The rise of the machines – an internet of things revolution designed in Ireland

7 Sep 2015

Having missed the last industrial revolution, Ireland now finds itself at the coalface of the next industrial revolution driven by (IoT).

Having missed the last industrial revolution, Ireland now finds itself at the business end of the next one, which will be driven by the internet of things (IoT). Across the land, important initiatives are taking shape that will redefine industries and economies, writes John Kennedy.

Almost two years ago to the day, on a balmy night on the Piazza della Rotonda in Rome, I sat outside for dinner with a bunch of young Intel engineers who talked excitedly but mysteriously about their work. At the head of the table sat Philip Moynagh who, up until quite recently, had headed one of Intel’s prestigious chip fabrication facilities in Leixlip, but was now leading a mysterious skunkworks project. Close by sat a number of IDA executives who grinned with pride and said all would be revealed the next day at the Maker’s Faire in Rome.

The next day, Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich held aloft the Galileo dev board, emblazoned with the words ‘designed in Ireland’, which was powered by a Quark processor also ‘designed in Ireland.’ It was a defining moment in Ireland’s tech industry history, but few realised it at the time.

Basically, Moynagh and his team of 70 young engineers had seized the opportunity to design and create a chip and a dev board for the internet of things. Their pride and relief was palpable; a team of pirates within a very structured organisation broke the mould, took a big bet with their careers and set Intel on the road to powering the next tech revolution.

This memory flooded back on Friday when I spotted Moynagh, now vice president of Intel’s Internet of Things group, in a photo with GAA officials revealing Croke Park to be the world’s first internet of things stadium in a collaboration with the State University of Arizona.

Digital tapestry: designing Ireland as an internet of things testbed

Croke Park, the third biggest stadium in Europe, is to set the template for Intel’s goal of making Dublin one the world’s first internet of things cities, and projects underway include measuring stadium and fan experience by monitoring pitch quality and stadium microclimate, analysing athlete’s performance, predicting traffic to and from the stadium and developing apps that indicate queueing times at refreshment and convenience facilities.

Effectively, the stadium is to be festooned with sensors that have evolved from those early Galileo dev boards and Quark chips.

If anything, the whole tale is just one segment in a wider tapestry being formed across Ireland, where the internet of things – a world where machines connect to the internet – will transform industries from making things into providing services, and give us greater insight into our daily lives.

The global value of the IoT sector is predicted to exceed £25 billion a year (€34.2bn) by 2020, with an expectation that 4.9bn devices will be connected in 2015, rising to 25bn by 2025.

From IoT sensors to drones, clever minds have realised that the world needs testbeds and Ireland fits the bill perfectly due to its modest population size and compact cities. National Geographic recently named Dublin as the capital for the internet of things.

But this is a countrywide affair, and Cork was recently selected as the location for Vodafone and EMC’s joint investment in a €2m IoT industrial test platform. The new testbed will provide facilities for the testing and exploration of technologies like machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The IoT Innovation platform is spread across three data centres in Cork: EMC, Vodafone, and data centre and cloud provider Cork Internet eXchange (CIX). Businesses will be able to use the platform to test solutions for the internet of things.

But there is a whole sway of initiatives also underway, including tech giants like IBM, start-ups like Movidius and major research initiatives from centres like Adapt, Insight, Nimbus and Tyndall.

IBM, for example, has its own floating sea laboratory for the internet of things called Sealab.

A chip designed by Dublin firm Movidius is at the heart of Google’s next big bet on IoT.

Across the board, companies like IBM, HP, SAP, Vodafone, Analog Devices, Intel, SAS, EMC and many others are working on IoT in Ireland.

On the research front, academic and industrial collaborations facilitated by research groups like Tyndall, Amber, CRANN, Insight, Connect, Adapt and TSSG have put Ireland on the world stage for IoT-related breakthroughs. TSSG and Tyndall, for example, are pitching to raise €82m to fund 10 internet of things-focused start-ups.

The new industrialists have digital in their DNA

Speaking with last year, Moynagh said Ireland has the opportunity within its grasp to be a leading powerhouse in the internet of things revolution.

“With an unflinching focus on high return for our investment, we need to architect and implement IoT solutions that address our biggest challenges. We need outstanding cost-effective healthcare for an aging population.

“We need world-class education for our kids and our adults. We need smart rooms in smart buildings in smart cities with smart transport delivering safer, healthier, energy efficient, productive living. We need to attract the best companies and we need to start and build the best companies in the world.”

But we also need smart graduates. While Ireland is benefiting from a major influx of tech investment leading to thousands of new jobs in technology, the war for skills is raging as furiously as ever and students and graduates are needed to fuel the next decade of growth.

According to the CEO of Waterford Institute of Technology’s TSSG research group Barry Downes a new kind of graduate capable of understanding software and microelectronics will be needed. The college has created a new internet of things-focused computer science degree which will be led by Eamonn de Leastar.

Downes said that one of the challenges with IoT is that it requires a broad scope of expertise ranging from coding to knowledge of microelectronics and electrical engineering.

“We want to create graduates who have that capability to solve internet of things problems end-to-end, whether it is through building a sensor, connecting it to the internet and building the software to connect it to other systems.”

Leading minds like Moynagh and Downes are needed to steward Ireland in the right direction and, with the right energy, to seize the internet of things opportunity.

That opportunity will allow manufacturers of everything from toasters to TVs and thermostats to reinvent themselves as service providers. That opportunity will propel Ireland from having missed the industrial revolution of the 19th century to being at the coalface in the 21st, where inventors and entrepreneurs will be the new industrialists.

IoT Makers Week, with special coverage of this rapidly-growing field, will take place on from 5 October to 9 October 2015. Get updates by subscribing to our news alerts or following @siliconrepublic and the hashtag #IoTMakersWeek on Twitter.

Industrial revolution image via Shutterstock

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