Banner

Home Events Contact
     
 
 
NRC
 
German-Canadian Consortium Develops Tools for Safe PASSAGES through Arctic Waters
 
Interview with
Dr. Camilla Mohrdieck, Senior Expert at Airbus Defence and Space, and
Prof. Dr. Ron Pelot, Associate Scientific Director of MEOPAR at Dalhousie University
 

 
Initiated through a meeting of then Chancellor Angela Merkel with then Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2012, Germany and Canada launched the study PASSAGES (Protection and Advanced Surveillance System for the Arctic: Green, Efficient and Secure). The aim of this research activity was to determine new concepts to monitor traffic and to assess risk factors for shipping operations in the Northwest Passage using multiple sensors and advanced analytics. The PASSAGES project was conducted by a German-Canadian consortium under the leadership of Airbus Defence and Space Germany, bringing together Dalhousie University in Halifax, Fraunhofer FKIE, and the Canadian SME exactEarth. The project received great attention and significant funding through both governments. It achieved a specification of operational requirements of an innovative surveillance and risk assessment system for the Northwest Passage and proposed a system architecture for stakeholders operating in the Arctic.

In 2016, the German Canadian Concourse (GCC) held a transatlantic symposium on Ocean Data Analytics and gathered experts from different industries at the conference locations in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and at the Embassy of Canada in Berlin to explore the value-creation chain for maritime applications. A highlight of this conference was the presentation of the PASSAGES project by Dr. Camilla Mohrdieck, Senior Expert at Airbus Defence and Space in Ulm, which impressively demonstrated the innovative achievements of a transatlantic research cooperation.

PASSAGES is a prime example how German-Canadian technology collaborations work at their best. The GCC was therefore very keen to speak to Dr. Camilla Mohrdieck and Prof. Dr. Ron Pelot, Associate Scientific Director of the Marine Environmental Observation, Prediction and Response (MEOPAR) network at Dalhousie University, to learn from their experiences on the PASSAGES collaboration.
 
Keeping an Open Mind to Build on Local Experience and Breadth of Transatlantic Expertise
 
GCC: Dear Dr. Mohrdieck, dear Prof. Pelot, You have been partners on an important transatlantic research project. Could you tell us about your experience of German- Canadian collaboration in science, technology and innovation (STI)?

CM: In Airbus Defence and Space, we have a long-lasting history of German-Canadian STI-related projects, which is also evident by the existence of our office in Ottawa that supports a large variety of science and technology projects.

An example of a recent German-Canadian research project is PASSAGES. Two German groups (Airbus Defence and Space Germany and Fraunhofer FKIE) and two Canadian groups (Dalhousie University and exactEarth) worked together over a period of three years (2013 – 2016) to investigate how the melting Northwest Passage can be made safe for the anticipated growth of ship traffic in that region.

In a comprehensive approach to this ambitious goal, we interviewed almost 100 stakeholders from very different backgrounds in Canada and some in Germany as well, and conducted many analyses on project related topics ranging from Inuit involvement, to environmental studies, to the questions of ship monitoring and risk assessment in remote Arctic regions. All stakeholders, whether they were individual researchers, organizations or governmental agencies, always welcomed and supported the project team in this effort. They would share their knowledge and views with us and encourage us to continue with our analytical way of dealing with the many complexities of the project.

Dr. Camilla Mohrdieck


"We presented ourselves as a team that had some background knowledge but that still wanted to learn more about the topic. This approach opened doors on both sides of the Atlantic."


This open-mindedness of basically all stakeholders towards us, was a surprising and at the same time also a very rewarding experience. We presented ourselves as a team that had some background knowledge but that still wanted to learn more about the topic. This approach opened doors on both sides of the Atlantic and provided the team with many opportunities for information and advice.

Prof. Dr. Ron Pelot


"For many research projects addressing a major topic with broad geographic scope, international cooperation produces the breadth of expertise, resources, and viewpoints to effectively generate valuable outcomes, and this was certainly the case with this German-Canadian alliance."


