What does imaging the watery depths of the North Atlantic have in common with making the innards of the world’s fastest supercomputer work faster, or tracking the movements of sea turtles with a tiny transmitter? The answer is simple: all three developments stem from Norwegian Information and Communication Technology (ICT) research and development efforts.
Norwegian scientists and engineers are busily creating tomorrow’s ICT technologies today, whether it’s cutting-edge electromagnetic imaging, tiny sensors to change the face of science and medicine, or more traditional ICT applications such as new types of mobile phone applications, computer games and search engines.
“When you look at our geography and our topography, we have to be good in providing telecommunications services to the outskirts of Norway,” says Rune Foshaug, Senior Adviser at Abelia
, the business association of Norwegian knowledge and technology-based enterprises. “Historically, we had to be able to deliver to the shipping and fishing industries, and to the offshore oil and gas industry.”
Add to that the high education level of the Norwegian population as a whole, Foshaug says, and it’s natural that Norwegian companies are among the leaders in coming up with new ideas and applications for the global ICT industry.
“Because the general level of education and GDP per capita is so high here, we are very fast adopters of technologies,” Foshaug said. “That’s one of the reasons for our success in ICT. And it makes Norway an interesting test bed for companies that are looking to try new ICT related products.”
Wired – & Wireless – for the Future
Norwegians are among the most wired people on the planet. In 2007, for example, the Stoltenberg Government appropriated NOK 377 million to guarantee broadband access throughout the nation, on top of the current coverage of approximately 95 percent. As of the second quarter of 2007, eight of 10 Norwegian households had Internet access, of which 86 percent were via broadband connections, according to the government agency Statistics Norway. Fully 73 percent of the Norwegian public uses a computer every day.
“This Government has the ambition that everyone should have access to broadband,” says Heidi Grande Røys, Minister of Government Administration and Reform. “Broadband is critical for developing businesses in the districts, and for public sector reform.” She notes that fully 99 percent of Norwegian residents should have broadband access when the programmes funded by the 2007 budget are completed. If not, up to NOK 30 million in additional funds will be made available to finish the job, she says.
Another important Government effort is a 10-year long ICT research programme funded by the Research Council of Norway called VERDIKT, which has an annual budget that is expected to grow to NOK 500 million by 2011. Fully 66 PhDs and 14 Post-doc positions have already been funded by the programme, which covers areas as varied as ICT in medical applications to ICT in traffic control.
Nearly NOK 30 billion was invested in ICT R&D in Norway in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available, according to Statistics Norway. That represents 1.5 percent of the country’s gross national product, and about 20 percent of all R&D expenditures in Norway, Statistics Norway states, with 81 percent of that ICT research money provided by the business sector itself.
Overall, Norway’s economy is dominated by the oil and gas industry, with Norway’s ICT sector third or fourth in size, depending upon the statistics you use to measure economic contribution. But Foshaug says those numbers don’t show the whole picture, because ICT is absolutely fundamental to the success of Norway’s largest industries.
“ICT also allows Norwegian businesses to compete in the world economy, while maintaining the country’s standard of living and high salaries,” Foshaug notes. The clever use of ICT technologies reduces the demand for personnel, for example. “We have high salaries and high expenses compared to the rest of the world,” Foshaug says. “So we have to use ICT to work smarter, to be more effective.”
Petroleum’s Long Reach
Electromagnetic Geoservices (EMGS) deploys a fleet of ships to perform its seabed logging technology to find petroleum deposits. Here, the Atlantic Guardian crew performs 24/7 survey operations in Southeast Asia.
The discovery of oil in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea in 1968 revolutionized Norway’s economy as well as its way of thinking about the future. Politicians and government officials realized that they had to look beyond oil and expand other areas of the economy, particularly in information and communications technology. These efforts have paid off: the World Bank’s report “Doing Business” in 2007 concluded that Norway was the third best country in Europe, and the ninth best in the world, in which to run a business.
But while Norway recognizes someday that its petroleum resources will someday dry up, the country is doing everything it can to use ICT research to leverage its North Sea resources. Norwegians have turned the challenge of developing petroleum on the Norwegian continental shelf into an advantage, by developing new technologies to access deep-water reservoirs. Many of these technologies rely heavily on ICT.
One company that has helped pioneer this ICT petroleum revolution is the Trondheim-based Electromagnetic Geoservices ASA, or EMGS
. The company was a spin-off from Statoil in 2002 to commercialize the use of electromagnetic energy to help map oil and gas reservoirs under the ocean floor, in a process called seabed logging.
