Innovation beyond the final frontier
Another challenge aboard the International Space Station is how to navigate complex documents – such as technical manuals – under conditions where paper and computer keyboards aren’t that easy to handle.
Galway-based SyberNet is helping to find a solution. The software company specialises in applications for self-service, primarily over the telephone, such as the ones that allow you to pay a bill without needing to speak to a human. But for the ESA, SyberNet is working on an application that lets a user navigate documents using just their voice, and which automatically reads back the content out loud to the user.
“It allows the astronaut to navigate a complex procedure document using his voice in situations where his hands or eyes might be busy and where it is difficult to use a keyboard and mouse,” explains SyberNet’s founder John Melody.
The system is due to be put through its paces on the International Space Station early next year, but it should also find uses on Earth, notes Melody.
“We are looking at opportunities for using the technology in a way that might allow people to navigate documentation in an environment where carrying a laptop is impossible or very difficult to do, such as carrying out maintenance in an awkward area.”
Eye in the sky
While some companies are sending their experiments into space, others are making use of the information being beamed from space down to Earth. TechWorks Marine, in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, is working with the ESA to develop a set of Earth observation products designed to help monitor the environmental impact of wastewater treatment and desalination plants.
In Ireland, the project will particularly look at wastewater treatment plants in Donegal Bay and their effects on the surrounding coastal environment. The “Earth obs” approach can help to optimise wastewater management, says TechWork Marine’s managing director Charlotte O’Kelly.
“My company monitors the ocean in real time at very specific locations over very long periods of time at very high resolution,” she adds. “The ESA satellites give us the spatial coverage that our platforms don’t have and our platforms give the ESA images the ground-truthing validation that they don’t have.”
Valuable contribution: Ireland to increase investment into the European Space Agency
Ireland is one of 20 member states in the European Space Agency, which has an annual budget of about €4 billion for drawing up and implementing the European space programme. It is funded through financial contributions from the member states. The amount each member pays is calculated on the basis of gross national product. Companies from member states can then tender for contracts up to the total value of the country’s contribution.