DCU president: Ireland is primed to catch the next industrial revolution

5 Sep 2014

Prof Brian MacCraith, president of Dublin City University

Ireland is at the intersection of an industrial future that combines the maker movement, the internet of things and devices such as the Quark chip and Galileo board, Dublin City University (DCU) president Brian MacCraith said.

Speaking ahead of next weekend’s Hardware Hackathon which is taking place at DCU in partnership with PCH International, MacCraith said that Ireland has the core ingredients to triumph in a new industrial landscape where creativity is key.

He said that with the recent history of advanced manufacturing in Ireland, the presence of tech giants like Intel and Apple, supply chain orchestration as perfected by Liam Casey of PCH International, as well as advances in 3D printing and crowdfunding and sensors being made in Irish universities, there is no reason why the maker revolution and internet of things opportunity can’t be embraced nationwide.

“Ireland has a well deserved reputation as a creative and innovative space in the general software and ICT space. Exploring this new movement around makers and the interne of things will allow other forms of invention which could be the catalyst for new industry and entrepreneurship in Ireland’s cities and regions.”

MacCraith said that Ireland’s first Hardware Hackathon is already sold out.

The hackathon will take place 12-14 September at DCU Innovation Campus.

Modelled on the successful Startup Weekend – the largest of which recently took place in Ireland – hardware innovators will form teams to devise hardware that will make an impact on people’s lives. They will then pitch their idea before a panel of judges.

To make it happen, an extensive list of developer kits will be available, including Arduino kits, Raspberry Pis, Intel Galileo boards, 3D printers and even a CNC machine for people to make prototypes of their ideas. 

Judges from AIB, Tyndall Institute, Design Partners and Frontline Ventures will decide on the best hardware and ideas to be pitched by the various teams.

MacCraith said: “The Hackathon and similar events we’ll be holding here on campus provide a framework of opportunity for creative minds at all levels of the education system and among the wider public.”

Land of saints, scholars and makers

DCU is already powering ahead to bring in the kind of infrastructure and supports to enable people who can invent and design new technologies to bring their ideas to market.

Last year the university established the UStart accelerator aimed at undergraduates and among the companies in the programme is a start-up that manufactures and sells 3D printres to secondary and primary school students. “In a recent demo they showed me how students in Irish secondary schools are using the 3D printers to print parts for digital cameras. Just think about the possibilities …”

Another major initiative that DCU is focused upon is bringing Techshop, a major enabler of the maker revolution, to the planned DCU Innovation Campus. Students, entrepreneurs and individuals use Techshop’s facilities like CNC machines and 3D printers to assemble their inventions and pay a monthly fee just as they would a gym membership.

Companies that have prototyped in Techshop include Square, the card-reader technology invested by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, electric-motorcycle manufacturer Lightning Motors Corp and Embrace, which has developed a low-cost infant warmer to incubate premature babies in the developing world.

The university has signed a memorandum of understanding with Techshop that will see the university provide space to locate on its grounds.

“We believe it will be a huge catalyst for innovation and the whole start-up ecosystem in Ireland by having this located here. Techshop will provide open access for everybody and will save start-ups and SMEs from spending large amounts of money on developing prototypes.

“The impact of Techshop in the US has been enormous and companies like Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s Square were able to prototype their devices using Techshop.”

MacCraith envisages the Government getting invovled in the maker movement by providing prototyping facilities on a regional basis, ensuring that entrepreneurs, designers and inventors can catch the next industrial wave of designing goods here, assembling them in Asia but ultimately creating Irish businesses of scale and no doubt much needed regional employment.

Designed in Ireland

Intel vice-president for the internet of things Philip Moynagh with one of the Quark-based Galileo boards that were designed in Ireland and launched at the Maker’s Faire in Rome last October

“It is the intersection of the maker movement and the internet of things which is the really smart piece of this. I think the fact that the Quark chip and the Galileo board were also ‘designed in Ireland’ gives us the momentum to combine those two things.”

MacCraith said that Intel’s contribution to the maker revolution and the internet of things is likely to be enormous. “We are in some very exciting discussions with them about a range of developments that would leverage their technologies and internet of things capabilties with a broad range of other creative and entreprenurial opportunties.

“Start marrying the maker movement, the internet of things and Ireland’s edge in sensor technologies and there you have a smart future available to everybody.”

Allied to those three trends, MacCraith said it is vital to recognise the contribution that Liam Casey and PCH have made in terms of enabling not only tech giants but also makers of devices like the Pebble smartwatch hit the ground running with new technologies.

Casey’s company PCH is one of the most crucial supply chain and delivery providers for some of the major global tech brands. For example, it is the only non-Taiwanese final assembly company to be listed on Apple’s global supplier list.

Working across the entire technology spectrum, the company completes the design and delivery of products from Beats’ Dr Dre headphones to cutting-edge smartphones arising out of emerging Chinese phone maker Xiaomi.

“Liam is delighted with the uptake for the Hardware Hackathon. This sold-out weeks ago and there is a massive waiting list so there will be more of these.

“We’ve obviously hit a nerve or found a rich vein of interest and I think that speaks to something that could really take off,” MacCraith concluded.

“It would be very good if this led to mainstream government support from Enterprise Ireland and others to make hardware creation a prominent part of the start-up ecosystem.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years