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Featured Article 19 Aug 2015

Ireland is at the tipping point now in terms of industrial applications of the internet of things (IoT) and all the pieces are in place for the country to be a world leader in this area, writes Sorcha Corcoran.

Both government and industry heavy hitters are of the strong belief at the moment that Ireland is perfectly positioned to be a trailblazer in the development and deployment of the internet of things in the business world.

This is not just because the country has the ideal ecosystem for this to happen, but rather more because of the actual activity that is going on in terms of applications coming on stream and the level of collaboration that already exists.

The IoT is a scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

US market research firm Gartner has estimated that the IoT will include 26 billion units by 2020 and by that time IoT product and service providers will generate incremental revenue exceeding US$300bn, mostly in services.

With this in mind, IDA Ireland has earmarked the IoT as one of the areas for Ireland to pursue in its recently announced five-year strategy and it was incorporated in the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs last January.

Ken Finnegan was appointed IoT lead at IDA Ireland in July 2014 and in his first year in the position has experienced enough to convince him of the real opportunity that exists for Ireland in this space.

The IoT is the top global tech trend and is happening in Ireland, right here and now, taking in about 80pc of the technology ecosystem. I went on a reconnaissance mission around Ireland looking at both Irish and international companies involved in IoT and also went to Paris and Amsterdam for benchmarking purposes. It was clear that Ireland is doing really well in terms of solutions – in Paris I saw a lot of smart devices but didn’t really see solutions to real world problems.

Ken Finnegan, IDA Ireland
 

In terms of examples of companies in Ireland solving real world problems via the IoT, he cites Dublin-based Smart Bin (a provider of intelligent remote monitoring systems for the waste and recycling sectors); Ambisense (a Dublin City University spin-out using sensor technology for methane measurement); Shimmer (Dublin-based provider of wearable body technology solutions now shipped to 65 countries around the world); and building materials company Kingspan, which is creating a new business model for energy production and sales.

“Ireland can really lead in IoT because we have a rich and strong history in the technology sector, so many successful companies and individuals and a really unique research ecosystem as well,” says Finnegan.

The environment is highly collaborative – universities are not in competition for industrial partnerships and from an industry perspective you can see convergence happening in lots of different industries and many verticals forming such as smart cities and smart health.

“The IoT is all about interconnectivity and that horizontal value chain is so important. It is very rare that one company will have all the capabilities required, so it is essential for companies to collaborate.

“The recently announced collaboration between Vodafone and EMC to create the Infinite platform is a great win for Ireland in that respect . Meanwhile Dell and Intel are sending out the message that Ireland is the place to come to test your IoT ideas.

“Right now, Ireland is small enough to trial and large enough to prove IoT solutions.”

The fast beats the slow
Philip Moynagh, vice president, internet of things group at Intel Corp, echoes this view: “With previous technology revolutions it used to be big always beats small but with IoT it’s the fast that beats the slow. Can we say that Ireland is a fast-moving space and economy? Hell yeah. You can get to the provost of Trinity College Dublin in one phone call; in a heartbeat engage with great universities, IDA Ireland; gain access to the Taoiseach’s office incredibly easily and reach Nasdaq listed companies within two hours.

“The SME and start-up side of things is exploding and there are lots of interesting companies in hubs. In Dublin in particular I think we’re starting to operate some of the mechanisms stolen from the Bay Area better than they are there, such as CoderDojo and hackathons.”

In this context, Moynagh highlights an example of IoT activity in Ireland that epitomises how Ireland can have an edge: “Larry Goodman’s ABP Group has recently entered Japan, China and the US with its grass-fed beef. It has a great product and a great attitude. Having looked at this business line it recognised that margins were tight and questioned whether there was a way of deploying smart connected IoT wearable technologies to the business that would transform it.

“ABP Group sponsored a beef hackathon in Dublin City University in partnership with Intel last May – the first of its kind in the world. It presented its problems to 120 people ranging in age from 14 to 74 who came up with 12 ideas and ABP Group chose the winner [a prototype of a device able to measure the tenderness of meat].”

Moynagh spent a lot of his working life in the 120km strip between San Francisco and San Jose on the west coast of the US and his experience there is making him excited about what is possible in Ireland.

“Silicon Valley is this completely distorted source of great technologies that everybody knows about, way disproportionate to its geographical size. I’ve known all of my career that it’s possible to be way over represented per capita in terms of breakthrough, revolutionary ideas in technology and business models. The thing that excites me about the IoT with a green jersey on is that this now makes sense in the Irish context,” he says.

“When you look at infrastructure and enablement, we’re right up there with the Bay Area this time and there is no reason for Ireland not to be on the front edge.

“None of the revolutionary steps in technology I have witnessed in my time [the microprocessor, computer, the internet, smart phones, Wi-Fi] have come out of Ireland or close to that. However, if you peel that back a bit, Ireland is the size of Colorado or Greater Manchester and with IoT you have to say, well why not?”

Country manager for Ireland at Cisco Adam Grennan recently chaired the inaugural IoT Summit and says there was real recognition at that event that Ireland has many if not all the constituent parts needed to take the lead.

“Large companies like Cisco and many others in the IoT area are represented in Ireland and there are some very clever and futuristic innovations coming out of research centres such as the Telecommunications Software and Systems Group [TSSG] in Waterford and Tyndall National Institute in Cork. We’re a close society and there are no shrinking violets – everybody is happy to talk about their little patch,” he says.

“However, there was broad consensus that we need to move beyond the conversation or be left behind by other countries. We all want to move things on, consolidate and work together to drive things forward. For example, Prof Linda Doyle, director of Connect research centre in Trinity College Dublin talked about the need now to blanket Ireland in IoT infrastructure and represent it as the ultimate test-bed for IoT.”

