation easier and more affordable,” says Fedoruk. “Better accessibility means retaining more talent in the local area. Smart applications of technology can help solve longstanding travel considerations across a large mixed urban/rural area. We’re looking forward to advancing our ideas with the help of the ideas we can develop through Brilliant Catalyst incubator.”


“The Brilliant Catalyst is committed to supporting the creativity and innovation coming from Ontario’s next generation of changemakers. This year’s Catalyst Challenge is just one example of how Ontario Tech’s Brilliant Catalyst is pushing forward the university’s priority of ‘tech with a conscience’, while supporting and encouraging student innovation in our communities and beyond.” 
-Osman Hamid, Director, Creativity and Entrepreneurship, Brilliant Catalyst, Ontario Tech University