VRT revolutionises underwater imaging technology

VRT1 VRTMarkku Ahonen, VRT’s head of operations in Australia, knows that diving can be dangerous: currents could sweep divers away and in Australia they could even be eaten.

A Finnish company’s innovative technology allows people to see underwater – and helps prevent divers from being eaten by crocodiles.

The crystal clear water one sees in pictures on holiday post cards is an aberration. Most water is actually rather opaque, and this creates all sorts of problems for people who need to see what is happening in the depths. Two Finnish civil engineers, Olli Auer and Kirsi Hänninen, recognised the problem and developed a solution.

— Our founders were looking at diver videos from underwater construction. In Finland it’s hard to see anything because the water is murky and they were thinking that there must be another way to do this, says Niko Tuominen, CEO of VRT.

VRT2Their idea involved using sonar. Using sound waves to recognise things underwater is a relatively old technology, but VRT’s innovation was how that data is interpreted and displayed. Auer and Hänninen closely guard their novel technology.

— They are still the only two people who know exactly how it happens, so it is sort of like a secret Coca-Cola recipe, Tuominen continues.

Kirsi Hänninen returning from an inspection trip in Brisbane. (Photo: VRT)

Avoiding crocodiles

VRT’s technology allows the inspection of underwater structures, such as harbour walls, bridge piers, dams or pipelines. The resulting 3D images enable engineers to see structural conditions and the topography of the river or seabed. They can then pinpoint the need for maintenance or repair work.

Underwater structures are normally inspected by divers, but there are a number of difficulties with this approach. Diving can be dangerous: currents could sweep divers away, equipment failures could put their lives at risk, and in some places in the world they could even be eaten.

— Healthy divers’ meat is the crocodiles’ favourite dish. Diving companies have special cages for divers in waters which bustle with crocodiles. This is an extra cost for clients and makes inspection work even more difficult, says Markku Ahonen, VRT’s head of operations in Australia.

Instead of sending divers down to swim with Australia’s salties, engineers can instead lower the sonar equipment from boats, solid platforms or even mobile platforms like trucks or railway cars.

Doubling annually

VRT is growing at about a 100 per cent rate annually. They have strong demand in the Baltic area, but are also receiving attention from all over the world. Tuominen points out that most of the world’s major cities are located on water and much of the infrastructure is decades old.

VRT’s 3D images enable engineers to see structural conditions and the topography of the river or seabed. (Photo: VRT)

— Global engineering firms, public road and railway companies and even diving firms discovered immediately VRT’s potential to help in their existing problems, says Ahonen.

The company’s services are so obviously useful that VRT is breaking some stereotypes.

— I’m most excited when I see how fast our type of new solution is adopted, even in the public sector which everyone sees as slow and bureaucratic, concludes Tuominen.

David J. Cord
Goodnews fro Finland

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