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Technology news about Estonians

Flowscape navigating robot fish created at the Tallinn University of Technology (video)

The EU funded European research project, based in Estonia, has built an electronic version of lateral line sensing on an underwater fish robot called FILOSE (Robotic FIsh LOcomotion and SEnsing). All fish have this sensing organ, but so far it had no technological counterpart on man-made underwater vehicles.

Unlike any other animal, fish have a special sense that allows them to determine the speed and direction of currents, helps them hover in place and even swim upstream. Known as lateral line sensing, it also helps fish find the underwater “sweet spot” to catch food that may be tumbling down the river.

Around the world, underwater vehicles have been deployed for several decades to track pollution, inspect ships hulls for damage, and for surveillance. But their big drawback is limited battery life. If successful, this new device would allow vehicles to travel more efficiently through the water like a fish, saving time and battery life.

“There are 30,000 species of fish that have” lateral line sensing, said Maarja Kruusmaa, professor of bio-robotics at the Tallinn University of Technology and the Scientific Coordinator of the FILOSE project. “If all of the fish in the sea have found it useful and none of the robots have, it makes you wonder that maybe you are missing an important piece of information.”

The FILOSE fish robot took four years to build. Engineers made it to mimic the geometry and shape of a rainbow trout; about 20 inches long (50 cm). To create artificial lateral line sensing, the team developed tiny electronic sensors to monitor pressure differences in the water flowing around it. The aim was to understand how fish detect and exploit flow features, and of developing efficient underwater robots based on biological principles.

Though flow is a highly volatile and unsteady state of matter, it can nonetheless be measured and characterised based on many salient features that do not change much in space and time (such as flow direction or turbulence intensity, for example). These salient features can then be described as a “flowscape” – a flow landscape that helps fish and robots to orient themselves, navigate and control their movements.

“So far flow in robotics is treated as a disturbance that drives the robots away from their planned course”, says Professor Maarja Kruusmaa. “We have shown that flow is also a source of information that can be exploited to better control the vehicle. Also, flow can be a source of energy if we can understand the flow dynamics and interact with eddies and currents in a clever way”.

Experiments with flow sensing and actuation in FILOSE have demonstrated that a fish robot can save energy by finding energetically favorable regions in the flow where the currents are weaker or by interacting with eddies so that they help to push the robot forward. The robots are also able to detect flow direction and swim upstream or hold station in the flow while compensating for the downstream drift by measuring the flow speed. FILOSE robot hovering in the wake of an object in the flow is demonstrated to reduce its energy consumption. “It is similar to reducing your effort in the tailwind of another cyclist or reducing the fuel consumption of your car by driving behind a truck”, Prof. Kruusmaa says.

“The FILOSE project has contributed to our understanding of the “fish-centric” viewpoint of the aquatic environment. Robotic experiments have also helped us to understand fish behaviour”, says FILOSE collaborator Professor William Megill, who led the University of Bath’s contribution to the project. “By recording flow sensor data from a robotic fish head which we’ve programmed to move like a real fish in similar flow conditions, we are able to understand what fish are able to perceive.”

The lateral line sensing fish robots have been a joint effort of experts in fish biology (University of Bath, UK), underwater robotics (Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia), mechanical engineering (Riga Technical University, Latvia), signal analysis and flow perception (Verona University, Italy) and of sensor technology (Italian Institute of Technology).

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More information on FILOSE fish robot: http://www.filose.eu/tiki-index.php

Source: Tallinn University of Technology – http://www.ttu.ee/en

Photos: FILOSE Research Project/Ülar Tikk

Estonia becomes the first in the world to open a nationwide electric vehicle fast-charging network

A fast-charging network makes Estonia the first country in the world where you can easily drive your EV around in towns or in the countryside without worrying about the driving range or pollution.

The network, consisting of 165 fast chargers, was officially opened for use today; a single operator is responsible for the administration of all stations and the clients can use the same payment solution and technical support across the country.

