Making space for makers at the DCU Innovation Campus

8 Oct 2015

Ronan Furlong, executive director, DCU Innovation Campus

The DCU Innovation Campus in Glasnevin, Dublin, has been stealthily advancing Ireland’s connected hardware ecosystem for some time now. Executive director Ronan Furlong steps into the spotlight to reveal the IoT innovation taking place there, and how this can evolve across the city and, indeed, the country.

IoT Makers Week

The DCU Innovation Campus has about 30 companies on-site at this stage, nearly all of which are involved in the internet of things (IoT). They all make or manage some ‘thing’, and their connected devices and hardware technologies (whether for healthcare, machine-to-machine communications, wearable sensors or clean-energy applications) all involve what I would call a bridge between the digital and physical worlds.

DCU Innovation Campus companies

There are about 30 companies based at the DCU Innovation Campus. Photo via DCU Innovation Campus

Siemens make all the ‘things’, from dishwashers to wind turbines, all of which are connected to the cloud, heavily sensored and reliant on data analytics and predictive maintenance algorithms – the industrial internet of things, as it were.

KL Tech have just been funded by Enterprise Ireland to develop an IoT collar for calves to help manage the weaning process.

The standard or manual weaning method can result in separation anxiety for both the mother and calf, involving loss of weight in the calf and lower milk yields from the mother. To tackle this and encourage weaning, accelerometers and other sensors in the collar are calibrated to give the calf a mild shock when it tries to suckle.

This IoT technology has the ability to add significant economic value to farmers globally and was first conceived at a Beef Hackathon we ran in partnership with ABP Food Group and Intel back in March. The internet of cows, so to speak!

Beef Hackathon winners, DCU Innovation Campus

Sarah Hanley and Jonny Cosgrove from Tender Scan, winners of the Beef Hackathon at DCU Innovation Campus

Alongside KL Tech in the Rodgers Building on campus, NuWave Sensors is 3D printing and shipping connected air-quality sensors to customers, while AmbiSense is developing autonomous gas-sensing technology in an adjacent office and laboratory.

Across the corridor, BlueTape – which won the last PCH hardware hackathon – is busy prototyping a Bluetooth-connected measuring tape.

In fact, we’d be fairly confident that the Rodgers Building has more 3D printers per square metre than any other building in Ireland.

PCH Hackathon winners, DCU Innovation Campus

BlueTape, winners, PCH Hackathon Dublin, May 2015. Photo by Luke Maxwell

In the main Innovation House building, where we have Siemens working on various factory 4.0 technologies bringing IoT’s impact to industrial automation, we also have a number of other household names working on various IoT products and projects.

Fujitsu has a dedicated connected health team developing IoT technology aimed at preventing falls among the elderly population, while VSP Global (the largest manufacturer of glasses in the US) is working on disrupting the world of eyewear by embedding various sensing capabilities in their products. It’s worth noting that this is the company that developed the prescription lenses for Google Glass.

Also based in Innovation House are ResourceKraft (IoT for energy management), Taoglas (radio antennae for machine-to-machine communications) and Shimmer (biometric sensors and IoT for elite athlete performance monitoring).

From hackathon heroes to start-up successes

The site of the DCU Innovation Campus is ideally set up for ‘maker’-type companies, as it affords them multiple spaces suitable for prototyping activities, electronics laboratories, assembly operations and R&D projects. There are sheds and workshops where they can solder, 3D print and use CNC machines without fear of annoying the neighbours or setting off the smoke alarms – things these companies wouldn’t be able to do in the shiny glass boxes in Silicon Docks.

We also have a dedicated 8,500sq ft hardware hackathon space, and our next hackathon will be with augmented reality company Daqri, which has developed an astonishing connected, sensored-up safety helmet. (If people want to start getting a handle on where the internet of things is headed, I would recommend a review of the Daqri website.)

This will be our second hackathon with Daqri, following on from a highly successful event earlier this year.