RP: Personally, this is the first research project collaboration with a German team that I have been engaged with in my 30-year academic career. My experience was very positive, for several reasons. For one thing, the German participants involved industry experts which, along with Canadian participants from Academia and several other stakeholders such as our Defence Research and Development Canada, yielded a diverse, powerful suite of experts to tackle the problem at hand. For many research projects addressing a major topic with broad geographic scope, such as PASSAGES considering marine traffic in the Arctic, international cooperation produces the breadth of expertise, resources, and viewpoints to effectively generate valuable outcomes, and this was certainly the case with this German-Canadian alliance.


GCC: We would be interested to learn more about your PASSAGES success story of partnership as part of a German-Canadian consortium. What was the added value of working in this transnational STI project?

CM: In the PASSAGES project, an important part of the success can surely be attributed to the German-Canadian nature of the project team. On the one side, it allowed us to build on local domain knowledge, for example on Dalhousie's year-long research of risks to ships in Canadian waters, and it also allowed us to connect to Canadian industry such as the space data provider exactEarth who helped us to detect and classify the ships in and around the huge area of the Northwest Passage.

On the other side, we had field-proven technologies from Airbus Defence and Space and Fraunhofer FKIE, to detect and track ships based on information from very different sensors and sources, and we were curious to find out if we could apply them to new problems in areas we have not been working on before.

By combining both sides, new synergies were created. They proved to be very beneficial to the project and were made possible by the transnational nature of the team.

RP: The existing tools and methods brought to the table by the Airbus and Fraunhofer teams were instrumental in advancing the knowledge about marine shipping in the north, in conjunction with exactEarth's novel data sets and Dalhousie's experience at modelling shipping traffic and risks. Furthermore, the Canadian participants' intimate knowledge of the geography and operating practices of shipping in the north provided the necessary context and expertise for the German's suite of methods and tools to be customized to the Arctic Ocean problem. All of these important ingredients coming from both countries were important for the success of this project.

 
Same Interests, Complementary Capabilities, Basis of Trust
 
GCC: What in your view makes German-Canadian STI cooperation meaningful and what is the unique value of collaboration between Germans and Canadians?

CM: As the example of the PASSAGES research project has shown, a German-Canadian STI cooperation is meaningful whenever both countries share the same interests and have complementary capabilities.

This is true for some STI projects with a defence, security or safety background. Although both countries rely on their respective national defence research and development organizations, transnational collaboration is beneficial in complex missions that are difficult to tackle for one country alone. For example, Canada has the need to monitor and protect its huge territorial landmasses, waters and airspaces and German-based industries could help it to do so. Both countries are interested in maritime and airspace surveillance techniques and in the automation of decision-making processes with the help of artificial intelligence methods that respect ethical guidelines and produce explainable results. As satellite developers and operators, they also share an interest in space-based information technologies and have the common need to produce and exploit satellite information for civilian, environmental and defence purposes.

"A German-Canadian STI cooperation is meaningful whenever both countries share the same interests and have complementary capabilities."


RP: I echo Camilla's comments about the motivation to work on a topic of common interest across our two countries, especially when there are significant added benefits of complementary expertise between the teams. However, another important factor is the history of successful collaborations between our countries, which contributes to a sense of trust and eagerness to share, which promoted effective teamwork. This was definitely the case in the PASSAGES project.

"The history of successful collaborations between our countries contributes to a sense of trust and eagerness to share, which promotes effective teamwork."

 
Strong Partner Network for German-Canadian Technology Cooperation
 
GCC: Which circumstances made the cooperation in your German-Canadian project particularly easy or complex? Where did you get support?

RP: From the Canadian point of view, where I am a Professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the support of various types came from many quarters. The Dalhousie administration provided excellent guidance during the proposal development stage, as they have expertise on academia-industry engagement, government granting processes and legal oversight when needed. During the project, they managed the grant funds, the personnel files and the financial reporting. The Canadian government provided significant financial support through the NSERC funding agency, which stands for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Another strong source of support was through exactEarth, a Canadian-based company that provides data and tools concerning maritime shipping traffic; they provided both cash and in-kind to the project. The pre-existence of the German Canadian Concourse was a valuable touchpoint to better position this new Airbus/FKIE/Dalhousie/exactEarth collaborative project, with respect to getting funding support, promoting and profiling the project, and engaging with other stakeholders throughout the work.

