This article covers new technological spheres of Latvia that take shape right now in the town. The town pushes the national space programs almost alone, helps the neighbor countries to develop space technologies and innovates in the field of smart materials.
Ventspils High Technology Park – The hearth of technological innovations
High technologies are new economic trend in the town, but Ventspils businessman already has impressive achievements in domestic and even space industries. The hearth of technological innovations is Ventspils High Technology Park, where are dislocated companies that produce custom-made electronic systems, LCD products and space equipment.
One of the most dynamic parts of this 30 hectare park is the Space Technology cluster, where Latvian researchers don’t just seat in laboratories, but make real spaceship components and satellites. Most of the projects are invested from the EU funds, since they participate in scientific competitions under the label «Horizon 2020».
The first Latvian satellite, «Venta 1» is named after the town
One of the most interesting achievements of the cluster is the first Latvian satellite, «Venta 1», which is named after the town.
The project that begun as a student project of several students from Ventspils University, will be launched this year with a support of Indian specialists in a spaceport Satish Dhawan Space Centre. Small, 7.5 kg satellite is going to orbit around the planet for 2 years, receiving signals from cargo ships and mapping them in the internet databases.
The project has a difficult story, since the first plans emerged in 2006 and the satellite had to be in space already in 2012. The launch of Venta-1 has endured many delays for almost 10 years. In 2016, there was another try to bring the satellite to India and set it at the 500 km orbit, but Venta-1 remained on the ground, while its competitor ESTCube-1, the first Estonian satellite, had already conquered the outer space for 2 years.
Estonian project was developed with a significant assistance of Ventspils students, who prepared software for the cubiform satellite, but young boys and girls couldn’t be happy with their own project. Indian rocket carrier that had to transport Venta-1 to space had also release 21 more satellites on the same flight. There was a high risk of collision, so Latvians decided to abort the long-awaited launch.
The supervisor of the project, Aigars Krause doesn’t despond and says that Venta-1 will surely be in outer space. But foremost, he says that the project is a good practice for students and sign that young Latvians discover new technical fields. «Everyone knows that young people are extremely reluctant to study for engineers, considering it too complicated. In order to attract them, we developed this idea. And already there are those who are enthusiastically engaged in this and believe that space can also be Latvian».
Cryogenics – Another Latvian achievement
Another Latvian achievement in Space technologies, which actually have a huge potential on the Earth, is cryogenics. Latvian company Cryogenic and Vacuum Systems produces devices that can make nonmelting ice-cream and never perishable fruits. Being participants of Horizon 2020, the company won the competition with presentation of a simple concept of mobile cryogenics that can be applied in both industrial and domestic scales.
If you don’t want to keep your products in refrigerator, you need to freeze all the water inside of food. Small installations of the company dehydrate any fruit or vegetable in a special chamber, where low temperature and vacuum suck out all the water, making a product unable to perish. Different kinds of food require different duration of dehydration. A liter of milk takes just several hours to get dehydrated, strawberries take few days, while cut ones require only one day.
Financial director of the company, Natalia Panova says that their technology is absolutely universal and can suit any industry. «For example, this technology can be good for soldiers. When there is a battle march, they have to carry products. But our technology might reduce the weight of a food by 10 times. And what is next? Just add some water. You can sublime soup, meat, fish, anything you like. It’s a solution for tourists, soldiers, astronauts…».
Right now, the company works with customer orders and hasn’t launched massive manufacturing yet. «We rent a room, not ours, but we are planning to establish a factory, make an optimal line with at least 3 installations in order to set a continuous production». Ms. Panova says that the company wants to get into the free economic zone of Ventspils, where will be possible to build a mini-factory for manufacturing purposes.
Although, the company doesn’t have own plant, Cryogenic and vacuum systems already works for many years and specializes in vacuum technologies that simulate conditions of outer space. Just a month ago, the company won a grant of Horizon 2020 to make a portable vacuum simulation machine that will test satellites and other compact spacecraft in extreme conditions.
Smart Window – innovative product of the Ventspils High technology Park
Another innovative product of the High technology Park is a smart window. This product replaces regular blinds and curtains, automatically tuning transparency of the glass. If there is too sunny outside, the smart window turns grey in accordance with a remote control or outdoor sensors. Similar products can be already found in the international market; however, Latvia also wants to take a share.
This project is a result of three Ventspils companies that operate in different fields. EuroLCD, which is a producer of liquid-crystal displays, took manufacturing of the grey membrane that regulates transparency. HansaMatrix, a producer of circuit electric boards, prepared thin electronic stuffing, which is hided in the frame.
ABRO Windows is the assembler of the final product that brings in branded glass, wood and plastic materials. All of the companies are located 50 meters from each other. Such density of the various producers in one place could make a new interesting project, which will be launched this year.
A representative of EuroLCDs, Uldis Salenik says that «The most suitable places, where it can be used are air and auto industries, houses. But smart windows are universal. I think in future, the product will be very cheap, but everything depends on the global producers of glass. When they will go for it, then the product might be massively used as a normal kind of windows». Mr. Salenik notices that right now, their product is quite pricey. A square meter of such smart glass costs 500 euros, but he hopes that the price will soon sink in the scale.
But where do specialists that push Ventspils hi-tech come from?
Ventspils University is the central educational institution of the town, where young people get qualification of European level in order to bring fresh ideas into the life of the town. The rector of the university, Karlis Kreslins says that students of the university are not just pupils, but active members of the town that deeply change it.
For example, in 2011, one of the graduates of the Business management faculty suggested the local municipality an idea of local currency. He made a concept of the special tourist currency called Vents, 2 million of which have already been printed. You can’t buy everything with Vents, but if you visit swimming pools, the central stadium and other public facilities, it would be much cheaper to have Vents rather than euros.
However, Mr. Kreslins notices that the town experiences a certain lack of young people, who don’t move to the capital or other European counties.
«There is a high demand of students; we need more students because there is a demand from market».
Moreover, he says that the current rise of technological sectors of Ventspils is linked with politics and the government support rather than influx of young specialists.
«Of course we have logistics, it’s a port city, but also because of political impact, the EU sanctions, this flow through Russia to other continents decreased, so you have to find other ways how to earn money and prosper. This is the niche [technologies], where the city is going. We have business incubators, high technology Park that help to develop innovations».
He also adds that the establishment of the free economic zone was a key decision to change the town. The suggestion of the government was a good start of the long-term project that took shape only because of close collaboration of various institutions of the town.
We have this special zone with very good tax reliefs. And during the last 10 years, more than 10 foreign companies settled down. And the growth speeded up the last few years. I would say that there is a very good cooperation among industries, the municipality, technical college and our university. And all goes hand in hand. There are strict plans which have to be fulfilled. And I guess when there is motivation, there are always results.