Future Cities centre at TCD to explore smart and sustainable cities

11 Jul 2013

From left: Prof Vinny Cahill, dean of Research, TCD; Prof Siobhan Clarke, director of Future Cities; Prof Linda Hogan, TCD vice-provost and new Dublin Lord Mayor Oisín Quinn

By 2050, up to 6bn people, or 70pc of the world’s population, will be living in cities, the UN has predicted. Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has just opened a new multi-disciplinary research centre called Future Cities. The goal of the research there will be to drive and inspire new ways of integrating technologies and data to make our cities worldwide smarter, cleaner and safer for citizens.

The Future Cities centre has been up and running for some time now, but the new Lord Mayor of Dublin, Oisín Quinn, headed to TCD on 4 July to officially launch the centre.

The Future Cities centre is set to involve a creative fusion of researchers from arts, computer science, statistics, information systems, engineering, natural sciences, social science, chemistry, nursing and midwifery, business and law.

Fusing the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences

The centre’s director, Prof Siobhan Clarke, believes this blend of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences will help spur on technology advancement and societal change, leading to more sustainable and inclusive urban environments in the future.

Clarke, who teaches at TCD’s School of Computer Science and Statistics, emphasised the importance of research into smart and sustainable cities. She referred to United Nations statistics, which predict that up to 70pc of the world’s population will have converged in cities by 2050.

“The growth of cities is an evolving phenomenon that is often unplanned, leading to serious social problems,” explained Clarke.

TCD’s diverse research fabric, she believes, can be fused in a vision to explore ways of tackling city challenges, such as optimising constrained resources like water; reducing a city’s environmental impact; and improving citizens’ quality of life within urban settings.

Social and economic impact from research

Prof Vinny Cahill, dean of research at Trinity, said he believes the new Future Cities centre represents an embodiment of the college’s research strategy. This vision, he said, is focused on tackling global challenges Trinity’s researchers can help to address while also delivering some social and economic value for Ireland.

As for the new Dublin Lord Mayor, Quinn welcomed the Future Cities initiative.

“Successful cities are growing at a phenomenal rate. Dublin must do everything it can to position itself to be able to compete with other cities,” said Quinn, adding that many of the world’s leading technology and social media giants have already chosen Dublin as their “gateway” to Europe.

“If we want to compete in the global battle of cities, then Dublin is our only realistic chance,” said Quinn. By international standards, he said Dublin is a small to medium-sized city, yet it produces half of Ireland’s GDP.  

“This unique combination of multi-disciplinary research activity working directly with industry, citizens and city agencies to achieve a city that is effective, efficient and sustainable … can play a vital role in strengthening Dublin’s competitive advantages,” said Quinn.

 ‘The world is now our lab’ – IBM

A workshop with representatives from 25 different companies and government agencies took place just before the launch of Future Cities. According to TCD, the outputs of this workshop are set to inform the research agenda and priorities for the centre.

“Our industry and agency relationships are crucial to allow us to identify industry and city needs,” said Clarke last week. She said the vision is to collaboratively set the research agenda for the Future Cities centre, and foster collaborative actions between industry, government agencies and academia.

IBM Smarter Cities Technology Centre in Dublin, Ireland, features ceilings that harvest natural light

IBM Smarter Cities Technology Centre in Dublin, Ireland, features ceilings that harvest natural light

Industry drive towards clean tech

Already tech giants such as Intel and IBM have set up research centres in Ireland dedicated to researching new ways of achieving smart and clean technologies to revitalise cities.

In late 2011, for instance, IBM opened its Smarter Cities Technology Centre at its Mulhuddart, Co Dublin, campus. The centre is housed in a disused manufacturing hub. It now features such pioneering technologies as a ceiling to harvest sunlight and light sensors. With its researchers at the Smarter Cities centre capitalising on open data, IBM is aiming to transform the way we predict everything, from future natural disasters, dangerously low water levels and flooding, to how we choose the ideal place to live in cities.

Also around the same time in 2011, Intel located its new Energy and Sustainability Lab at its Leixlip, Co Kildare, campus. Of late, the chip giant has been working with Irish clean-tech start-up SolarPrint on an energy-harvesting device.

The two companies demoed their research at the Mansion House in Dublin recently as part of the recent Open Innovation 2.0 conference that was held in Dublin Castle.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic