Inspired by Necessity: Nature-based technology

For centuries, Norway’s isolation and exposure to powerful, often brutal forces of nature shaped the lives of its people. As a matter of survival, Norwegians were forced to find innovative ways to trade and communicate with each other despite rough seas, fierce winters and difficult terrain. Today, their creativity born of necessity is finding new applications in research and industries working with the natural world.

Oslo Teknopol, the development agency for the Oslo region, notes that “Norway is an advanced information society with a population that is known to be early adapters of new technology. Expertise in Norway is based on a history of solving problems posed by mountainous topography, a subarctic climate, long distances and a small, scattered population – factors which have made Norway a pioneer in new communication techniques and advanced technologies.”
 
In recent years, the country has achieved global leadership in nature-based technologies such as satellite communications, earth observation (EO) and climate research. Space applications from companies like Kongsberg and Thrane & Thrane Norge, climate research from CICERO and fishery innovations from Simrad are becoming increasingly important for business and policy-shapers worldwide.
 
Sharp Eyes & Ears in Space
It’s common knowledge that the growing satellite industry has accelerated society’s ability to communicate instantly. But “eyes in the sky” also gather crucial environmental information. For example, satellite data can be put to work to identify dangerous coastal algae growth, quickly detect oil spills at sea, and monitor snow melt and runoff to prevent flooding.
 
Two Norwegian companies, Thrane & Thrane Norge (formerly Nera SatCom) and Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace, have carved out leadership positions in the launching, supplying and equipping of satellite systems for research and mobile communications.
SvalSat in Svalbard is the world’s largest ground station for polar satellites, and part of Norway’s leading space-related ground infrastructure.
© Kongsberg Satellite Services
 
From Launch to Venus
As a chief supplier of components for the powerful Ariane 5 booster rocket used in many launches, Kongsberg played an especially important role in deploying the world’s most sophisticated earth observation satellite: ENVISAT. In addition, the company also created instrumentation for this cutting-edge spacecraft that helps monitor the amount of oxygen and ozone in different layers of the Earth’s atmosphere.
 
The huge volumes of data produced by ENVISAT and other satellites demand powerful equipment for downloading processes. Kongsberg’s Spacetec division meets these needs as a leading manufacturer of ground receiving stations for meteorological and earth observation satellites. The company also supplies data flow processing software for satellite customers worldwide.
 
Kongsberg has been a key supplier to space programs beyond ENVISAT, with significant involvement in Rosetta, Mars Express, Venus Express and Huygens. The Venus Express probe is coming into a particularly important phase of operation now, having reached its final orbit around Venus in May of 2006. Scientists hope that the craft’s feedback on the cause of Venus’ greenhouse effect will yield useful information about handling Earth’s warming challenges.
 
Satellites for Clean Seas
Oil spill monitoring and ship detection in nearly real-time are vital abilities for governments looking after the ocean environment. In order to protect North Sea oil installations, the drift of icebergs must be followed. Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), one the world leaders in providing data on these issues, has recently announced an extension of its contract for monitoring with the Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies (NOFO).
 
Using imagery from the RadarSat satellite, KSAT will receive, process and quickly analyze data, enabling reporting to authorities within one hour if a spill is detected. KSAT will also inform operators about the drift of sea ice and icebergs.
 
Global Mobile Communications
On the communications side of satellite applications, Thrane & Thrane Norge is the chief global supplier of products and solutions for Inmarsat, which is the world’s leading satellite-based mobile communication system.
 
One of the firm’s breakout products is the world’s smallest mobile broadband satellite terminal. The Nera WorldPro 1000 BGAN is a pocket-sized satellite terminal that allows users to access broadband data and voice globally, and connect to high-speed internet, e-mail and videoconferencing. The whole unit weighs in at less than 1 kilogram, making it ideal for uses as extreme as a recent polar expedition, where the unit was tested in temperatures down to -20° Celsius.
 
EO-Hydro: Watching the Snow Pack from Space
Another important application of satellite technology is earth observation for the purpose of resource management. Norut IT is an independent institute for research in ICT and earth observation/satellite remote sensing. The institute recently completed a groundbreaking project: EO-Hydro (Environmental Information Services for Hydropower Plant Management).
 
This cutting-edge research developed an EO-based integrated service for hydropower plant management in three areas: Canada, Norway and the alpine region. The core areas of data gathering include snow coverage, snow volume storage and snow water equivalent (SWE). The project, funded by ESA, looked for global and local solutions to long-standing hydropower plant management challenges.
Kongsberg’s space technology has played an important role in ENVISAT, Rosetta and the Venus Express, illustrated here reaching final orbit around Venus.
© European Space Agency/Medialab
 
Norwegian Space Centre
Aiding research and industry in the growing use of space, the Norwegian Space Centre (NSC) is an agency of Norway’s Ministry of Trade and Industry. NSC promotes the development, coordination and evaluation of national space activities and advocates for Norwegian interests within the European Space Agency.
 