The collaboration between the German groups and the Canadian researchers and partners ran quite smoothly, in large part because of the excellent leadership and project management skills of the Airbus team. Project meetings were held virtually, as well as through in-person gatherings in each of our countries. The face-to-face meetings were particularly effective at exchanging information and discussing ideas, with the added benefit of the individuals getting to know each other which results in more cohesive teamwork.

CM: I fully agree: the various face-to-face meetings in Canada and sometimes also in Germany were invaluable for the team-building process and hence also for the team's productivity. They were made possible through grants from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the Canadian NSERC. Other valuable sources of support were the involvements of various independent Canadian experts with specific domain knowledge as well as Airbus-internal experts who assisted the team with finding solutions to some technical questions.


GCC: In which way has the GCC been able to support you in reaching out to partners across the Atlantic to build your STI network?

RP: My STI networking for the ship traffic monitoring and modelling came primarily from my direct connection to the PASSAGES team members, as I became aware of the GCC later on.

CM: I met with the GCC only after the PASSAGES project was basically over. However, on that occasion I had the opportunity to present the project at the GCC forum that took place at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin in 2016, and this encounter has helped to increase the footprint of the project in Canada and Germany.


GCC: What particular element of the GCC format was beneficial for matchmaking with partners? Did your attendance at the GCC lead to new perspectives or tangible contacts.

CM: My first attendance at the GCC forum first and foremost led to a tangible contact with the GCC itself. Since that time I have attended the GCC forum twice and have followed GCC news in the social media. This has helped to extend my professional network of Canadian and German organizations and industries.

RP: I attended the GCC forum in 2016 in Halifax, which is the first time that it had been held here. The PASSAGES project, presented by our Airbus colleagues was a highlight of the event. The planning of the event itself connected me with several Germans who visited Halifax in advance to facilitate the event preparation. Furthermore, there were several attendees at the Canadian node who then approached me to learn more about our project and provided information, insights and contacts that were useful for the ongoing work on these topics related to Arctic shipping.



"The GCC is well connected to relevant players in STI areas and to governmental representatives of both countries. It can use these connections to look for potential upcoming technology pushes that both countries have a large interest in."


GCC: How could the GCC support your future endeavors to expand your activities in and collaborations with Germany or Canada?

CM: The GCC is well connected to relevant players in STI areas and to governmental representatives of both countries. It can use these connections to look for potential upcoming technology pushes that both countries have a large interest in.

An example could be quantum-based technologies. Only few countries or industries can afford their own quantum devices. It would therefore be of interest to know what Canada's abilities and ambitions are towards these new technologies.

RP: The GCC newsletters are a good mechanism for keeping abreast of the periodic German-Canadian fora that take place, and what their focal topics are. While I have not availed myself of this network since the PASSAGES project to develop new collaborative projects, it is always in the back of my mind, so that if I do get involved in something relevant, then the GCC could be a good avenue for linking in German collaborators.


GCC: Dr. Mohrdieck, Prof. Pelot, Thank you for sharing with us some experiences of your joint German-Canadian project.

Photo Credits:

Header picture: PASSAGES project partners Dr. Camilla Mohrdieck (left), Dr. Hilario Calderon (middle) and Prof. Dr. Ron Pelot (right) discussing in Atlantic Canada. Private photo

Dr. Camilla Mohrdieck: Private photo

Prof. Dr. Ron Pelot: ©Danny Abriel

 
Celebrating 50 years of German-Canadian STI Cooperation
 
 
 
This interview is part of a series produced by the German Canadian Concourse to celebrate the advances of 50 years German-Canadian collaboration on science, technology and innovation.
 
 
 
50 Years German-Canadian Science Technology Cooperation
 
 
 
© 2021 Canada Meets Germany Network e. V. All rights reserved.
 
Last modified: 19-Feb-2021 | Copyright © 2012-2021 Canada Meets Germany Network e. V. | Legal Notice | Data Privacy
  Follow us ...

GCC at LinkedIn
GCC at Twitter
GCC at Flickr
GCC at Flickr