In response to the new government’s decision to reverse on its promise to increase spending on research and development, young Estonian scientists are organising several street protests and a strike. In late 2018, all the major political parties, par the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), pledged to increase public spend …
An Estonian research group at the country’s University of Life Sciences has developed a cheap and simple device to test the freshness of fish and meat; the appliance could be used by large retail chains or households. This article is published in collaboration with Research in Estonia. By Sven Paulus The …
Kadri Aavik, an associate professor of gender studies at Tallinn University, has through her research aimed to find out what motivates men to become vegan – and what difficulties and positive aspects will come along with that. Kadri Aavik was interviewed by Sven Paulus. This article is published in collaboration …
Marlon Dumas, a professor of information systems at the University of Tartu, has received a prestigious grant worth over €2 million to develop an artificial intelligence-based tool called “Pix” to enable companies to improve their business processes automatically.
This article is published in collaboration with Research in Estonia. By Randel Kreitsberg, University of Tartu.
Business processes are the backbone of modern organisations. A properly compiled portfolio of business processes gives a competitive edge and helps organisations be better prepared for innovation. A typical example of a business process is the “order-to-cash” process. This is the process that starts when a company receives a purchase order from a customer and ends when the products or services ordered by the customer have been delivered and the customer has paid.
For contemporary organisations, the speed and efficiency of such processes is vital. Managers and analysts work daily towards making business processes run smoothly. To streamline current processes – instead of creating new ones – we need to process large amounts of data, often only on the basis of the intuition and experience of the analyst.
Artificial intelligence helps
Marlon Dumas, who’s among the 1% of most cited researchers in the field of computer sciences in the world, works on managing business processes with the help of artificial intelligence.
“In this project, we will develop methods to analyse data extracted from enterprise systems in order to automatically discover opportunities for improving the quality and efficiency of business processes. These methods will combine machine learning and optimisation techniques to ensure that all possible improvement opportunities are considered, and that the optimal combination of improvement opportunities is selected,” Dumas said. “The research will result in an open-source tool, called Pix, which will enable its users to automatically generate ideas for improving their business processes.”
Dumas gave an example from an “order-to-cash” process.
“Let’s say we notice that almost every time we send a purchase order to our supplier in Brazil without adding the transport route, the order is late. However, when communicating with the Spanish supplier, the fastest solution is to let the local contact choose their own transport route,” he explained. “The AI-based Pix tool will recognise this difference by analysing the prior history of purchases and deliveries, and will design the business process in such a way that a transport route will always be added to the order for the Brazilian partner but not for the Spanish one.”
A major advance
The main challenge in developing the above-mentioned solutions is the large amount of various parallel possibilities and solutions. The regular “order-to-cash” process in larger companies contains tens of intermediate stages, which all have their own decisions and resulting activities. When we add hundreds of different manufacturers, suppliers and clients into the mix, we get millions of ways to make our processes more efficient.
Pix will be a major advance with respect to existing tools for data-driven process improvement, such as Apromore, created by researchers from the University of Tartu in collaboration with researchers from the University of Melbourne.
Unlike Apromore, Pix will not just help analysts to identify bottlenecks and sources of defects, but it will also help them to come up with new improvement opportunities. Pix is able to analyse almost all potential possibilities to optimise costs, time, system faults and combinations thereof. However, the final choice on how to act is left to the company’s analyst.
The European Research Council encourages researchers to take risks
The European Research Council (ERC) awarded the research project “The Process Improvement Explorer: Automated Discovery and Assessment of Business Process Improvement Opportunities (PIX)” an ERC Advanced Grant worth over €2.3 million for a period of five years. The European Research Council awarded in total €540 million to 222 researchers for boosting cutting-edge research. Only 11% per cent received funding out of more than 2,000 research proposals submitted.
The funded research projects create more than 2,000 jobs, and new daring solutions are hoped for many of the problems ailing modern Europe: from social crises to generating renewable energy. For example, Swiss social scientists will use crowd-sourced data to study the liveability of large cities. Hungarian scientists, on the other hand, are focusing on studying the rights of Eastern European working-class women.
Cover: Marlon Dumas, professor of information systems at the University of Tartu, is among the 1% of most cited scientists in the field of computer sciences in the world (photo courtesy of UT).
Climate change induces flooding in the cities around the Baltic Sea and that also affects Estonia; scientists at the Tallinn University of Technology are now looking for ways to solve this problem.
This article is published in collaboration with Research in Estonia.
Climate change brings along intense rainfalls, which induces flooding in the cities around the Baltic Sea. The excess water, which is often directed straight into the sea, further increases the pollution load on the Baltic Sea.
A threat to human health and nature
One of the largest environmental problems the cities around the Baltic Sea are facing is flooding and the concurrent pollution. The increase in flooding is caused by the rise in sea levels as well as by the increasing intensity of rainfalls.
The rapid expansion of urban areas and the increase in rainfall intensities resulting from climate change was not considered when planning and constructing the existing stormwater systems. This increases the risk that the collected water will not fit into the pipelines, which is why some of the water has to be led into the Baltic Sea without going through a thorough treatment process.
When untreated wastewater from densely populated areas is flushed into the Baltic Sea together with nutrients, hazardous substances and pathogens, it poses a threat to human health and nature as a whole.
That is why the project, “Protecting Baltic Sea from Untreated Wastewater Spillages During Flood Events in Urban Areas” (NOAH), is seeking the help of scientists – and Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) is the lead partner of the project.
Three main objectives
According to the coordinator of NOAH and a researcher at TalTech, Ivar Annus, the project has three main objectives:
- Raise the capability of local authorities to take climate change into account in urban planning;
- Demonstrate to water companies the methods for better managing of existing stormwater systems;
- Create a network of cities around the Baltic Sea, which would act as an example to other local authorities in the region for the better management of stormwater.
Nils Kändler, who is responsible for the technical aspects of the project, emphasised that the novel side of the project includes combining the mathematical models of the urban drainage systems, ie, their digital counterpart with traditional urban planning methods. Also, for the first time, smart stormwater solutions are being tested in pilot cities, which exemplify to water companies the benefits of applying real-time control and automatic management systems to existing infrastructures.
This is how the NOAH project brings the knowledge resulting from years of research at universities to the actual urban space, helping local authorities better adapt to climate change. Implementation of the NOAH concept can probably cut up to half of the inflow of pollutants from urban areas into the Baltic Sea.
Top specialists from Estonia, Finland, Poland, Latvia, Sweden and Denmark are participating in the NOAH project. Nine cities have been chosen as pilot areas and several water companies are involved in the project. Seven universities and research institutions manage the technical aspects, and several international umbrella organisations help spread the results of the project.
Every partner country, including Estonia, plans to organise seminars and events for introducing and applying the results of NOAH.
In addition to the Tallinn University of Technology, participants of the project from Estonia include the Estonian Water Works Association, the towns of Haapsalu and Rakvere, and AS Rakvere Vesi. The Estonian ministry of environment is participating in the project as an associate partner which is applying the results of the project to improve the respective legislation in Estonia.
The total budget of the project is about three million euros and its conclusive results will be published by the middle of 2021.
Cover: A scene from the flood waters in the streets of Estonian town of Pärnu in the night of 9 January 2005 (photo by Jüri Elken/TalTech).
Could basic income – also called citizen’s income – really bring along the awaited utopia, where people do not have to worry about their income anymore, while robots are doing their work? This cat is already out of the bag along with basic income experiments all over the world.
By Sven Paulus. This article is published in collaboration with Research in Estonia.
Recently, a sociological pilot study of various aspects and discussions of the citizen’s income in Estonia by Tallinn University researchers, Martin Aidnik and Erle Rikmann, was published in the Journal of Baltic Studies. The article is based on a qualitative study – researchers interviewed six experts from different fields – banking, economy, research policy etc. In addition, they also analysed the media, and especially the print media, to map the articles on citizen’s income.
“It is remarkable that the discussion has been quite limited in Estonian media, and maybe social scientists have not been interested in the subject yet,” Aidnik said.
