Worth a Listen

The gurus behind Akoostix Inc. are standardizing sonar technology for use across various platforms and industries

President Joe Hood aboard the SS Muttonchop, a vessel equipped with Akoostix’s state-of-the-art sonar.

Two Canadian ex-military personnel and two software engineers banded together in 2006 to form Akoostix, a research-and-development firm specializing in varying aspects of software design and acoustics. With a combined 40 years of software- and system-engineering experience, the Dartmouth, Nova Scotia-based firm has emerged as one of Canada’s top resources for defence and underwater sonar systems, offering services such as software development, acoustic-data analysis, detection and classification, and data fusion and tracking.

“Akoostix was founded to demonstrate a better way to develop reusable, flexible sonar systems and to find a better way to create value in sonar-system development,” says president Joe Hood. “It gave us the degree of control that we needed to be able to invest and see the solutions go the way they had to go.”

5 Questions
with Joe Hood

1. What does innovation mean to your company?
Innovation, to me, is creating a novel, valuable solution to a problem.

2. Where do you hope innovation will lead Akoostix in the next five years?
Our goal in the next five years is to have sonar systems in the Canadian military, built using our approach and our concepts.

3. How has your notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
Our vision now is the same as when we started. We had the right focus—it’s just a matter of making it happen.

4. How do you cultivate innovation among your workforce?
We pay for training, and expose employees to new research opportunities. They get to work with other scientists and researchers. We also reward those who innovate with a portion of the financial benefit, and we foster collaboration between specialists in Akoostix.

5. What defines an innovative company in the 21st century?
Companies that invest in research and development, collaborate, and are agile—they have the ability to change as the world changes around them.

Though the company is relatively young, Akoostix has made a name for itself in the research-and-development field, thanks to its founders’ years of experience and innovative approach. “The founders of the company all had experience in this domain,” Hood explains. “We had the contacts and the domain knowledge, and we had the passion to see it done the way it should be done. Even though the company was formed only a few years ago, we’ve been working to get to this point for a long time.”

Hood and his team saw a gap in the sonar-systems market, which sparked their interest. “We felt that individual sonar systems were being created without efficiently reusing knowledge and capability,” Hood says. And they noticed that manufacturers would create entirely new solutions for the different types of sonar systems—from ships to submarines to aircraft—without efficiently reusing the related software.

“In the past, people did research and worked with a prototype that had no chance of making it into a system,” Hood says. “People would take those ideas, start over, and develop a new system. The reality is that many of the components inside each of these solutions is the same. We knew that you could develop components that solve problems and put them into all of the solutions, and it wasn’t being done—or at least done well.”

Since its founding, Akoostix has sought to design and implement technology that targets defence and underwater-acoustics requirements. But it’s quite a long process to get from the research to the design stage.

“One of the big things that we’re doing is working closely with government researchers while they’re doing their science—we actually support their science,” Hood says, adding that by participating in the research themselves, they’re able to sell the results of this research back to the Canadian government after integrating it into a commercial system at a significantly reduced cost.

The company has recently submitted a proposal to the Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program, a very competitive program geared towards selling innovation to the Canadian government. As of press time, Akoostix has made it through two of the three evaluation stages to emerge as a finalist for the award. Regardless of the result, Akoostix’s dedication to innovation will bolster the company for years to come.

“We develop know- ledge by looking at scenarios over long periods of time and understanding them,” Hood says. “With that deep understanding comes inspiration on how to solve problems.”