Ireland: at the heart of European ICT
Ireland may sit on the geographic edge of the EU, but when it comes to ICT, the country is at the very heart of Europe's digital industry. According to the industry association ICT Ireland, the ICT sector is a thriving and growing industry; 9 of the top 10 global companies maintains a presence in Ireland. Could this be the country's foundation for economic recovery?
The country certainly benefits from the presence of the big ICT names. Older corporations like Microsoft and HP, as well as Google and newer players such as Facebook and Twitter, have all established their EMEA operations in Ireland, attracted by the country's low corporation taxes and an educated workforce with English as a mother tongue.
But the country also has a robust and highly successful home-grown ICT sector, built on the substantial knowledge and research base of numerous Irish universities and ICT research institutes. And it is this domestic strength in ICT research and innovation that Ireland is hoping to develop, through its participation in EU-funded programmes, to make Irish ICT a driver for future economic growth.
The Tyndall National Institute at University College Cork is particularly renowned for its ICT research and expertise. It has an impressive track record of involvement in and coordination of numerous FP7 projects. With expertise in microsystems and nanoelectronics, for example, Tyndall is currently coordinating three FP7 projects. The ARROWS project is working to develop a chip-scale 'Capillary-electrophoresis/liquid-chromatography mass spectrometer' (CE/LC-MS), capable of analysing food, drink and healthcare samples.
Heart-e-Gel meanwhile is developing novel actuators that use the ability of certain materials to expand and contract several times their volume when subjected to a small voltage. The technology could be used to repair blood vessels or in devices to regulate the dilation of arteries. An Irish SME participant, Creganna-Tactx Medical hopes to one day use the technology in novel minimally-invasive delivery and access devices.
The development of silicon quantum-wire transistors in the SQWIRE project could be industry-changing. Tyndall has already demonstrated both theoretically and experimentally that nanowire transistors can be fabricated using silicon-on-insulator substrates. These novel devices have electrical properties that are comparable or even superior to those of regular transistors. The project partners are working to improve the fabrication process and validate the technology.
Tyndall also has strength in photonics and is leading three further projects in this field (PhastID, Biancho and C-3PO). These projects are exploring photonics applications in medicine and low-power telecommunications (a potentially important and lucrative field as green ICT becomes increasingly attractive).
Although Tyndall plays an important role in Ireland's R&D asset base, it is by no means the only player. The Waterford Institute of Technology, for example, specialises in aspects of trust, security and dependability for the future internet. It has coordinated eight FP7 projects and leads a pan-European coordination effort for clustering and knowledge exchange between EU-funded trust and security projects, called EFFECTS+.
Small country, big players
Even when they do not play a coordinating role, the country's top universities and ICT research institutions have all contributed essential research results in several large projects.
Trinity College Dublin, for example, was one of the biggest partners in the N4C project which was established to deploy and test new and alternative networking technologies for geographic areas of Europe which have poor ICT connections. Ireland has recognised that economic growth depends on a future internet that is accessible to everyone, not just populations in cities and well-connected regions. N4C focused on the evolving 'Delay and disruption-tolerant networking' (DTN) architecture and related technologies which could be deployed to improve connectivity for remote communities.
Trinity College Dublin led two of the project's key work packages, which developed software and specialised hardware for DTN systems. It collaborated closely with Intel Ireland to build and test some ultra-mobile low-power devices, including the solar powered 'Village DTN router' which provided a range of wireless connectivity options and advanced power management to reduce energy consumption. University College Galway has also been involved in a project to tackle the problem of connecting the rural and remote communities of Ireland to the internet to prevent e-exclusion and support business and growth. FAST project recognised the importance of the 'pro-sumer' (producer-consumer) model and micro-enterprises as potential future internet service providers. FAST took a top-down user-centric approach to develop a new visual programming environment that makes it much easier for programmers to build user interfaces and applications that involve complex back-end semantic web services.
The project partners demonstrated their work by creating a number of so-called 'enterprise mashups'. University College Galway is now using the FAST environment as it coordinates the Puzzled by Policy, a project funded by the ICT PSP as part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme. The project has used FAST to build a platform that allows users to graphically compare their views on immigration with national and EU immigration policies, as well as with the opinions of relevant stakeholders. Users are then encouraged to join discussions on particular aspects of immigration policy they feel strongly about.
It is not just universities that get involved, however. The Irish firm Cora Tine Teoranta received 9 % of the budget for its participation in the FP7 E-Stars project. The partners aim to develop enhanced sensing and communication capability on an autonomous smart micro-system powered by a new 3D high-capacity integrated micro-battery. With only 25 employees, Cora Tine Teoranta, which is based in the rural and relatively isolated region of Donegal, worked to test and integrate the technology into its Kelsius remote wireless temperature and task-monitoring system.
Strength in numbers
To maximise the benefits of its substantial ICT R&D base as a driver for the country's future economic growth, Ireland has recognised the importance of synergistic and mutually supportive collaboration. For this small — and still largely rural — country, critical mass in research is often difficult to achieve, but gaps in knowledge and resources can be filled through effective collaboration and knowledge exchange. Participation in European research, and the investment in R&D resources that EU funding allows, could prove to be a successful strategy to secure Ireland's economic recovery and growth.