Smart home tech scoops student engineering award

23 Jun 2009

A project on RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology for the smart home and office environment has scooped the Level 7 Innovative Student Engineer of the Year award for Colm O’Brien of Cork IT at yesterday’s Engineers Ireland Innovation Awards.

While other smart-home technologies already exist, O’Brien’s Automatic Personalised Work/Home Environment project is unique in that it can be retrofitted into existing rooms and buildings with no need to re-wire, and can be controlled wirelessly.

Some innovative examples of how this technology can be applied include its use in nursing homes, where elderly patients may be moved from room to room yet their personalised environment could be moved with them.

Michael O’Connor, marketing manager for Siemens Limited, which sponsors the innovative student engineering award category, said: “A higher level of engagement of science and technology subjects at primary and secondary school level is now critical in helping to increase the level of graduates in the area.

“I am delighted to see that 11 years on, the standard of submissions for the Siemens Young Innovative Engineer Award shows there is no shortage of talent whatsoever.”

This year, for the first time, categories have been bumped up from one to three, with Innovative Company of the Year, Innovative Engineer of the Year and a new category sponsored by the Dublin Airport Authority to develop a sustainable element of Dublin Airport City added to the mix.

Dr Chris Horn, president of Engineers Ireland, said that the new categories were added to encourage innovation in the engineering sector in Ireland.

“We want to get out the message that innovation is so important to the economy at this point, and we want to encourage innovation, particularly for global market opportunities. It is about highlighting more and more the importance of innovation’s role right now,” he said.

For students participating in the Innovation Awards, what is interesting is that as they finish and exit their degree programmes, they are better able to talk about their ideas and potential innovations to employers, Horn said.

“Also, thankfully, with colleges and universities, there is stronger and stronger interest in innovation and technologies from the academic community to the commercial world, which provides opportunities for discussion between academics and the commercial sector.”

This joint engagement around research is something that is becoming increasingly common, with universities such as University College Dublin (UCD) making a point of stating that they want innovation and commercialisation to be part of the training of every postgraduate and PhD student, Horn explained.

The new Innovative Company of the Year award was won by OpenHydro, an Irish company whose green energy design of an open-centre turbine that can generate electricity from tidal streams on the ocean bed (and whose open centre stops ocean dwellers becoming trapped) has seen it raise €50m in funding since 2005 for its development.

Another water-themed win was for Denis O’Connor, recipient of the Innovative Engineer of the Year award for his work on an integrated environmental management system that will provide accurate information on drinking water quality to local authorities.

Commenting on the awards, Horn said: “I strongly believe that long-term growth in Ireland must be fuelled by innovative companies, so to see such home-grown engineering creativity is extremely encouraging.

“It is imperative we can bring new techniques, processes and skills in key areas such as water to fruition domestically and then, ideally, to the global market.”

By Marie Boran