The interviews with the experts revealed more opinions. While the supporters of citizen’s income see Estonia in the context of global trends, and are ready for new welfare solutions and experiments, the critics would like to sustain the status quo. “They say that these experiments might have worked in Northern America, Western Europe and Africa, but we have much more to lose than to win and we should not go along with this,” Aidnik explained.
The Greens the only party to raise the issue in Estonia
Reflecting on the recent parliamentary elections in Estonia, Aidnik said the Greens (who did not make it to parliament) were the only party to talk publicly about citizen income. “But even in their programme, the issue is a bit marginalised.”
Aidnik sees the lack of political willpower as an obstacle of experimenting with the citizen’s income and hints that the welfare state is not too popular among larger Estonian parties. In addition to the changes in politics, the change in people’s attitudes is also necessary, ie the replacement of Protestant work ethics with a different sense of understanding, where success and income would be less important.
While ten years ago the issue was mostly discussed by enthusiasts or in esoteric communities, today publications like the Economist, the New York Times and the Guardian have also dived into the citizen’s income debate. This means the subject is now part of the mainstream.
The universal basic income was also discussed at the last World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and Sweden saw the founding of the Basic Income Party back in 2017. “This innovation would guarantee a person with basic income and is not dependent on whether a person is active in the labour market,” Aidnik noted.
A good impact on people’s psychological security
The Finnish experiment, where 2,000 unemployed people received €560 per month for two years, proved to have a good impact on people’s psychological security. “There are preliminary results that show many positive things about the subjective well-being and increased confidence of people. Certainly, this is an important part of well-being, as it also reduced the stress level of the participants,” Aidnik described.
The Italian government has begun to pay the citizen’s income. The sum is between €700-€800 and it is paid to poorer members of society. “We can see it as a welfare measure, which helps people be more independent, take their own initiative and reduce bureaucracy,” Aidnik said. And in Italy, this is not an experiment; it is the actual remodelling of the social aid system. As the money for the citizen’s income is provided from the state budget, there is not always a need for new taxes – instead, the state can retarget some of the resources that are currently used in the social protection system.
Is there hope that we could see the idea spreading even more? Aidnik, whose PhD thesis focused on utopia and citizen’s income, believes the European Union actually needs it.
Universal basic income could be a credible solution for reforming the welfare state, while it also helps deal with the unemployment and extreme poverty. “This could be a getaway from the downfall that the European Union currently has. It would be a significant change in our liberal capitalist society,” he concluded.
The cover image is illustrative.
A pan-European survey shows that compared with other European countries, Estonia is the only one where children’s exposure to internet threats has decreased in the last eight years.
This article is published in collaboration with Research in Estonia.
Multinational research network EU Kids Online has published the preliminary results of a pan-European survey on children’s internet use. The results show that compared with other European countries, Estonia is the only one where children’s exposure to internet threats has decreased in the last eight years.
Risks related to spyware and viruses
Children from European countries who participated in the survey are most likely to experience risks related to spyware and viruses. This is also the most common data problem for the Estonian children: 16% of children and young people aged 9–17 had been exposed to these risks during the year preceding the survey. This proportion is the second highest in the comparison of Estonia, Italy, Norway, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – the five countries from which comparable data are already available to researchers.
Compared with 2010, the proportion of children exposed to spyware and viruses has dropped significantly in all countries surveyed. In Estonia, this figure has also decreased almost three times. “This may be due to technological change: children are now mainly using smartphones to access the internet,” Veronika Kalmus, a professor of sociology at the University of Tartu, said. “However, children may not always be aware of all malware issues,” she admitted.
Children and young people in Europe are less exposed to other data risks. For example, 3-10% of them claimed they spent too much money on in-app purchases and online games. In Estonia, this percentage is on an average level, 5%.
In comparison with Italy, Norway, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Estonia is the only country where the percentage of 9-16-year-olds who have lost money by being cheated on the internet has declined in eight years – from 4% to 2%. During this period, the proportion of children whose password has been used by someone else to access their personal information has also decreased considerably – from 13% to 5%.
“The current international comparison shows that promoting safe internet use has begun to bear fruit in Estonia,” Kalmus said. “This is particularly evident in comparison with the Czech Republic, where the social context is much like ours, but the level of child data risks has not decreased in eight years.”