Each Estonian town, as well as bigger villages now have their own fast chargers; the stations installed along highways maintain a minimum distance of 40 to 60 km.

The EV users have three service packages to choose from, the cost of one charging is between 2.5 and 5 euros. However, you can also choose paying a 30 euro fee for a monthly package and charge your EV as often as you want with no extra cost. The car’s battery can be charged up to 90% in less than 30 minutes and – depending on the model – you will be able to drive for up to 140 km. The installation of fast chargers started in summer 2012 and they have been used 8,300 times so far.

According to the head of the Estonia’s EV programme, Mr Jarmo Tuisk, it was the lack of a proper fast charging infrastructure that hindered a more widespread use of electric vehicles until now.

“What makes the Estonian fast charging network unique is the fact that it uses a uniform payment solution and you can either use an authorisation card or your mobile phone for making the payment. We believe, that a nationwide grid of quick chargers encourages growth in the number of EV users, since the drivers no longer need to worry about a somewhat shorter driving range of their electric vehicles,” said Jarmo Tuisk.

The EV fast-charging network is operated by a national foundation KredEx, the chargers were produced and installed by a technology company ABB, the innovative payment solution was designed by NOW Innovations!, and customer support is provided by a security company G4S. Tallinn University of Technology adds a research dimension to the project by analysing the use of battery-powered cars and the charging network itself. That sets good preconditions for bringing electromobility R&D know-how together in Estonia.

The construction of the fast-charging network was financed by using the funds received pursuant to a CO2 emission quota sales agreement entered into between the Republic of Estonia and Mitsubishi Corporation.
Besides having a public fast-charging network, Estonia promotes a quicker deployment of EVs by providing direct support to both private persons and companies, with the amount reaching up to 18,000 euros of the all-electric car’s purchasing price. Also, new EV owners can apply for a support of 1,000 euros for setting up a charging system at their home.

According to CHAdeMO, an organisation supporting the fast-charging standard, by January 2013 more than 1,900 fast chargers have been installed in the world, 521 of them outside Japan. Estonia with its 165 fast chargers now has the world’s largest operational public fast-charging network providing a universal nationwide service.

There are 619 all-electric cars registered in the Estonian traffic register, whereas about 500 of these are used by several state authorities. Over a short time, Estonia has become the second country after Norway in the world in terms of the share of EVs. While there is one electric car registered per each 1,000 cars in Estonia, the respective figure for Norway is four. Estonia is followed by the Netherlands with 0.6 electric cars registered per 1,000 cars.

Estonia to conduct its first space mission

Estonia is to conduct its first space mission in April 2013. Around 100 students and scientists have contributed to creation of the tiny one-kilogram satellite, which was nearly six years in the making. The satellite, called ESTCube-1, was used as the basis for 40 research projects and three doctoral theses.

Mart Noorma, Vice-Dean for Studies at the University of Tartu’s Faculty of Science and Technology is the satellite project initiator and leader. “The students have worked really hard to fit the whole important mission into the little cube. The project’s biggest value to the Estonian state and nation is this new generation of young engineers and scientists who received from here a very practical experience in developing high technology with their own hands, which is applicable not only in space but in the electronics industry as a whole,” Noorma said.

ESTCube-1’s main function in space will be to conduct experiments with an electric solar wind sail, which scientists believe may allow space travelers to one day move faster and across greater distances. The satellite will be transmitting data to Tartu Observatory in Tõravere.

The satellite will be launched from European Space Agency’s launch site in French Guiana. It is due to lift off, alongside two others, on a launch vehicle at the beginning of April. The ESTCube-1 will then travel 680 kilometers from Earth, where it will test solar sail technology developed by Finnish researcher Pekka Janhunen.

This article was first published by the University of Tartu blog: http://blog.ut.ee/

Photos: University of Tartu

European Innovation Academy – new level in startup programs

European Innovation Academy Winter Session which took place in Tallinn, brought together 100 students from 30 different countries. The goal of the European Innovation Academy Winter Session was to design new business models during five days and to develop them to global level.