Prof Willie Donnelly at TSSG is another prominent academic research figure when it comes to IoT in Ireland. Grennan notes that researchers there are trying to drive enhancement in the volume and quality of milk using sensor technology on cows in collaboration with Kerry Group and Glanbia. The sensors will allow farmers to adjust the feed cows are getting so they are provided with nutrients at the right time.

“The solution they’re developing will work all the way through the process from farm to fork and will open up a huge opportunity for Ireland in the supply of milk and other dairy products.”

The over-arching takeaway from the IoT summit held in Carton House in Dublin was that everybody was in agreement that IoT is the next phase of the internet and we really are only scratching the surface, according to Grennan.

“There is a huge amount happening in IoT both here and abroad. One of the interesting pitches on the day indicative of this was from Prof Noel O’Connor at Dublin City University (DCU),” he says.

“He talked about the use of Croke Park as a living lab, in the context of using it to better understand safety and security, how to manage the environment and improve the fan experience.

“DCU has a collaboration with the GAA, Intel and Arizona State University underpinning this, which will do very practical things like making the lighting more efficient to significantly reduce costs and better understanding the physical needs of the pitch and improve the care of that.

“Elements of industry and all manner of life are going to be ultimately changed by the IoT. Through initiatives such as Intel’s innovation lab and collaboration with people like Willie Donnelly as well as big brands, Ireland can drive IoT innovation which I believe will have an impact beyond our borders.”


Dell’s first dedicated IoT lab in Europe
Technology solutions and services provider Dell launched its first dedicated IoT lab in Europe at its Limerick operation in June.

The lab will be one of the bases for its new global IoT division focused on bringing together end-to-end IoT solutions that span hardware, software and services.

“Dell’s IoT lab in Limerick complements our existing solution centre there and expands Dell’s portfolio by providing European customers with a dedicated space to build, model, architect and test their IoT solutions,” says Dermot O’Connell, executive director and general manager, OEM solutions, Dell EMEA.

“For Ireland, this is a significant strategic investment supporting the Government’s strategy of building a knowledge-based society. The track record and success of our solutions centre made Ireland an obvious choice. The country has a great talent pool, universities engaged in research and a vibrant technology landscape.

“I believe Ireland has a real opportunity to be a leader and early adopter of IoT technology in areas like agriculture, tourism, construction, urban development and healthcare.”
Dell’s IoT division’s first products are gateways - small, wireless or connected devices that collect, help secure and process sensor data at the edge of a network.

“One of the biggest barriers to realising the full advantages of IoT adoption is the high number of existing products which are not designed to connect to the internet and cannot share data,” O’Connell explains.

“One way of doing this is through the deployment of sensors and gateways for mobile, home and industry which act as intermediaries between legacy devices and systems and the cloud.”

The launch of the Limerick IoT lab follows the opening of Dell and Intel’s first IoT lab in Santa Clara, California in November last year.

According to O’Connell, the Limerick lab is now fully operational and EMEA customers are already taking advantage of the space.

For example, a customer in Ireland is currently working with Dell OEM Solutions and Intel to develop intelligent feeding machines for beef farmers. Data such as weather conditions and field information collected from various data points will allow farmers to identify the optimal feed for the herd in order to produce the best quality meat.

The lab is jointly funded by Intel and Dell OEM Solutions. O’Connell says: “We are a member of Intel’s Internet of Things Solution Alliance so we very much work together in collaboration in order to develop customers’ IoT solutions.”


Infinite possibilities
Tech multinational EMC has developed an innovation platform from its Cork base specifically designed for industrial IoT development, in partnership with Vodafone Ireland.

Involving an initial €2m investment and called Infinite, this is the first large-scale Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) approved industrial IoT innovation platform in Europe.

Led by GE and formed in July 2014, the IIC is a grouping of 184 big players in the IoT space worldwide and EMC has been a member since the beginning.
There are two threads to what the IIC does – firstly getting industries to work together coherently and raising awareness of the need for industrial IoT solutions to be robust and trustworthy and secondly to create a small number of large test-beds globally for industrial IoT.

“On joining the IIC we felt the test-bed idea represented a great opportunity for Ireland because we have the multinationals and the start-up community here is really vibrant,” explains Donagh Buckley, head of EMC research Europe.

“So we expanded out the infrastructure we already had underway and added a couple of data centres onto that. To have a scalable platform, we felt we needed a partner on the connectivity side and Vodafone said it would like to be involved.”

The platform is spread across three data centres – those of EMC, Vodafone and data centre and cloud provider Cork Internet eXchange.

Infinite encompasses all the significant technologies, domains and platforms to support businesses to introduce major advancements in cloud, networks, mobile, wireless, edge gateways, sensors and analytics that are defining the IoT globally.

This will be made available to organisations that want to create products capitalising upon the IoT and will considerably reduce their cost and time of development.

“We’re looking at a point now where there are a lot of interesting IoT start-ups and industrial applications for IoT are starting to develop. There is a great opportunity to work collaboratively and for Ireland to become a centre of excellence internationally,” says Buckley.

“People have to work together on this. It is not about one or two companies heading off on their own. For industrial IoT you need a cloud platform, network connectivity and a device at the edge. Very few organisations can provide all of those elements. We can offer all of the back-end required so people only have to worry about the bits that they want to do.”

Dr Richard Soley, executive director IIC, says Infinite will prove to be a valuable industrial internet test-bed for a countless number of industries including smart cities and healthcare.

“As the need for more dynamic systems continues to grow, organisations will turn to utilising mobile networks to connect to virtual systems.

“This test-bed is going to prove the viability of doing all this with systems that require the utmost security – such as those used by hospitals and emergency medical services.”

Article from Innovation Ireland Review - Summer 2015
 

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