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US start-up crowdfunds hoverboards to support R&D for levitating buildings

US start-up crowdfunds hoverboards to support R&D for levitating buildings

The technology to build hoverboards is here, and it could potentially be put to use to secure items – or even buildings – in earthquake-prone areas.

You heard me, McFly. Hoverboards are here and it’s not a hoax this time.

The Hendo Hoverboard floats just about one inch from the ground and the company behind it has demonstrated a real and working prototype with a number of techjournalists in the US.

But before Back to the Future fans get too excited, this technology is not accessible unless you have a spare US$10,000 to donate to Hendo’s Kickstarter campaign.

How Hendo’s hoverboard works using Lenz’s Law

Hendo hopes to crowdfund US$250,000 by 15 December to support the development of the technology powering this hoverboard, and is also offering a developer kit as a reward to put this technology into the hands of other innovators.

The finished Hendo board will start shipping a year from now and, by then, it’s also hoped Hendo will have built the facilities needed to use one.

You see, at this point, the hoverboards don’t work just anywhere. The four disc-shaped ‘hover engines’ on the underside of the board generate a magnetic field, pushing the board against itself and generating the lift needed to elevate it from the ground.

Hendo Hoverboard anatomy

Image via Hendo/Kickstarter

This requires a surface of non-ferromagnetic conductive material underneath, such as sheets of copper or aluminium, though Hendo is working on new compounds and configurations to improve this situation.

It’s the same concept that keeps Maglev trains afloat in Shanghai, China, and applies a physics principle called Lenz’s law.

Lenz’s law explains how eddy currents are created when magnets are moved relative to a conductive material. In turn, these currents create an opposing magnetic field in the conductor, and Hendo has developed technology that focuses this field more efficiently.

Magnetic Field Architecture

Greg Henderson, CEO and co-founder of Hendo parent company Arx Pax and a visionary with a master’s in architecture, has trademarked and patented this technology, which is called Magnetic Field Architecture (MFA).

From the Kickstarter campaign, 20pc of funds will go towards general MFA research and development, while 30pc will be split evenly between acquiring lab space and engineers.

Henderson claims the underlying MFA technology is entirely scalable and so it can have really small or really big applications. Hoverboards, levitating developer kits and replica desktop hoverboards for crowdfunders are just the start.

In various industries, applications could range from robots gliding along a factory floor to precious items kept safe from harm in a museum.

Henderson envisions MFA being applied to the foundations of buildings as a protective measure against earthquakes and floods. This bold vision would mean, in the future, we could literally flip a switch to be safe from tectonic shifts or a forecasted deluge.

But, before that grand scheme is realised, Hendo needs to get started on crowdfunding R&D and building a community of developers working with this technology through the Whitebox developer kit, which comes equipped with a hover engine of its own.

Hendo Whitebox

The Hendo Whitebox developer kit, complete with hover engine. Image via Hendo/Kickstarter

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IRC to award €16.8m in scholarships to post-grad students

IRC to award €16.8m in scholarships to post-grad students

The Irish Research Council (IRC) will offer €16.8m over four years to post-graduate students as part of this year’s post-graduate scholarship awards across multiple disciplines.

Under this round of the scheme, a total of 219 students from 17 institutes across Ireland have been funded by the IRC, to the value of €16.8m over four years.

In this year’s research topics, the IRC has seen PhD studies in the areas of household energy demand, the impact of obesity on motor development, the construction of Irish identity and even potential therapies for autoimmune disease.

One of this year’s 2014 Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme awardees, Bianca Ní Ghrógáin, a student of Dublin City University (DCU), has focused her research on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education with her project entitled: Computers, Creativity and the Flipped Classroom: Using Computer Construction Kits in Primary Schools to Promote STEM and Advance 21st Century Learning – an Exploratory Study.

Speaking of the awarding of this year’s funding, Eucharia Meehan, director of the IRC, said, “Research and innovation are major drivers of economic growth. As Ireland strives to position itself as a world-class knowledge economy, it is imperative that more people are encouraged and supported to engage in research.

“As such, we are delighted to award this year’s post-graduate scholars with funding to continue their education and research projects, which are to an incredibly high standard.”

Also discussing the future of her research with this round of funding, Ní Ghrógáin said, “As a primary school teacher, I became very interested in the concept of ‘the flipped classroom’, which basically means pupils learn and process content at home, and then in school the next day jump into doing tasks related to that content.

“I had considered searching for funding opportunities overseas, however, I now have the opportunity to study here in Ireland and further my research in the use of technology as a pedagogical tool.”

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Irish Industry and Govt to invest €245m in five new SFI research centres

Irish Industry and Govt to invest €245m in five new SFI research centres

A €245m investment commitment – comprising €155m from the State and €90m from industry – is to be invested in establishing five new world class SFI Research Centres that will support up to 700 researcher positions.

The investment was unveiled this morning by Jobs Minister Richard Bruton TD  and Innovation Minister Damien English TD.

The funding of €155 million from the Department of Jobs will be delivered through Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Research Centres Programme, coupled with €90 million in cash and in-kind contributions from industry partners.

The funding will support cutting-edge research in critical and emerging sectors of the economy which are key for job creation in Ireland. The funding will be provided over the next six years, 2014-2020.

“The €245 million investment announced today, and the five new, large-scale, world-class research centres it will support, are aimed at achieving a step-change in the reputation and performance of Ireland’s research system,” Bruton said.