Daqri Smart Helmet

The Daqri Smart Helmet is AR-enabled connected hardware technology for industry. Photo via Daqri

Aside from the hackathons, we have plans to launch Ireland’s first dedicated hardware incubation programme in partnership with the DCU Ryan Academy. The Ryan Academy themselves will soon be welcoming the first cohort of start-ups into their new, pan-European IoT accelerator, Startup Scaleup, and we anticipate that some of the class of 2015/16 will be based at the Innovation Campus for the duration of the programme.

There’s more to IoT than you think

The reason DCU is pursuing the development of this IoT and connected hardware cluster, and engaging with the likes of Intel, TechShop, PCH, etc., is because we see a huge economic opportunity here.

Dublin has done really well to position itself as ‘the internet capital of Europe’, but why can’t we become the internet of things capital as well?

All the born-on-the-internet companies based here, like Google and Facebook, are actively acquiring connected hardware and IoT companies such as Nest and Oculus VR, and turning their operations to face this opportunity. It makes sense for Dublin, and Ireland, to position ourselves accordingly.

I recently had a chat with Uber Ireland’s MD Kieran Harte, in which we discussed the proposition that Uber was in fact an IoT/connected hardware company. Contrary to the perception that Uber is software, what people are starting to realise is that, when the Uber app is tapped on your smartphone screen, a physical ‘thing’ (i.e., a car) somewhere in the world moves.

Pretty soon, that moving ‘thing’ will be a heavily-sensored, autonomous vehicle, controlled and monitored over the internet. In your daily life, in terms of how you experience a city, in terms of how economic models are going to be transformed, you can’t get more ‘IoT’ than that – and it’s coming fast!

Croke Park Stadium

Croke Park lays claim to being the world’s first IoT stadium. Photo via Shutterstock

Support structures

DCU’s own strengths around cloud computing, data analytics, sensor technology and connected health all play strongly into the IoT space, while the physical set-up of the Innovation Campus is ideal for maker companies who need more than just office space. No one else is really focused on catering to the maker movement and IoT in a strategic way, across research, across physical facilities, across tests beds (check out the Croke Park IoT project) and across the ecosystem supports required to foster IoT innovation, such as the hackathons, the physical workspace, the planned hardware incubator, the engagement with IoT-focused academics, the clustering of IoT companies, the delivery of a large-scale commercial makerspace, etc.

If I was the city manager, an economic development agency or a government minister, I’d be actively trying to develop Dublin’s capability in the IoT arena, in partnership with DCU Innovation Campus and other stakeholders.

There’s no shortage of supports, facilities and accelerators to help software companies in Dublin (Dogpatch Labs, NDRC, Google’s Foundry, etc.), but it’s incredible that the only real hackerspace we have in town is Tog, while no fab lab or commercial makerspace currently exists.

We’re working with the guys in TechShop, and locally with the ‘Makerhub’ team in Dublin, to change that and deliver a transformative innovation platform for IoT entrepreneurs in Dublin and beyond. The ‘internet of screens’ (as Philip Moynagh of Intel refers to it) has been utterly transformative over the last 10 years, but it will pale in comparison to the industrial revolution currently being unleashed as we begin to connect all the things.

We have been in stealth mode thus far, but we are looking forward to detailing our own plans to participate in this new industrial revolution, unveiling our IoT cluster – which has emerged in Glasnevin – and announcing new IoT jobs at our launch event in November.

DCU Innovation Campus, Dublin

Inside the DCU Innovation Campus. Photo via Dublin City University

by Ronan Furlong

Ronan Furlong is executive director of DCU Innovation Campus in Glasnevin, Dublin, where he is overseeing the development of a unique IoT commercial cluster spanning multinationals, SMEs and start-ups focused on making or managing connected hardware across clean-tech, smart buildings, sensor technology, connected health and other IoT sectors.

IoT Makers Week explores the internet of things revolution and the makers driving it with reports on from 5 to 9 October 2015. Get updates by subscribing to our news alerts or following @siliconrepublic and the hashtag #IoTMakersWeek on Twitter.