The main aim of European Innovation Academy is to unleash the entrepreneurial potential of young change makers by building their collective intelligence to co-create new ventures and stimulate innovation.

The first European Innovation Academy took place in the summer of 2012. The winner of the first Academy, international start-up LifeinU (an innovative monitoring solution for pregnant women who want to feel themselves 100% safe and medically supervised during their pregnancy period) is already heading to the Silicon Valley, to take part of the training program carried out by notable venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.

The goal of European Innovation Academy Winter Session achieved

During the week, 9 potentially world beating business ideas were born with a help from international mentors. All ideas were built taking into consideration the global necessity.

Five best concepts were presented in the last evening at James Bond Innovation Challenge. Four internationally recognised venture capitalists evaluated all ideas, shared their comments/feedback and rewarded three best ideas:

First Place –  Dreamups www.dreamups.org (Innovative minds and doers from 100+ countries enjoy the opportunity to create and use the largest knowledge base for sustainable solutions)

Second Place – Things.info www.things.info (Mapping things and people on common platform)

Third Place – InTrip2Go (web based platform for allergic travelers)

InTrip2Go was selected as the most globally practical idea by international start-up accelerator Wise Guys and got rewarded with financial support.

A week long program brought together world class professors and experts: Prof. Mark Harris (GER) – the former head of Intel, Prof. Thomas J. Howard (DEN), Prof. Peter Kelly (FIN), Prof. Steve Taylor (UK), Prof Alistair Fee (UK). Additionally experts from the world-famous companies like Skype, Samsung and Microsoft attended.

All evenings and weekends were full of interactive happenings to support students international networking.

European Innovation Academy is becoming the next breeding ground for international start-ups, bringing together all stakeholders involved in the entrepreneurial process. Leading in the fields of Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship, the European Innovation Academy is fast becoming internationally acclaimed as one of the most innovative training programs offering unique sessions like: Lego Lab Prototyping, James Bond Innovation Challenge, Failure Pitching, Team Marriage, Star Trek Technology Lab.

The goal of European Innovation Academy is to rank first in the global arena of start-up training programs.

The European Innovation Academy invites participants twice a year. The next edition will take place between 8-26 July 2013.

See you soon in European Innovation Academy!

www.innovationacademy4u.com

www.facebook.com/innovationme

Is the London-based money transfer firm TransferWise the next big thing to come out from Estonia?

Europas – Europe’s equivalent of  Tech Startup Oscars – took  place in Berlin on Tuesday evening with over 1,000 guests gathering to celebrate the best of the continent’s tech entrepreneurship. Estonian-owned TransferWise was among them and didn’t come away empty-handed.

Among the audience were two young, London-based Estonian startuppers – Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann – founders of online money transfer firm TransferWise who were here for more substantial reason than just mingle with like-minded tech and IT stars. Their company was plotting against 11 other start-up firms to win in the „Best Middleweight Startup” (Less than 3 years and/or less than €2m in funding) category. Hinrikus and Käärmann didn’t need to be anxious for long – they won indeed. Almost three years of hard work of building up the “Skype of currency exchange” or “Easyjet of money transfers”, as the founders like to call it, had just produced another fruit for the thirty-something entrepreneurs.

Taavet and Kristo are two friends, both of whom already had promising international careers going for them, before setting up TransferWise. Taavet was Estonian-developed Skype’s first employee and Kristo worked for Deloitte, having set up his first company when he was 18 – Estonia’s first financial portal investor.ee. Until few years ago both of them split their lives between the UK and mainland Europe. Taavet was paid in euros, but spent his earnings in London. Kristo was paid in pounds, but had a mortgage in euros and spent a lot of time in Belgium.

Whenever Taavet needed to get pounds for rent, Kristo had pounds to spare – but lacked euros to pay his mortgage. Hence the two friends came up with a simple scheme: Kristo put his pounds into Taavet’s UK bank account, and Taavet topped up his mate’s Belgian account with euros. To find a suitable exchange rate, the friends picked that day’s mid-market rate on Reuters.

