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Offices grow ‘brains’ as companies seek to attract smarter workers

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Employees will not need a key to get into the office of the future when it opens in Berlin this year, featuring ample meeting space, plenty of copy machines always stocked with paper along with high-quality air processed to maximize worker health and minimize sick time.

Their smartphones will help guide them around their new workplace — and they may need the assistance because they will not have permanent desks.

With technology changing how and where we work, property developers are tapping artificial intelligence to create more sustainable workplaces to help staff work more efficiently and comfortably.

Fierce competition for talent is turbo-charging the trend in Berlin. While the city used to be a bit of a business backwater, in recent years it gained a reputation as a start-up hub. Office vacancy rates have tumbled to just 1.5 per cent as rents are rocketing, making it an ideal place for developers to showcase these new offices.

Property owners in Berlin are taking a cue from the Netherlands, home to several intelligent and sustainable office projects.

Rapid growth of start-ups such as Zalando and Delivery Hero is driving demand for office space in the German capital. Two new smart offices are under construction in the former no-man’s land of the Berlin Wall, next to the city’s main train station.

The Cube, being built by Austrian real estate company CA Immo, will be completed by the end of this year, and The Edge Grand Central by EDGE Technologies, a subsidiary of Dutch firm OVG Real Estate, is planned for 2020.

Pleasing workplace overtakes company car

“The office building is the new company car. In my world, people do not want a car as a perk anymore. They look around and say, ‘This would be a nice place to work,'” said Martin Rodeck, executive managing director at EDGE Technologies Germany.

Both offices are packed with a network of sensors that measure everything from motion, temperature and lighting to humidity and C02 and are connected to a cloud platform.

In The Cube, the technology is dubbed “the brain,” a self-learning software that analyzes all the data it receives and optimizes how the building is run.

For example, if part of a building is unoccupied, it can turn off the lights and heating systems. If a meeting room is crowded it can pump in more oxygen.

App knows timetables, locations

Users access the building via a smartphone app that knows their schedules and may suggest sitting by a window or on a floor where a meeting is scheduled. The app can be used to book meeting rooms, order food and navigate the building.

Workers will need the navigational aid to find their desk. The offices feature a “hot desking” system in which employees do not have a permanent desk, but rather the appropriate workspace for the type of work they want to do. Lockers will be available to store belongings.

Smart offices can also minimize daily frustrations such as the printer running out of paper or being unable to locate a colleague, Rodeck said.

The printers work along the predictive maintenance model. In the same way that a car warns it is running out of fuel, printers send alerts to the buildingΓÇÖs management system when a machine needs paper, so someone can fill it up.

But to take advantage of these benefits, users need to actively opt-in to be tracked, visible to their colleagues, and their boss, while in the building. In doing so, they override the default setting to be ‘hidden’.

Falling sick rates

Studies show people work better in environments providing good air quality as well as comfortable noise and humidity levels. Comparing sick leave rates in older and new offices highlights the potential benefits of state-of-the-art buildings.

When consulting firm Deloitte moved into OVG Real Estate’s landmark smart building The Edge in Amsterdam in 2015, the firm found sick rates fell drastically while the number of job applicants increased, Rodeck said.

Before online fashion retailer Zalando designed new headquarters, the company asked staff to share opinions on existing workspace. Employees complained about too few meeting rooms and the challenge of concentrating due to noise.

Living rooms, open catwalks

In its new headquarters, due to open in early 2019, workers can choose from a library for quiet work, telephone booths for private conversations as well as living rooms located on the open catwalks to encourage interaction.

“The important part is that we provide a work environment for everyone,” said Zalando’s vice president for real estate Raimund Paetzmann.

Zalando plans to install smart technology to make it easy to reserve a desk from home and take away the stress of arriving at the office and not knowing where to sit.

While shifting to hot-desking can control costs, a survey by CCL consulting and property agents Savills found half of those aged under 34 and 60 per cent of those over 35 did not want to give up their fixed desk.

“We all need our home, a haven and part of the office that belongs to us,” said Franz Kuehmayer, a trend researcher at think-tank Zukunftsinstitut.

“Many employees question how they will organize their daily work life and where they can put pictures of their children.”

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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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