Increasing awareness and security
The EU Kids Online survey was conducted from 2017 to 2018 in fourteen European countries.
Researchers of the University of Tartu in collaboration with the market research company, Turu-uuringute AS, interviewed 1,020 Internet-using children aged 9–17 and one of their parents in summer 2018. The survey with a nationally representative sample focused on children’s and parents’ internet use, digital competences and awareness of online risks.
The EU Kids Online survey was conducted for the first time in 2010 in 25 European countries. The results of the study will be used to increase awareness and security in children’s internet use and to work out recommendations and guidelines for that.
Tallinn University of Technology has signed a co-operation agreement with Florida Polytechnic University to join forces for future development and increasing the security of automated vehicles.
TalTech started developing Estonia’s first automated vehicle from scratch in 2017 and in the summer of 2018, presented the first prototype. The university announced on 10 April that it had signed a cooperation agreement with Florida Polytechnic University Advanced Mobility Institute to take the development onto next level and integrate automated vehicles to real traffic situations in a safe way.
“Self-driving cars and other autonomous systems are one of the most paradigm-changing technological developments in today’s world. Transportation is affecting every single person and has a large impact on economic development. There will be huge challenges to solve and international cooperation is crucial here,” the university said in a statement.
Safety is the key issue
According to TalTech, Florida Polytechnic University is a leading institute focused on the test and verification of autonomous vehicles in the US. Florida Polytechnic University Advanced Mobility Institute “has developed unique verification and scenario simulation tools to analyse and find edge situations in respect of safety and accident analysis. They are working towards a concept which will change the whole paradigm how transportation is handled and coordinated on cloud-based solutions,” the university said.
The research collaboration will use Florida Polytechnic University’s capability in testing to improve the robustness of TalTech’s automated vehicle in realistic environments. “Safety is the key issue in the deployment of self-driving cars. The validation methodology and simulations of scenarios give us significant added value and enable the development of safer technical solutions for self-driving cars,” Raivo Sell, the manager of the self-driving car project and scientist at TalTech, said in a statement.
Cover: TalTech’s AV tested in front of the university’s main building in Tallinn.
A doctoral thesis, written by researcher Kadi Mägi, show high levels of ethnic segregation in Estonia; however, she also discovered that the living environment can alter ethnic affiliations.
This article is published in collaboration with Research in Estonia.
When talking about segregation in Estonia, it is usually about Estonians and Russians growing apart. What human geographers mostly mean by segregation is two ethnic groups living in parallel societies. Estonians and Russians do not come into contact with each other because they live in different and increasingly contrasting areas.
This is also confirmed by Estonian researcher Kadi Mägi’s doctoral thesis. The results of her study show that the high levels of ethnic residential segregation are very persistent and have even increased. The mobility behaviour of both Estonians and Russian-speakers has contributed to these trends.
“The Russian-speaking minority population has been relatively immobile within the last decades and their residential patterns are therefore largely similar to those developed in the Soviet period,” Mägi, a junior research fellow in human geography, said.
This does not mean Russian-speakers do not migrate at all. However, when they do, they often choose a similar linguistic environment and they generally prefer to move to areas of panel housing which became characteristic to the language group already during the Soviet occupation. For Russian-speakers who move within Tallinn, the most significant destinations are Lasnamäe, Õismäe, Mustamäe and Pelguranna, for example.
Thus, Russian-speakers prefer to move to neighbourhoods with large communities of other Russian-speakers. The results of the research show that their new place of residence is mostly even more Russian than their last place of residence due to migration.
In contrast, when Estonians change their place of residence, they move towards more Estonian residential environments. “Estonians only rarely move to neighbourhoods with a high share of Russian-speakers,” Mägi said, based on her study conducted between 2000 and 2011.
Since the Estonian-speaking population changes their place of residence more often than the Russian-speakers, this kind of mobility behaviour contributes to segregation – the increase of the physical separation of two ethnic groups. This, in turn, deepens the already existing division between the Estonian-speaking and Russian-speaking populations.
How does spatial division affect people?