This way, they avoided paying enormous charges to banks and other conventional money transfer institutions. And that’s when they saw “the apple fall.” “We suddenly started to see a business sense in this. What if we added technology and turned this scheme into a global platform? This was the start of TransferWise,” says Kristo.

Hence in 2010 they transferred their personal experience into business model and the business was launched in early 2011. TransferWise enables individuals and businesses to send money between countries for a fraction of the price that banks and others charge, using internet based, a peer-to-peer, “crowdsourced” model — where money destined for transfer doesn’t unnecessarily actually leave each country. To put it into perspective, if the banks and Western Union style money transfer services usually take a cut of around five percent when transferring money internationally, plus a three percent commission on the exchange rate, then TransferWise offers straightforward mid-market rate (or “the real rate” as they call it at the firm) and take as little as £1 fee for transactions below £300 and a small percentage of about 0,5% of any transactions over that. “The point is that there are hidden charges which the banks don’t tell their customers about – they don’t use the mid-market rate when transferring your money, meaning that customers pay far more than the actual transaction fee,” explains Kristo enthusiastically.

And it seems that more and more people share their enthusiasm: the firm’s customer base has expanded at a rate of 20% to 30% per month and their staff numbers have grown to over 20 at offices in Tallinn and London. Money transfers are supported for the British pound, euro, Swiss franc, Polish zloty, Swedish krona, Norwegian krone, and Danish krone – and since November last year also for US dollars.

“Last year we attended on a pitch competition at a banking conference in Toronto. Among the panel were also some CEO’s from the big banks. They certainly raised their eyebrows and looked slightly nervous when hearing about us,” smiles Kristo. This fact was also underlined by The Financial Times last year, when they chose to feature TransferWise under their headline “Exchange start-ups challenge banks.” In a global exchange business, where 4 trillion dollars change hands every day, a lot is at stake.

Although there are some who argue that they cannot see TransferWise ever making big profit unless they have massive amount of customers from around the world, many investors have been rather more optimistic – to date they have secured $1,8m seed capital, including from the co-founder of PayPal, Max Levchin.

Kristo and Taavet epitomise yet another example of newly found global Estonian entrepreneurship. They are children of the period when Estonia became free of the Soviet occupation and it was normal to start things from scratch: set up a company, set up a bank etc. The difference of course is that if their older colleagues stuck with the home market and surrounding countries, then these start uppers belong to a generation who see the globe as their “home market” – simply because Estonian market, small as it is anyway, is already full of pretty good service companies, hence the expansion abroad.

And of course, in Taavet’s case, being Skype’s first employee helped to get a ball rolling too: “I gained a great insight from early on how to launch a great global product and it created a feeling that we (Estonians) can create big things in a small place” he says.

Their task now is to make TransferWise a global, sustainable business which will make money transfers more straightforward for people. With generally favourable reviews from their customers and their Nike-inspired mantra of “just do it”, Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann are in a good position of possibly turning TransferWise into next big thing to come out from Estonia.

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Photos: TransferWise

Restarting governments in the cloud

Growth in the availability of cloud technologies, adoption of mobile computing devices and IT consumerisation means that governments need to rethink their strategies regarding e-services. In the article, we take a look at how cloud technology and a fresh approach can help in creating modern public services.

Cloud services reduce spending, give entrepreneurs wider options for export and up-to-date solutions for citizens. Estonia is steering the EU cloud computing agenda and things are looking good in the country itself as well.

Estonia has been using a secure data exchange layer in e-services which called the X-Road for over a decade. The X-Road solution supports decentralised development. There are two major benefits for using a decentralized approach in e-services – it provides higher security due to the lower attack value of each database and allows for each organization using the system to customize their own solutions to their need. Margus Püüa, director of the Department of State Information Systems at Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication in Estonia says the country plans to use the same approach when transitioning to cloud solutions.

