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Drones, satellite tagging will help monitor harbour seals in Saint John

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The Atlantic Coastal Action Program (ACAP) Saint John has launched a harbour seal monitoring program that could include using drones and satellite tagging to find out more about the mammals and their activities in the area.

Graeme Stewart-Robertson, the group’s executive director, says the program has been a long time coming, with “a lot of information gaps” to fill.

“We realized that despite promoting [harbour seals] to tourists and within our own community … with the names of mascots or sports teams that we really don’t have a clear understanding of what these seals are doing,” he said.

“So it’s really exciting for us to be able to move forward on a project like this and to hopefully address some of those questions.”

Graeme Stewart-Robertson, executive director of ACAP Saint John, is encouraging citizens to participate in the project by submitting any photos or observations they make about harbour seals. (CBC)

Although some research has already been conducted by University of New Brunswick scientists, among others, much of the work has focused on the Bay of Fundy as a whole, or looked at the impact of seals on aquaculture, which is predominantly located west of Saint John, said Stewart-Robertson.

ACAP’s project, being done in collaboration with researchers at UNB, Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials and other groups will focus on the Saint John Harbour for the next two-and-a-half years.

Staff of the non-profit organization started doing some field observations last week to determine where some of the key haul-out sites are, where seals come out of the water to rest or breed.

“Those are our most critical spots,” said Stewart-Robertson.

The number of such sites has been reduced over the years by development and infill, he said, but there are still others, including Shack Rogs, Manawagonish Island and Round Reef, off of Tin Can Beach.

‘Phenomenal’ data

Crews plan to use drones to evaluate the harbour seals, as well as grey seals, to avoid getting too close and scaring them away.

They also hope to use satellite tagging to track them, providing it can be done safely for both staff and the seals.

“It would certainly not be easy,” said Stewart-Robertson, noting it would involve locating the seals, tranquilizing them and attaching trackers to them with an adhesive that lasts about six months in the ocean in order to get the GPS satellite tagging locations.

Still, “the hope is there because the amount of data we would get from that would be phenomenal,” he said.

It could, for example, provide a better understanding of whether the seals are resident to the harbour or travel to other areas such as Charlotte County or Kennebecasis Bay.

Stewart-Robertson expects to spend the first year assessing the feasibility and developing a plan.

Graeme Stewart-Robertson is the executive director of ACAP Saint John. The project will take stock of seals in our harbour and region. 9:31

In the meantime, ACAP wants to engage the public in the project, and is encouraging citizens to report when they see seals, and ideally, take photographs of them.

“Having that community input of – ‘Oh, I saw five seals hauled out on the rocks at Manawagonish Island,” or ‘I saw them at …​ Mispec’ that’s really helpful to have that citizen science component as well because it gives us more eyes in the community.”

 A special platform to submit photos and detailed information, such as time of day and weather conditions, will be developed in the coming months, but ACAP’s Facebook page and website can be used for now, he said.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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