Mägi’s research also shows that even though the Russian-speaking population has lived in Estonia for a long time, they strongly self-identify themselves as Russian and only a few of them equate themselves with the Estonian state and identify as Estonians. “Change in an individual’s ethnic identity is of course not a normative process and even the doctoral thesis has approached this as an indicator of integration,” Mägi said.
“The self-identified ethnicity is significantly impacted by the immediate living environment surrounding people every day. The members of the Russian community who live in an Estonian-speaking environment are more likely to identify themselves as Estonians. However, those who live in a Russian-speaking environment are least likely to change their ethnic identity,” she explained.
According to the scientist, the research had an interesting result which showed that Estonians can change their ethnic identity as well. “There weren’t many, but they were also heavily impacted by their immediate living environment. The Estonians and Estonian-speaking people who live in Russian-speaking neighbourhoods are most likely to change their ethnic identity to a Russian identity,” Mägi said.
This shows that when people are surrounded by representatives of another ethnicity, they might adopt their values, views and behaviours. Mägi’s doctoral thesis also confirms that in this case, the people can change their feelings on ethnic identity.
Possibilities for interethnic communication are decreasing
At the same time, she recognises that ethnic segregation is nothing new in Estonia; its meaning, however, has started to change in time.
“Even at the end of the Soviet times, ethnic groups were living separately, but the levels of socio-economic segregation then were low. In decades, the inequality has grown a lot and ethnic and socio-economic segregation have increasingly started to overlap in Estonia.”
This is a troubling trend which endangers the stability of cities and neighbourhoods. Especially vulnerable to these trends are the areas with panel housing. “When these used to be places of socio-economic mixing where Estonians and Russian-speakers would meet and mingle, now they are becoming increasingly Russian-speaking and the possibilities for interethnic communication are decreasing,” said Mägi.
In addition to this, Mägi is worried that people of higher socio-economic status are leaving such areas.
“Areas of panel housing will always remain an important part of the housing market and therefore these trends should be acknowledged more,” Mägi noted. “Even though investments and efforts have been made to improve the quality of life in panel housing regions, these efforts do not seem to be enough to equalise the ongoing processes.”
Cover: Lasnamäe district in the Estonian capital, Tallinn (Wikimedia/the image is illustrative).
Estonian aviation scientists are in the process of developing a remote tower centre to centralise air traffic services in the country.
This article is published in collaboration with Research in Estonia.
The objective of air traffic control is to prevent collisions between aircraft in the air, on the manoeuvring area of an aerodrome and to expedite and maintain an orderly flow of traffic at the same time.
There are different air traffic control units to reach the objective, and to assure a safe service during an entire flight from departure until landing at a destination aerodrome. One of the units is an aerodrome control tower having its area of responsibility in the vicinity of an aerodrome and on ground including runways and taxiways. A specific feature of this unit is that the controlling of traffic is based on a direct visual contact.
Today, there are two aerodrome control towers in Estonia operated by Estonian Air Navigation Services – in Tallinn and in Tartu. At regional aerodromes in Kuressaare, Kärdla and Pärnu, an aerodrome flight information service is provided instead of aerodrome control. There are differences in responsibility, but one of the cornerstones for providing services is the same – direct visual contact with traffic and area of responsibility.
Estonia has set the goal that the provision of air traffic services at all aerodromes in Estonia should be the responsibility of Estonian Air Navigation Services, and to reach this objective, one functional prerequisite is the availability of remote tower facilities. “This allows us to create a remote tower centre that will enable a central and flexible provision of air traffic services, including the option that one person can provide service simultaneously to more than one aerodrome at the same time,” Tanel Kulbas, the development specialist at the Estonian Aviation Academy, said.
Karl-Erik Seegel, the vice rector at the Estonian Aviation Academy, added that this centre could help prevent the lack of air traffic controllers and, at the same time, it would give enough work to all controllers. In this field, Norway and Sweden are good role models, he said, as there are small airports controlled via remote tower.
Not a direct visual contact anymore
“In the case of the remote tower, the services are provided remotely and visual presentation of the area of responsibility is received via cameras located at the aerodromes, transferred via fibre optic cables and presented on a panoramic screen at a working position called a remote tower module,” Teele Kohv, a specialist in the development department at Estonian Air Navigation Services, noted.
