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How wired mussels are predicting toxic algae

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To Canadian fisheries scientist Luc Comeau, the humble blue mussel is more than a bivalve — it’s a bio sentinel.

“If something is strange in the environment, they will behave strangely,” says Comeau, a scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Comeau is part of an international effort that is using sophisticated sensors to convert a mussel’s distinctive behaviour when exposed to stressors into an early detector of toxic algae.

Wired Mussels

In September, Comeau and other scientists installed a floating monitoring station next to the fish cages at the Cooke Seafood salmon farm at Saddle Island near Halifax.

Mussels were connected to sensors that measure the minute voltage generated when the shell opens and closes

The sensors are attached to recorders in a watertight compartment.

The system is powered by solar panels.

Early danger sign

Comeau says lab tests show mussels have a “signature” response when exposed to toxic algae.

The solar-powered monitoring station. (Steve Berry/CBC )

The shell movement, opening and closing, can be captured by the sensors and recognized.

“DFO’s interest in this is having an early warning system, having sentinels out at sea that could monitor continuously the water quality. So these mussels that are connected are like canaries in mines,” he says.

As close as your smartphone

The project at Saddle Island is led by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Cooke and Dalhousie University.

On a foggy, rainy day at the fish farm, the team retrieves the monitor and downloads the data from two recorders onto a laptop on the back of a bobbing boat.

“Everything is nice and dry. That was a big relief,” says Comeau.

The pilot project was run to test the equipment.

Next year, scientists from France will travel to Nova Scotia to install equipment developed at oyster farms in Europe capable of transmitting mussel sensor information automatically to a server.

“The idea would be the public or stakeholders that are interested in water quality could get a signal on their smartphone telling them about the mussels and if they are happy or unhappy, basically.”

Readings 10 times a second

It’s not as simple as that, of course.

The sensors take readings 10 times a second and that translates into an “extraordinary” amount of data, says Dalhousie oceanographer Jon Grant.

So much data that the Dalhousie department of computer science has been enlisted to help process it all.

Dalhousie oceanographer Jon Grant and Andrew Lively of Cooke Seafood at the company fish farm at Saddle Island on the Aspotogan Peninsula. Grant says advanced technology is part of an effort to gain greater community acceptance. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Grant says it’s one of the first projects to be funded under Deep Sense, an IBM initiative helping ocean researchers in Atlantic Canada.

“Deep Sense is an outreach program to assist investigators with their massive data problems in analysis, artificial intelligence and other techniques that come from places like IBM,” says Grant.

Saddle Island already wired

Algae blooms are not generally lethal to salmon but they do irritate them, potentially altering feeding and growth.

Grant, who has received $2 million from Cooke to help fund aquaculture research in the region, says using mussels to detect harmful algae fits into the advanced sensors systems already in use at Saddle Island.

“It’s remarkable and when we align that with the other sensors we have, even better.”

Real time salmon cage data already available

Cooke is already getting a whole raft of real-time information on water conditions inside its pens at Saddle Island.

The system was developed at the site by sensor company VEMCO in Bedford.

Instant readings are available on water quality, temperature, currents, wind speed at every single fish pen the company operates in Nova Scotia.

A wired fish farm. Cooke Seafood plans to add more cages at Saddle Island. (Steve Berry/CBC)

“This is all crucial data for us, for a salmon farmer,” says Andrew Lively of Cooke, holding up a smartphone with the displayed data.

Five years ago, he says, someone would have had to insert probes in the water, collect the data, go back to shore, write it out and put it in an email.

“With this we can get it right here, all the time. This technology is being deployed all around the world and it was all developed here in Nova Scotia.”

VEMCO has created a separate company called Realtime Aquaculture to market its system. One of its customers is Cooke’s Norwegian competitor, Cermaq.

Pumping oxygen into the ocean

Cooke is also testing a system to pump pure oxygen into the sea at Saddle Island to address low oxygen levels that can occur at coastal fish farms.

A barge with an oxygen generator has been installed next to one of the cages.

Grant says Saddle Island is an indication of the advanced approaches underway at fish farms as the industry seeks more buy-in from the community — often called social licence.

“You drive by and you see these things in the water. What’s really going on out there? What are the conditions under which the fish are being grown? How is it affecting the environment?” he says.

“When the data is shared or made more accessible to others or the information is made more accessible, we perhaps grow more comfortable with the idea that this is something that is being rigorously tested, examined and applied in terms of husbandry.”

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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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