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Opinion: What does the Internet of Things mean for Ireland?

The intersection between our ‘virtual’ and physical worlds is enriching our daily lives – from entertainment, to energy, transport, healthcare and diet.

Brian MacCraith

WE’RE HEARING A lot about the Internet of Things (IoT) these days and it can be difficult to understand what it is, how it positively impacts our lives and where the opportunities and benefits lie. Far from being something complex or intangible, the Internet of Things is actually something that many of us are already well-engaged with.

The Internet of Things can be described as the intersection between the ‘virtual’ (internet) world and our physical world, via ‘things’ or devices. These connected devices are enriching our daily lives, in everything from entertainment and home, to energy, transport, healthcare and diet.

The most obvious IoT device is a smartphone, which allows users to check the weather, see what time the bus is coming, translate words to other languages and bank online. Smart TVs are also connected devices, allowing viewers to watch TV online and switch between screens. Other common connected devices include games consoles that allow us to connect to the internet and watch Netflix, for example or GPS systems that not only show us where to drive, but provide real-time traffic reports and weather updates.

Delivering real benefits

The Internet of Things is already delivering real benefits in almost every area. Remote sensors and monitoring devices are being developed that can help us with our fitness, health, energy management, diet and travel. They could help medics to remotely monitor intravenous drug delivery and test for diseases through ‘smart’ tattoos on the skin and help car manufacturers to create sensors that monitor and report on air quality within the car.

They can also help policy-makers and, in this regard, Dublin is leading the way. For example, with the help of Intel, Dublin’s streets, parks and buildings will soon be seamlessly linked with high-tech sensors capable of gathering information such as air quality, noise levels and microclimate data. The project will initially focus mainly on environmental data, but the smart network is designed to implement a range of other applications in the future, from citizen feedback to guiding tourists. The pilot project will use Intel Quark technology developed in Ireland, which allows for low power usage. The City Council hopes the futuristic network will attract interest from investors and startup companies looking to innovate in the city.

Business potential

Dublin City University is similarly working with Intel in the IoT space, with some exciting announcements planned in the coming weeks. There is a huge opportunity in IOT for Ireland. Not just for citizens and the research sector, but also for small businesses and start-up entrepreneurs. Gartner, the leading technology research institute, predicts that in the next six years, 30 billion mobile phones, tablets, computers, wearable technology devices and other types of connected device will be in use. This compares with six years ago, when there were only 2.5 billion connected devices in use, and they consisted mainly of mobile phones, tablets and PCs.

With this growth comes significant business potential, particularly for small and medium enterprises. It’s predicted that between now and 2020, half of the business opportunities within the Internet of Things will be attributed to startup businesses.

How do start-ups capitalise on this opportunity in the current business environment? We’ve already seen that with crowdfunding campaigns for example, getting started in IoT is becoming much more accessible. In Dublin, there are many digital incubators and accelerators like the National Digital Research Centre, Wayra and Dogpatch Labs, as well as significant work underway at our universities.

For example, in my own institution, Dublin City University, we will welcome ‘TechShop Dublin’ which will open in 2015. TechShop is a membership-based, DIY workshop and fabrication studio providing access to a community of creative people and more than $1 million worth of high quality machines, tools and software for prototyping and development of connected devices. Having such a workshop in Dublin will be a fantastic boost for our IoT capabilities. One IoT device to emerge from Techshop has been the ‘Square’ card reader which has revolutionised digital payments.

Creating prototypes of new connected devices over 56 hours

DCU is also partnering with PCH, the company founded and led by Irishman Liam Casey that designs custom manufacturing solutions for startups and Fortune 500 companies, on supporting IoT startups in in Ireland. PCH is an excellent example of a company leading the charge in this area. Through its Highway1 incubator and PCH Access programme, successful Irish startups like Drop, an iPad connected baking device and LumaFit, the world’s first wearable fitness tracker for body and mind, have been born.

This weekend with PCH, Web Summit and the National College of Art and Design, the Innovation Campus in DCU will host Ireland’s first Design and Hardware Hackathon. This event will see engineers, makers, creatives and designers come up with ideas for, and design and create prototypes of, new connected hardware devices over 56 hours.

At a similar event in September, it was hugely encouraging to see innovative IoT devices move from idea to physical functioning prototype all over one weekend when PCH and DCU sponsored the first Hardware Hackathon in Ireland. Prototypes included: a smart connected pharmacy fridge which automatically monitors use-by dates for refrigerated medicines; a smart home delivery box that alerts you via SMS when your package has been delivered to your home; a smart water quality device; a sensor to monitor when livestock stray and smart sensors for fire safety.

It’s an exciting time for the Internet of Things in Ireland, for our tech sector and particularly for startups. We have the ideas, the talent and the support of the academic and business communities, to fully capitalise on the opportunities that exist. I look forward to seeing the results.

Professor Brian MacCraith, President of Dublin City University.

The Design and Hardware Hackathon takes place at DCU Innovation Campus in Glasnevin this weekend 1-3 November. Tickets cost €40 and are available at www.hwhackathon.com. Free, open public workshops take place at 1:30pm on Saturday and will feature a screening Maker: The Movie.

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About the author:

Brian MacCraith

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