“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Albert Einstein
Swiss Ocean Tech has been founded on curious minds, as a walk through our interview series with other co-founders will confirm. This month’s focus, Erik Asplund, co-founder and hydroacoustics and signal processing specialist, is no different. There is seldom a meeting where Erik does not utter these four words, “I have a question”.
Growing up in a suburb of Stockholm, life was simple and care-free. As an only child, he found joy in disassembling whatever was put into his hands. “Even a pen was not safe with me. I would spend afternoons taking apart any device which mankind had created. It intrigued me but brought my parents to the brink of despair because I rarely rebuilt anything”, he snickers. “It wasn’t all bleak however”, he adds, “I once dismantled our lawn mower and then built it back to work much better”. When he was around 10, his father bought him a book entitled “25 Electronic Circuits” and this fueled the already burning fire. It was clear from the beginning, technology in whatever form, would always be a passion.
One obsession which accompanied him throughout his teenage years was radio. “Back then there was still a huge bandwidth which was not used and we tapped into that for our own amusement.” He explains one form of entertainment:
“It was common for families to gather around their analog TV sets for the evening shows. The connections were famously unreliable and rarely did an evening pass without someone having to adjust the antennas in hopes of finding a better signal. My friends and I would hunker down outside of a window – early forms of voyeurism you could almost say – and then disrupt the incoming signal with our own frequencies. We would watch in glee as people would then go through these crazy antics with the antennas in the hopes of catching a better signal as not to miss too much of the show they were watching. Looking back, I realize it wasn’t neighborly behavior, but as teenagers, we were enraptured.”
Moving into university things began to change. “School had always been easy for me, but once I enrolled in the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, I was thoroughly intrigued but also challenged.” He studied electronic engineering with a focus on digital signal processing. To round it off, he took extra courses in mechanics and acoustics. Part of this education was engaging in an apprenticeship which for Erik turned out to be with a civilian company making defense equipment. It was his first encounter with underwater electronics, and it fascinated him so much so, that he stayed there following his graduation.
His work with hydrophone systems and sensors led him to move into the oil industry where the goal was to replace air guns as exciters for seismic exploration with something more economical. In essence, they wanted to change from air guns to a linear loudspeaker where the excitation signal could be better controlled. This was the turning point for Erik as it introduced him to structural mechanical modelling and structural dynamics, know-how he now uses extensively with Swiss Ocean Tech.
Working as a consultant for Data Respons in Norway, Erik was approached by our founder, Thomas Frizlen, back in 2012. Thomas explained his vision and although very much in the “nuts & bolts” phase, Erik found himself attracted to the idea. The two worked together developing functionalities, with sensor adaptations from Erik, and producing a system which Thomas could test in Switzerland. “It was a fun job and it fit my profile”. A year or two later, Thomas approached Erik again and asked if he would be willing to invest his free time in the project. “I was still intrigued so I offered my expertise and my time”.
Since those early days, Erik has seen Swiss Ocean Tech weather many storms. “You start with just an idea combined with much creative energy and curiosity, and as the team grows, the idea begins to take shape. It isn’t always easy, you solve one problem here only to have three other problems rear their head somewhere else, but I can tell you, it is always fun”. Fascinated by sound, communication and mechanics, Swiss Ocean Tech offered Erik the perfect playing field and he was happy to dedicate his free time over the years.
When the opportunity came to become a co-founder, it seemed the most logical thing for him to do. “I was attracted on so many levels; the underwater communication is highly sophisticated and complex, with multi-path issues and varying water temperatures leading to curved sound propagation, how could I not be interested? We are always bordering on what is technologically possible and it is the thrill of creating something entirely new, which ultimately appeals to me”. On a sidenote he does mention that the hours of testing can sometimes wear on his need for sleep but being uncomplicated, he can adapt to most situations.
When asked to describe himself, Erik takes some time to reflect. Always the engineer, it is difficult to turn the inspection on oneself. “I am fiercely loyal. It takes a lot for me to leave. If I commit, then I am all in. If I say I will do something, then I will make a huge effort to make it happen. And yet, I am also very independent. I like to work alone, and I dislike it when people interfere with my process of doing things or demand unnecessary bureaucratic tasks. That can be a very sticky topic for me, for instance”.
In his free time, when not working on Swiss Ocean Tech, he is a passionate snorkeler and photographer. “I know what a dead coral reef looks like. I have witnessed firsthand the consequences of many anchors falling onto the delicate coral reef ecosystem over time and ultimately destroying it. The ocean is an exquisite universe so vital to all living creatures. It pulls me back always and I love spending my time under the water’s surface discovering all of its wonders. The ocean deserves and demands to be protected. This is also a reason for me to be attracted to Swiss Ocean Tech, we are only one cog in the system, but our impact could be huge for the health and preservation of the oceans”.
The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. -Albert Einstein