„We see several benefits in the adoption of cloud technologies. They provide more flexibility in data volume management, they are easier to implement and also recyclable – meaning they can be used by more than one organization or government. The combination of cloud solutions combined with modern lightweight applications is taking over the traditional client-server system logic behind e-services. In the development of X-Road, we take into account the possibilities of the cloud,” says Margus Püüa.

Building e-services as cloud solutions means growth in export capabilities for the IT companies developing the solutions. Andrei Korobeinik, IT entrepreneur and Member of the Estonian Parliament explains: “The development of a system for 1 million, 100 million or 1 billion users is not that different. But when governments buy e-services as products then it is like chasing rabbits – the private sector is much faster in innovating and waste of resources on updating systems is huge. The private sector excels in export and buying services instead of ownership means the government is supporting business activities as well.”

However, building “one size fits all” solutions do not come without its challenges. Most public organisations are used to having their very detailed and tailored e-services solutions created specifically for them. Cloud solutions are different and there needs to me a change of mindset when public organisations want to take advantage of their benefits.

Margus Püüa gives an example: “When building a healthcare solution, you can take into account very specific needs of one specific hospital and its doctors. However, those needs might not be the same in another hospital and the service might be unusable there. Building a solution with less specifics allows for more people to use it.”

An example of this new mindset can be seen in the Estonian e-Kool service. The virtual class journal solution is developed by a private company and bought as a service by educational institutions. There are several other examples with export capabilities as well, such as mobile mapping software of Nutiteq, planning solutions of Positium or the 3D wayfinder by 3D Technologies R&D. Due to private ownership there is no need for the state to spend resources in trying to export or develop the solution.

Innovation in the public sector usually takes more time than in private organisations. With the emergence of buying IT solutions as a service, these obstacles can be removed. In the long run, moving the government into the cloud will provide reductions in spending, increase export capabilities for local IT companies and what’s most important – enable governments to provide citizens with e-services which are always up to date.

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This article was first published by e-estonia.com and was written for e-Estonia newsletter “The digital society”.

TechSisters brings more women into Estonian IT-scene

The global shortage of high-tech workers is hitting smaller countries harder than bigger ones. In search of a solution, ProgeTiiger (CodeTiger) and TechSisters are two Estonian initiatives that are fighting the same issue – helping to uncover hidden talent and shaping the IT workplace of the future.

In the beginning of September, a bit of news that almost initially went unnoticed took the world by storm. Magazines and technology portals such as Forbes, Wired, VentureBeat, TechCrunch and many others turned heads toward Estonia.

What caused this stir? It was the fact that the Estonian Tiger Leap Foundation had kicked off a program to start educating first-graders in the fundamental building blocks of programming. Funnily enough, the story made it to the Estonian newspapers after the foreign press started massively picking it up. Was it that normal for Estonia to do something like that?

From Tiger Leap to ProgeTiiger

In the 1990s, a public-private partnership called Tiger Leap Foundation was brought to life, the name referring to the four Asian ”tigers” (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan). Born in the heads of Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia, and Jaak Aaviksoo, the Minister of Education at the time, the idea was for Estonia to heavily invest in development and expansion of computer and network infrastructure in Estonia, particularly in the education sector.

Now, almost 20 years later, the program called ProgeTiiger is taking an important step forward. “We’re not trying to get firstgraders to code as such,” smiles Ave Lauringson, the program initiator and coordinator. She says that things need to be simplified and tailored to be age appropriate, so the program starts simple and rewarding tasks.

The first task it to get the teachers up to date, since it’s their confidence that will determine the extent of computer use in classes. “Around 30 teachers signed up for our first e-course where we covered the technology and methodology of how to lead kids to programming basics, several groups have signed up for similar courses in January. The interest has been huge both in the schools as well as on the parents’ side – we even have had inquiries from parents looking to put their child in a school that is part of the ProgeTiiger program,” Lauringson laughs.