ICT plays an important role in EMGS’s operations, in the processing of all their electromagnetic data – in fact, the demand is such that EMGS operates a Dell Blade cluster computer with 1060 processors operating at 7.2 terra FLOPS – one of the most powerful computers in Norway.
“Deepwater electromagnetic imaging continues to improve discovery rates and reduce finding costs for our customers in frontier and mature regions,” says EMGS CEO Terje Eidesmo. In November, 2007, the company purchased exclusive rights to a proprietary technology that improves the acquisition of data in shallow water environments.
in Oslo, which works in knowledge and content management, has also branched out into the petroleum sector with the foundation of a daughter company called Miriam, to serve the oil and gas industry with tools for process modelling and process simulation to help make operations more cost efficient.
IBM, one of the world’s largest IT research organizations, is also an important player in bringing ICT solutions to the oil and gas industry. In late November, 2006, IBM opened a Centre of Excellence for Oil and Gas in Stavanger. “We are leading an industry initiative for the rest of IBM from Norway,” says Ingvild Grimstad, an IBM Norway spokesperson. “The solutions and technologies we develop in close cooperation with our partners, and supported by our research labs in the United States, will enable us to develop solutions for the industry as a whole. After we develop solutions for the Norwegian market, we’ll market these ideas to the rest of the world.”
eDrilling & “Seeing” Reservoirs
At SINTEF Petroleum Research, a division of Norway’s largest independent research institute, researchers are using techniques from the computer games industry to develop a new kind of interactive drilling tool, called “eDrilling”, which looks like a video game. The tool allows people who are thousands of kilometres from the well site to watch in real-time, supervise the drilling or as a way to learn from experienced drillers.
The eDrilling effort is just one part of the Center for Integrated Operations in the Petroleum Industry, a collaborative composed of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), SINTEF Petroleum Research and the Institute for Energy Research, along with the world’s major international oil companies and related businesses, such as IBM, Aker Kværner and Kongsberg Marine. Researchers from Stanford and Carnegie Mellon universities in the United States, the Delft Technical University in Holland and Kyoto University in Japan are also cooperating in the project. The Research Council of Norway is funding this Centre for Research-Based Innovation from 2006-2011, with NOK 40 million in funding in 2007.
The development of visualization tools is also an important part of research being conducted at the Center for Integrated Petroleum Research, a Norwegian Centre of Excellence based at the University of Bergen. The centre is developing the use of advanced computer technology, combined with photographs and laser scans, to help geologists and geophysicists understand the geology surrounding undersea petroleum reservoirs. “These new tools at our disposal will help us map the geology in reservoir areas far more precisely than we could before ... with this new equipment, we can reach a precision of less than a metre,” says researcher Jan Tveranger in Teknisk Ukeblad, a Norwegian trade publication.
Imaging is also a subject of research at NTNU, where the Petroleum Engineering and Applied Geophysics Department has operated a visualization facility since 2001. The facility was the first large-scale visualization laboratory at a Norwegian university, and features the RAVE, a reconfigurable unit manufactured by US company Fakespace Inc.
Visualizing the geology of petroleum reservoirs on the Norwegian continental shelf is a major research focus at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and at the University of Bergen’s Center for Integrated Petroleum Research.
© NTNU Info/Gorm Kallestad
From Visualization to Computer Games
Companies are also using visualization and 3D simulations to help in other areas of oil and gas production. This kind of development is of particular interest to StatoilHydro
, which is working with StormFjord AS of Bergen to develop visualization of its dozens of oil platforms and other facilities in the Norwegian Sea. Scientists at the company’s Trondheim research division are working on converting all of StatoilHydro’s
3D construction files for a program that turns them into a kind of 3D world for training and teaching.
“Computer games these days are built as 3D models that players can freely manoeuvre through,” says Knut-Olav Fjell in a November 2007 Teknisk Ukeblad article. Because StatoilHydro
already has created precise 3-D construction files, using these in a computer game means “the construction people have already done a lot of the work. Now we’re working with the training division in Bergen to make an interactive training program that we have called Industrial Gaming.”
This blurring of the lines between computer games as a recreational activity and game technology as a useful tool is not exclusive to the oil and gas industry. The technologies and psychology that make computer games so successful make them an obvious research subject – which is one aspect of the year-old computer games research programme at NTNU, the first in Norway that takes a comprehensive look at computer games, and the first to offer a PhD in computer games.
NTNU researchers are exploring the use of computer games as a teaching tool, the development and testing of new game concepts and new game technologies, the use of 3D sound in games, the existing infrastructure and social support functions for gamer communities, and real time multiplayer mobile-based games. At the same time, Norway’s computer gaming industry is blossoming, represented by companies such as Funcom, Guppyworks, Medieparken, Tellu and Biometric Game Studio.