Principal goals of the centre are to create 10% annual growth in the space industry sector, meet user needs, attain a leading international position in research and maintain Norway’s primacy in space-related ground infrastructure.
 
The NSC manages a number of companies in the industry through its subsidiary, Norsk Romsenter Eiendom, including the Andoya Rocket Range, and the company holds a large interest in the Tromsø Ground Satellite Station and Svalbard Station (SvalSat).
 
Leading Climate Research
CICERO (the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo) was founded in 1990 with the understanding that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing the planet. The centre’s mission is “to provide reliable and comprehensive knowledge about all aspects of the climate change problem.” Main activities include research and offering expert advice about national and international issues related to climate change and climate policy.
 
One key ongoing CICERO project is an environmental cost model and estimation for China. The research aims to “estimate environmental (pollution) costs from water and air pollution” at a national level in China, according to the centre’s website. Another China-based CICERO project is developing a master plan against air pollution in Shanxi Province. Helping China deal with its significant pollution challenges is seen by many in the climatology community as a crucial element in making progress towards a healthier planet.
 
Other recent CICERO work has focused on the impact on the Nordic region of a two-degree Celsius warming of the climate, and another project, Quantify, examines ways to measure the climate of global and European transport systems. Land, surface, aviation and shipping will all be assessed, with an eye towards measuring the production of long-lived greenhouse gases.
 
Technology for Sustainable Fisheries
Advanced sonar, echo sounders and net instruments are vital tools for scientists working to estimate the biomass of the oceans in order to create a sustainable fishing industry, and Norwegian firm Simrad is on the leading edge in delivering new technology to aid research.
 
Thor Baerhaugen of Simrad pointed to new technology developed by the firm in 2006. “We have delivered a multi-beam echo sounder to the Institute of Marine Research. The MS70 is a new concept echo sounder equipped with 500 beams – which is able to deliver more precise information on the biomass of an entire school of fish instantly. Previously, scientists had to look at the size of individual fish, but now they can measure the entire mass.”
 
According to Baerhaugen, this innovation will help with the problem of commercial overfishing, which is of great concern throughout the industry. “More and more fishermen are concerned about the environmental aspects of fishing. They want to be able to fish tomorrow as well as today. And with multi-frequency echo sounders you can identify species and be selective about your catch, reducing overfishing.”
 
Another key to sustainable fishing levels is greater understanding of the stocks. MPower, based in Tromsø, has come up with a way to store all known variations of the genetic information of cod on a single data chip. Together with the Norwegian Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture Research, mPower hopes to develop this as a tool that will enable researchers to analyze more genetic variations in a shorter time.
 
Communication for Ships at Sea
Two Norwegian companies, MCP (Maritime Communications Partner) and Dualog, are innovating advanced systems for ocean-going communications systems. MCP is a global maritime cellular operator providing GSM and CDMA communications solutions specially targeted for the shipping industry. The firm provides connectivity via personal mobile phones to passengers and crew on cruise ships, ferries and other vessels worldwide.
 
Dualog, through its flagship product Dualog Communicator, enables onboard electronic file transfer, e-mail, telefax and Telex contact with shore. The Communicator technology works to integrate all available communications means onboard into a single system. 
 
Greater mobility is a key benefit of innovations like the Nera WorldPro 1000, the world’s smallest mobile broadband satellite terminal.
© Thrane & Thrane Norge
Never Truly Lost with a Cell Phone…
Ever been lost and confused while on a holiday and unable to find the guidebook? Researchers at the Norut Group, in partnership with Telenor, have developed a creative, high-tech solution to this dilemma. The MOVE project is developing WAP applications that will send useful tourism-related information right to the traveller’s handsets. 
 
MOVE’s pilot project was recently run in one of Norway’s prime tourist destinations, Lofoten. Travellers visiting this scenic town were alerted through advertising that a new WAP service was available, offering interactive maps with clickable contact information about local museums, businesses and tourist attractions. 
 
The project hopes to expand services to become a nationwide resource for travellers, connecting businesses and potential customers with information, promotions, games and messaging.  
 
Closing the Urban-Rural Digital Divide
Another Norut initiative underway is Project CroCopil, which explores how new mobile-connective ICT services can improve life and working conditions in remote areas. The technologies of interest include high-speed wireless networks, delay tolerant networking, peer-to-peer networking, digitalization of mobile phone systems and new satellite systems.
 
The project hopes to take steps that can lead to a reduction in the digital divide between rural and urban areas, create cross-border business opportunities between the northern parts of Finland, Sweden and Norway, and establish cross-border cooperation in several other fields.
 
Broadband Nation
The public sector in Norway is working to close the technological gap between town and country as well. The Norwegian national budget for 2007 includes a NOK 122 million commitment to achieving nationwide broadband access. The drive sets its goal as bringing high-speed broadband connections to all households and private and government workplaces, with NOK 100 million of the funds earmarked towards installing broadband connections to areas currently without the technology.
 
Norwegian climate researchers are using satellite technology to collect data about melting ice shelves to better understand the consequences of global warming.
© Kongsberg Satellite Services

 

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