The how-to of teaching kids to code

What does it take to replicate such program? “We have had to do quite a few presentations for guests outside Estonia. The main things that needs to be there is the infrastructure – something that Tiger Leap has provided for the schools in Estonia. If you have the technology, the scale of the undertaking really depends on how much human resources you want to dedicate to the program and also, whether the program is free to join or if you need to pay something to enroll. Tiger Leap has been a free program for all of Estonia, this is our definitely our advantage,” Lauringson explains.

While the youngest participants in ProgeTiiger will be contributing to the IT workforce in 15-20 years, it’s actually addressing all levels of pre-university education. This means results even sooner.

Where are the ladies?

Another likely side-effect of ProgeTiiger will be increasing the diversity in the male-dominated IT workforce. “If you want to consider more feminine routes in IT, we also have design courses,” says Lauringson. However, she’s far from considering programming to be something that’s “only for boys”.

TechSisters definitely agree. The community is made up of Estonian women (and men) that would like to see the Estonian technology seen more diverse. Born out of Rails Girls meetings (a global workshop series that is focused on teaching girls the programming language Ruby on Rails), they have extended their events from being just programming workshops to networking events and motivational gatherings.

In the UK, women make up 49% of the labour force, however they account for just 17% of IT and telecom professionals. In Estonia, the ratio is a comparable 80/20 – based on data from Skype and the gender structure of IT College students.

Why are women left out of IT?

“The reasons probably lie in gender-specific upbringing and stereotypes – boys tend to develop an interest towards technology (robots, construction toys or computers) significantly earlier than girls. For girls, you could say that the use of technology often remains on the level of looking at images of pretty things on the Internet,” explains Mari-Liis Lind, a member of TechSisters.

TechSisters plan to change that situation. “Since women’s perspective is often different from men’s, involving more women in IT would have the positive effect of bringing about more diverse ideas and solutions. Also, I’ve seen surveys actually showing women being more active Internet-users than man,” says Lind.

TechSisters was founded only recently, when the global community Rails Girls – a workshop for girls that teaches them to use the programming language Ruby on Rails – brought a lot of Estonian girls interested in IT together in Tallinn. The participants were eager to keep in contact after the event, both to polish their skills even further and to enjoy the good company – so TechSisters was born.

At their monthly gatherings, 3-4 women in IT share their experiences and view of the IT world. The goal of this is to alleviate fear for the unknown – girls and women get the chance to see what IT is all about and what it means to work in an IT company. This in turn encourages more women to consider IT as a career path.

The myth of the logical man?

“The most common misinterpretation people have of IT is that you need to be able to program – while that might not be true at all,” says Lind. “However, I also don’t agree with the statement that logical or mathematical thinking is something that is more dominant in men. Having met many brilliant women with sharp logical thinking, I think it’s more about allowing these characteristics to emerge.”

Lind believes that the educational system should be improved in a way that would allow for experimentation and making mistakes. “Kids need to be taught that it’s OK to make mistakes, because this is how you learn. You can learn much more from defeat or mistakes than you can from success. So it’s about instilling confidence and courage to try different things.”

While ProgeTiiger is a state-backed program, TechSisters is a grassroots-type community. The two initiatives share bits and pieces of ideology, although the way they go about reaching their goals is rather different. However, one of the common goals is obvious – to open up a world of choice. And this is exactly what the world needs at this time.

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This article was first published by e-estonia.com and was written for e-Estonia newsletter “The digital society”.

Digital milestone shows pin is the new pen

Estonia’s national ID card has now been used to give 100 million digital signatures.

Since 2002, 1.6 million chip-enabled identity cards have been issued and around 500,000 card holders have used its electronic functions to give e-signatures or authenticate their identity – the latter has occurred 164 million times.

One hundred million digital signatures is total that shows electronic communications have turned a new page in their development, Jaan Priisalu, director general of the Estonian Information System Authority, told to Estonian Public Broadcasting.

Priisalu says the ID card still has potential for broader use, notably in the field of encryption. “At a time when the public and organizations send a growing amount of confidential material over the Internet, the ID card is very effective at providing privacy.”

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Source: Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR).

Photo: VisitEstonia.