She added that the visual reproduction can be overlaid with information from additional sources like surveillance equipment and infrared cameras, so the visual reproduction will be enhanced with the help of different technical solutions to support situational awareness in case of different light and visibility conditions. The technology shall be designed in a way that there will be no need for major changes in operational working methods of air traffic services personnel.
The first step in the development of remote tower technology is the design and building of a remote tower prototype for Tartu aerodrome by “shadowing” the whole conventional tower equipment, except the out-of-the-window view that is now replaced with visual reproduction. The remote tower prototype module is located on the ground floor of the Tartu airport building.
The main co-operation partner concerning the development of video presentation and other technical issues is Cybernetica AS, an Estonian company that has extensive experience in developing surveillance solutions for vessel traffic services and video monitoring for port operations.
Validation, testing and trial programme
Kulbas noted that the first of the two main tasks for the Estonian Aviation Academy is the support during the validation of remote tower system related to human factors and the acceptance of the new working position of the remote tower module. The second task is the testing of multiple remote tower operations to find out the solutions and possible limitations in case one person is providing air traffic services to Tartu and Kuressaare aerodromes at the same time.
“Based on the knowledge and experience received from the aerodrome control tower simulator, the suggestions for the changes in working arrangements and procedures will be issued,” he said.
For the aviation academy, the work started in 2017 with a background study of all four regional airports. This study contains recommendations for the possible transition and for operational and technical changes considered essential by air traffic services personnel. During the same year, the preparations started for passive shadow mode operations.
The shadow mode trial programme was prepared together with the assessment methodology and tools. The objective of a passive shadow mode trial was to familiarise with the remote tower working position, its technical functions and to assess the quality of these functions and visual information, to find out all possible deficiencies for improving the remote tower working position to the stage that it allows to start with an active shadow mode trial, Kulbas explained.
The passive trial was carried out during January and February 2018. The conclusions of the passive trial showed that the remote tower system was at the stage that continuation with active shadow mode operations was possible. An active shadow mode operation started in October 2018.
Ready for all scenarios
The aim of the active shadow mode trial is to provide an air traffic control service from a remote tower working position with monitoring from a conventional tower to all listed traffic during all listed circumstances, and to find out all possible deficiencies and differences from conventional tower operations to enhance operational procedures and to make technical improvements to the extent that allows the Estonian Civil Aviation Administration to certify the remote tower system and the provision of air traffic services from a remote tower working position. For evaluating the process and results of the active shadow mode trial, the methodology was improved considering the experience from passive shadow mode trials, as well as the character of the active trials.
The detailed preparation of simulations started in November 2018. The main task was to prepare the working position for the simulations, to create realistic and comprehensive scenarios for simulations and to prepare assessment methodology and tools.
Seegel said some questions needed to be answered during the development: What if the cameras are full of snow? What if two planes want to land at the same time to different controlled airports? What if the connection is disturbed?
“The simulation part of the work is relatively unique and critical for future decisions. In Europe, similar simulations have been carried out, but there is always a significant difference as aerodromes, their procedures and traffic are different as well as the working methods and experience of personnel involved. This practical research should give a realistic basis on which the conditions and procedures for working in a multi aerodrome environment shall be developed in Estonia,” Kulbas said. Kohv added that the results of the research shall also provide the basis for local approval of multi aerodrome operations when providing air traffic services.
The development process has been successful so far but there are still a lot of challenges ahead, Kulbas asserted. He explained that the main benefits of a remote tower system and centre in the case of their thorough and successful development will be provision of cost efficient air traffic services, optimising the use of personnel and infrastructure resources, improving flight safety by using new technology and increasing flexibility when providing air traffic services at regional aerodromes. Also, unexpected events can be handled in a more efficient and reliable manner, if all the questions are answered, and all scenarios are provided with exact plans.
Cover: Estonian scientists are in a process of creating a remote air traffic tower centre that will enable a central and flexible provision of air traffic services, including the option that one person can provide service simultaneously to more than one aerodrome at the same time.