Ireland positions itself as a global ocean tech hub

23 Mar 2010

A new innovation strategy to bring together Ireland’s ICT sector and marine natural resources to tap into global markets has been unveiled.

The strategy document – ‘Harnessing Ireland’s Potential as a European and Global Centre for Ocean Technology’ – was compiled by a working group comprised of representatives of ICT industry, research institutes and State agencies.

The working group has identified ocean innovation as a possible “game changer” for Ireland by focusing our existing ICT cluster and significant investments in science and technology on our 220m acre marine resource in order to leverage opportunities to develop new products and services for global markets.

In this way, Ireland would be utilising its largest natural resource – the ocean – as a catalyst for innovation in a similar way to that by which other nations have used the oil and gas, shipbuilding, space or the defence sector to drive knowledge and innovation.

The workshop was opened by Minister Tony Killeen TD, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Food and featured a keynote address by Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, the newly-appointed European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science.

It was attended by more than 100 delegates including business leaders and entrepreneurs from such companies as Cathex Ocean, EpiSensor, Intune Networks, NowCasting, IBM, Intel, Veolia Water and Transas Marine Ltd., as well as scientists, technologists from leading research centres, including NUI Galway, Dublin City University, Tyndall National Institute, Waterford Institute of Technology, University of Limerick and others.

The SMARTOCEAN Innovation Cluster Strategy

“It came as a very pleasant surprise to me to learn recently that on the ‘Real Map of Europe’, Ireland is the third-largest country in the EU,” said Geoghegan-Quinn.

“The continental shelf around this little island is one of Europe’s largest seabeds . . . although much remains undiscovered, this underwater land mass presents vast opportunities for the Irish economy and places Ireland in pole position to be at the cutting edge of marine innovation,” Geoghegan-Quinn added.

The SMARTOCEAN Innovation Cluster seeks to target newly emerging niche markets like marine renewable energy, environmental monitoring and water management, as well as established markets like oil and gas, aquaculture, maritime transport, tourism and coastal erosion, etc, by developing innovative and competitive production systems and service models to target niche, high value and high growth international export markets.

According to the SMARTOCEAN document, there is already a strong group of companies and academic researchers actively engaged in initiatives linked to its proposed strategy.

Many of these projects are linked to the 10 Ocean Innovation Test Platforms that exist in the rivers, bays, coasts and oceans around Ireland. These innovation test beds allow companies to test new concepts, equipment, technologies, and solutions in real-life situations.

An example of what’s possible is Nowcasting, a firm that began out of an EU research project and has grown into a globally recognised leader in its field, weather and ocean forecasting, combining awareness and understanding of the ocean’s and Ireland’s global leadership in ICT.

Acknowledging the importance of test bed infrastructure and IBM’s use of the SmartBay platform in Galway Bay, Robert McCarthy of IBM said: “Today’s environment, energy- and climate-related issues are at the top of IBM’s strategic agenda.

“By utilising SmartBay’s as an R&D test bed platform, IBM is developing environmental and energy management solutions that can help customers reduce costs and systemically manage water, energy and carbon emissions. IBM takes a holistic approach to our planet’s challenges that combine our innovative technology, deep business insight and industry expertise. Together, we can enhance the sustainability of business — and our planet.”

Welcoming the challenge presented by the SMARTOCEAN Strategy Working Group, Dr Peter Heffernan, said: “As an island on the western edge of Europe, Ireland is strategically positioned as a gateway to the Atlantic.

“This unique positioning gives us a specific advantage as a location for a European and global centre for ocean innovation. We have many of the ingredients in place already, the challenge is to co-ordinate and harness our strengths to realise sustainable economic growth,” Heffernan said.

By John Kennedy

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