Telenor’s building at IT Fornebu outside of Oslo has won a number of international architecture awards, including the Prix d’Excellence from the FIABCI.
© Telenor, Damian Heinisch
When Oslo’s first airport, Fornebu, ceased operations in October, 1998 because the facilities were too small, the Norwegian Government seized the moment. What better place to build an ICT incubator and hub – where established ICT companies, such as Telenor
, could work in close contact with start-up companies? Thus was IT Fornebu born. Growth of the concept has been so strong that a new 27,000-square-metre facility, called Portalbygget, is being built and should be completed by 2009, according to Kristin Woje Ellingsen, Administrative Director of IT Fornebu AS.
“What is important for us is that there are a lot of small companies and some bigger companies, and that we can offer them connections with other companies and markets, particularly international markets, so that they can grow,” she said.
One example of this is Kantega, which specializes in Internet-based identity services. These services are necessary for Internet businesses, Internet banks, and public and private web pages, all of which need to be able to safely identify the person who is logging in to use the various services. Kantega’s subsidiary Kantega Secure Identity has already built Norway’s largest security portal with 12 million potential online users. The company is now planning to expand into Europe.
Research and development are an important part of the offerings at IT Fornebu, particularly through a unique company called Simula Research Laboratory, which conducts basic research in the fields of communication technology, scientific computing and software engineering. Established in 2001, the group is funded through the Research Council of Norway, but also cooperates with industry partners. In May 2007, Simula opened the Simula School of Research and Innovation AS (The Simula School). The school’s graduate students are primarily supervised by researchers at Simula affiliated with the University of Oslo’s Department of Informatics.
Olav Lysne, Research Director for Simula’s networks and distributed systems branch, says he’s eagerly awaiting Christmas 2007 – but not because he expects presents from Santa Claus. Instead, that’s when one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world will be installed at the Texas Advanced Computing Center in the United States. In cooperation with Sun Microsystems, Lysne’s group has developed the networking system that forms the core of the computer, which will have a peak performance in excess of 500 trillion floating point operations per second (Teraflops). “We have had our biggest success in terms of getting our research into industry with the adoption by Sun of the Simula networking system,” Lysne says.
The Oslo area is also home to Opera Software ASA
, a Telenor offshoot that has met with great success since its creation in 1995. The company makes the Opera web browser, which operates across devices, platforms and operating systems.
“We see Opera’s position as unique in the market – we are the only company in the world that focuses on web browsers,” says Thomas Ford, Communications Manager for the company.
Ford says the company has just introduced Opera 9.5 beta, which is being marketed as the fastest browser on the web, and has developed Opera Link, which allows users to synchronize bookmarks and the company’s visual thumbnails (called Speed Dial) across any Opera desktop Web browser or Opera Mini, the company’s mobile browser. Both products are free to download; the company reported that its Opera Mini 4 was downloaded more than one million times in the 10 days following its worldwide debut in November 2007.
Another Norwegian-based software developer that has seen great success is Trolltech
, creator of Qt, a development platform for creating applications that run on all major operating systems (Windows, Linux and Mac). In late 2007, Trolltech
announced that Lucasfilm Ltd., one of the world’s leading digital entertainment companies, will use Qt to develop their digital entertainment software. Some of the world’s largest software companies – such as Autodesk, Adobe, Disney and Skype – already rely on Qt in their work.
The Oslo-based company Opera Software is the only IT company in the world that focuses on web browsers.
© Opera Software
Searching with Success
When the Internet search engine Google
opened its Scandinavian research and development office in Trondheim in March, 2006, Norway became the only country in Europe with three of the world’s top search engine companies – Google, Fast and Yahoo – located in one city. Knut Magne Risvik, Head of the Google office, dubbed Trondheim “the Silicon Valley of Europe.”
Trondheim office has now doubled in size, although the company won’t release exact employment figures. Google Trondheim engineers are working on a number of search-engine related topics, and have responsibility for improving Google for Scandinavian language use. The office recently launched Google News in Czech.
But one of the office’s most exciting projects concerns stream computing infrastructure, which is real-time processing of streaming data on the Internet. “Imagine the ability to analyze millions of content changes per second to provide a continuously updated view of the web,” Risvik says. “In Trondheim we are building systems to facilitate real-time data processing across thousands of machines in parallel.”
Yahoo’s Trondheim office writes, tests and sometimes deploys and operates software in the Yahoo! network. Company officials say “There are over 500 million Yahoo! users worldwide, and most of them are using services powered by the software from the team in the Trondheim office.” The company is also crafting strategic alliances to build its market share, particularly in the mobile browser arena.