Estonian architects create the world´s longest bouncing trampoline

Estonian architects Maarja Kask (33), Karli Luik (35) and Ralf Lõoke (34) from the Tallinn-based practice Salto have built the world’s longest trampoline in a Russian forest, submitted as part of an arts festival.

The trampoline, called „Fast Track“, is 51 metres long and made of black rubber. According to the young architects behind this innovative idea, “Fast track” is a integral part of park infrastructure, it is a road and an installation at the same time. It challenges the concept of infrastructure that only focuses on technical and functional aspects and tends to be ignorant to its surroundings. “Fast track” is an attempt to create intelligent infrastructure that is emotional and corresponds to the local context. It gives the user a different experience of moving and perceiving the environment.”

It was built and installed as part of arts festival Archstoyanie, and has been a hit since it was opened at the end of November in the Nikola-Lenivets forest, attracting the attention of creative locals and many global media outlets alike. Thevillage of Nikola-Lenivets is about 250 km south-west of Moscow, and has been hosting the festival for 15 years. Originally inspired by Russian sculptor Nikolai Polisski, famed by his huge wooden sculptures, the festival has now become internationally renowned.

The young architects behind the project established Salto in 2004, and have become renowned for their innovative works that blur the line between different levels of architecture. This latest creation has already sparked a global furore, with The Guardian, Daily Mail, Huffington Post and Bloomberg all reporting about it.

In summer, Salto was nominated for Iakov Chernikhov International Prize “Challenge of the Time” – the prize is given to the best among contemporary architects of the young generation – up to 44 years old – for the most original, authentic and innovative concept of architecture. “NO99 Straw Theatre” was recently nominated for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award 2013. The Straw Theatre was a temporary building, built on the occasion of Tallinn being the European Capital of Culture, to house a special summer season programme of Estonian avant-garde theatre NO99, lasting from May to October 2011.

 

Photos: Karli Kuik/Salto

Estonia to host EU’s IT Agency

Estonia hopes to firm its image of an information technology leader after the European Union’s agency that manages large-scale IT systems in home affairs opens in Tallinn this weekend.

This article was first published by Wall Street Journal.

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One of the tasks of this new agency will be supporting the implementation of the EU’s asylum, migration and border management policies. It will have to ensure that systems such as Visa Information System and Eurodac operate 24 hours a day and it will be responsible for issues related to the security of these systems. As of next spring, the agency has to start managing the second generation Schengen Information System, which serves the EU’s passport-free area that now comprises 26 nations.

The temporary office of this new agency in Tallinn for the moment looks dark and deserted. Empty desks are waiting for employees while the hiring process is taking place.

One of the very few desks that are in use is the desk of Krum Garkov, the agency’s executive director with more than 15 years of experience in IT. Although the official launch date for the agency is this Saturday, Mr. Garkov has been in Estonia for about a month trying to get things started and settle in.

“There will be quite a lot of challenges in the next months,” Mr. Garkov said in an interview. “We need to build up our capabilities quickly and meet the expectations regarding the value we have to the member states.”

Estonia’s Minister of the Interior Ken-Marti Vaher said that locating the headquarters of the IT agency in Tallinn is as a sign of respect Estonia enjoys when it comes to IT and cyber security.

“Estonia has high expectations that the agency will become a true center of excellence in the development and management of large-scale IT systems,” Mr. Vaher said. “The agency will offer Estonia greater visibility in the IT field and further enhance its reputation as well-developed IT country.”

The agency’s technical site will be in Strasbourg, France, with a backup site in Austria. The budget for the agency is about 20 million euro ($26 million) this year and 41 million euro in 2013. Estonia will invest about 7 million euro to give the agency a permanent location.

In April 2007, Estonia was the target of several cyber attacks after the government decided to relocate a statue to Soviet soldiers, which for Estonians was a symbol of occupation but for the local Russian population it symbolized the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazis in World War II. Many local websites, including those of government institutions and local banks, were attacked from abroad. NATO established its Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence in Tallinn in 2008.

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Photos: VisitEstonia

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