3D imaging with millimetre accuracy for underwater industrial activities and deep sea exploration – company founder Jakob Schwendner has a very clear goal. The first prototype of a camera with brand new sensor technology was built in Canada and presented to industry professionals at the Ocean Business conference in Southampton, United Kingdom, in April. “The first pictures are looking good,” confirmed Schwendner.
Jakob Schwendner's background is in science. He studied in Bremen and London – IT and computer science, electronics and robotics – before completing a doctorate in robotics in Bremen. For the past ten years he has worked at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) on the technology park at Bremen university. Just a few hundred metres away from this renowned research institute, the 39 year-old, together with partner Alexander Duda, is now focused on establishing the German subsidiary of Canadian firm Kraken Sonar Inc. The robotics expert is familiar with extreme environments and the challenges they pose, having spent many years researching space robotics.
There is a great deal of interest in forging links with other organisations and collaborating on specific areas of research.
He first came across the Canadian company through his work at the institute. “There is still a lot of untapped potential in the field of underwater robotics. I wanted to further develop and market applied technologies; the Canadians wanted a foothold in Germany,” explains Jakob Schwendner. A classic win-win situation. And an initial idea thrown around the beer garden became a reality. In January 2017, the DFKI spin-off company was officially established and scientist Schwendner became managing director. “It is as an exciting challenge and I'm learning so much right now,” he says, before adding that “because we are a start-up, we can be agile and flexible.”
According to Schwendner there are many similarities between outer space and deep sea. Whilst applications for use in space are well established, there is still a lot of potential for developments in the maritime field. “It remains a hugely expensive area,” he adds. With an innovative 3D camera and a laser system, Kraken Robotik is offering the underwater industry a completely new product. The market is huge, he says. “Our sensor technology can be put to use in any setting that would benefit from optical 3D imaging methods with millimetre accuracy. This could feasibly include offshore facilities, oil and gas installations and the inspection of subsea cables.” There are already many underwater cameras on the market, but the demand for 3D images is growing all the time. “That's where we come in, with our really useful piece of kit.”
Kraken Robotik's main areas of focus are the development of 3D-imaging sensors, machine learning and artificial intelligence for underwater robotic platforms. “What makes our equipment different is that it can produce colour images. Even on movable platforms, whether remote controlled or self-propelled,” explains Schwendner.
In another line of business, the company wants to develop a software that makes underwater robots autonomous. Jakob Schwender believes that Bremen is the perfect place to start a business. Application-oriented research, knowledge exchange and product development are all very important to him. And active dialogue between colleagues helps to get new ideas off the ground. “Bremen is home to some highly regarded research institutes, as well as universities and highly active organisations. There is a great deal of interest in forging links and collaborating on specific areas of research.”
Kraken Robotik wants to play an active part in the robotics scene. For Jakob Schwendner this means more than developing technologies and international partnerships. It also means establishing highly qualified teams and attracting smart thinkers to Bremen. The team is expected to grow to eight employees by the end of the year, rising to a total of 30 over the next four years. “We don't want to get much bigger than that. We want it to remain a small company with an uncluttered structure and lean processes. It is important to us that we can experiment with innovations and explore their potential.”
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