In January 2007, for example, Yahoo and Opera Software in Oslo announced a partnership in which Opera named Yahoo! as the exclusive provider of mobile search on its millions of Web browsers for mobile phones, Opera Mini and Opera Mobile, across more than 100 countries worldwide. Opera launched the new Yahoo! oneSearch early in 2007. Yahoo! and Opera have also agreed to exclusively work together to explore bringing mobile advertising into the Opera Mobile browser.
Fast Search and Transfer, the Norwegian-based search technology developed by NTNU PhD John M. Lervik, has also made significant forays into the mobile world, with the release in the summer of 2007 of new social computing software as part of its “Active Mobile” package. The new software creates relationships between products, user behaviours and community opinions that can then be offered as recommendations on a mobile phone. The online magazine eWeek.com credits Fast as being the first company to address social recommendations in the mobile market.
Knut Magne Risvik, Head of Google’s Trondheim, Norway research and development office, is leading his engineers on a quest to develop real-time processing of streaming data on the Internet.
A Wireless City, Wired Turtles
All this activity around mobile phones and related technologies raises the question of how best to test new mobile solutions. NTNU ICT researchers realized that this lack of real world testing areas could be a problem – and came up with the solution of establishing a mobile technology testing area, one that involves the entire city of Trondheim. Wireless Trondheim is the result.
The service covers much of downtown Trondheim, and is free to NTNU students, and employees of cooperating institutions, including the Sør-Trondelag County Council and the city of Trondheim. Wireless Trondheim can be used in over half of the cafés in the city and also in a number of indoor and outdoor locations.
Along with the public face of Wireless Trondheim, researchers are building a parallel Network Laboratory, with its own communication links that allow researchers to test and experiment with a diverse set of technologies deployed throughout the city. The lab allows for real all-weather testing of equipment and solutions, and will be used for projects addressing Radio Propagation, New Access Technology, Positioning, and ITS services. The lab is being implemented in cooperation with SINTEF, Q-free, the Norwegian National Road Administration and RadioNor.
Wireless doesn’t just have to involve people. Wildlife researchers are also eager to employ a technology that has been developed by the Trondheim-based company Thelma. The technology involves using tiny transmitters that are small enough to be inserted into fish or attached to turtle shells, as is being done in Spain, by scientists from the Estación Biologica de Doñana, Centro Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC). The project involves studying the behaviour of one-year-old captive-grown turtles, to see how they respond after being released.
Looking to the Future — & the Past
Scandinavia is nearly synonymous with mobile phone technology, and Norway is no exception in its embrace of the mobile world. In fact, with 4,754,453 subscriptions, Norway has more mobile phone subscribers than inhabitants, and had the 7th highest subscription rate in 2005, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Communication’s Outlook 2007. At the same time, Norway’s public funding for all types of telecommunications investment, at approximately USD 220 per capita, was the second highest of any OECD country and behind only Iceland, the OECD’s report says.
With that kind of public and private support, it should come as no surprise that Norwegian companies, particularly those developing mobile-based technologies, are strong players in the ICT market.
Intelligent Quality AS from Vinstra has developed an ICT platform called Arc Communicate, which allows employees in an organization to share information and communicate with each other, no matter where they are in the world, and no matter whether they’re using a computer, a mobile telephone or a regular telephone.
At Telenor Research and Innovation (R&I), researchers have developed a mobile client on Facebook, where users can take part in the network community from their mobile equipment. The product allows people to access pages in Facebook’s mobile solution, send instant messages and upload images from their mobile terminal.
Two-thirds of all ICT research in Norway is carried out at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, which has contributed to major ICT companies such as Google and Yahoo locating R&D offices in the city.
© Arild Juul/NTNU SA
Telenor R&I has also recently established iLabs, (innovation Labs), which has developed a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) and demonstrators based on open source, called the iLabs Mobile Toolbox. By using this toolbox, users can make their own mobile clients and participate in various network communities and blogs from a mobile terminal. The toolbox has also been integrated with Blogger, EZ Publish and Google Talk. iLabs is collaborating with Sun Microsystems, EZ Systems, NTNU and the University of Oslo in these efforts.
But Telenor’s telecommunications efforts don’t just stop at envisioning the future. In June 2007, the company pledged to protect a part of its heritage: the red public telephone booth, first introduced in 1933 after a design competition won by Bergen architect Georg Fasting.
“The telephone booths are one of the most visible and known cultural monuments in Norway. They are closely associated with Telenor in people’s consciousness, and the booths have also won international recognition. We’re proud and happy that we can help in protecting these 100 phone booths for the future,” says Jon Fredrik Baksaas, Telenor’s CEO.