“This builds on the announcement of seven similar centres last year. With twelve world-class SFI Research Centres, Ireland is now well placed to take the lead developing cutting-edge research and new technologies, ultimately delivering more commercial ideas and jobs.”

Collaborative Partnership

The five SFI Research Centres will be involved in over 165 industry collaborations with partners ranging from multinationals to SMEs and including Intel, Google, Microsoft,Medtronic Vascular Galway Ltd, Xilinx, Huawei and many more.

The five centres involve a collaborative partnership across Higher Education Institutions in Ireland with participation from Cork Institute of Technology; Dublin City University; Dublin Institute of Technology; Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies; Dundalk IT; NUI Galway; Maynooth University; Royal College of Surgeons Ireland; Trinity College Dublin; Tyndall National Institute; University College Cork; University College Dublin; University of Limerick and Waterford Institute of Technology.

Today’s investment marks the second tranche of funding under the SFI Research Centres Programme; last year €300 million (€200 from SFI and €100 from industry) in funding was announced for seven research centres, the largest ever combined Government and Industry co-funding collaboration of its kind in the research field in Ireland.

“These five new SFI Research Centres were selected following a highly competitive and rigorous international peer review process which screened for scientific excellence and assessed potential economic and societal impact,” said Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Irish Government.

“These five SFI Research Centres complement the seven we announced last year – which are already having a major positive impact: making important scientific advances, initiating and enhancing enterprise, training people with appropriate skills, winning EU projects and enhancing Ireland’s international reputation.

“These SFI Research Centres combine scientific research with deep and significant enterprise engagement, excellence and impact. We are confident that they will make a significant contribution to Ireland’s economy, employment and reputation.”

The five new SFI research centres

Adapt – Global digital connectivity

Global digital connectivity enables enterprises, communities and individuals to share information and communicate globally at incredible speed, in enormous volumes, across the world’s languages and over an ever-increasing number of devices. Adapt’s research will fundamentally change the way in which enterprises, communities and individuals can engage globally in real time. Adapt will enhance efficiencies and global reach for industry partners in key priority sectors for Ireland, including ICT, localisation, financial services, eCommerce, media, entertainment and games, life sciences, eLearning,  digital culture and humanities.

CONNECT Centre for Future Networks & Communications

The key challenges that face society all drive the need for new and varied forms of networked services. These include mobile Internet, connected health, smart agriculture, smart grids and metering, and environmental monitoring services. The CONNECT Centre focuses on future broadband, cellular and Internet-of-Things networks on which all of these services will be enabled; thereby growing the economy and supporting society at large.

CÚRAM Centre for Research in Medical Devices

As the global population ages, one in three people are expected to be over 65 by 2050, with the potential financial burden for healthcare expected to rise. CÚRAM is engaged in research to radically improve health outcomes for patients by developing innovative implantable ‘smart’ medical devices to treat major unmet medical needs. This research will position Ireland as the leader in developing medical device technologies which will provide affordable transformative solutions for chronic diseases.

iCRAG Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences

Geoscience underpins the discovery of raw materials, water and energy resources that are critical to the world’s economy. With increasing demand and diminishing supply, focused innovations in geoscience are of paramount importance globally. Ireland is home to Europe’s largest zinc mine, untapped hydrocarbon resources in challenging North East Atlantic deep water environments, and a diverse geological framework with important untapped seabed and groundwater resources. The iCRAG centre will carry out research to find and harness these resources whilst protecting the environment.

LERO The Irish Software Research Centre

Software is everywhere and key Irish industry sectors such as manufacturing, medical devices, financial services, cloud computing, analytics, and smart cities depend on it. LERO’s research mission is to replicate the success of traditional software engineering in the context of large-scale, pervasive, physically-integrated, highly interconnected, evolving, and continuously-available systems, in which the boundary between design-time and runtime is disappearing.

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Air umbrella surpasses kickstarter fund target

Air umbrella surpasses kickstarter fund target

An ‘invisible umbrella’ that uses a jet of air to deflect raindrops has surpassed its fundraising goal of US$10,000 to reach US$30,493 on crowdfunding site Kickstarter, with nine days remaining in the campaign.

The Air Umbrella consists of a motor, lithium battery, controller and master switch in a white casing.

Air Umbrella is also the name of the company behind the gadget, which has been designed in various versions with post-graduates from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Nanjing, China, between July 2012 to August 2013.

Naturally, the team also tested the creation in rainy conditions and found that the umbrella works best in heavy rains but not so much in light rains or when there is wind strong enough to turn a traditional umbrella inside out.

In terms of noise, the team says on its Kickstarter page that the sound of the rain is louder than the sound of the umbrella in use.

The air umbrella-b. Image via Air Umbrella’s Kickstarter page

The team has also worked on three types of Air Umbrella. There’s the air umbrella-b (basic style), air umbrella-a (for females) and a scalable air umbrella-c.

Air umbrella-b is 50 centimeters long, weighs 800 grams, and has a battery life of about 30 minutes.

Air umbrella-a measures 30 centimeters in length and weighs 500 grams. Its batter runs about 15 minutes.

Air umbrella-c also has a battery life of about half an hour, but it can be extended to 80 centimetres from 50 centimetres. This version weighs about 850 grams.

From now until July 2015, the team will be working on improving the umbrellas’ function and appearance, with the first products to roll out of the factory in September 2015.

The umbrella’s Kickstarter supporters can expect to receive their device by next December.

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AIB forges seven-year research alliance with UCD

AIB forges seven-year research alliance with UCD

AIB has invested in a seven-year Partnership and Innovation Initiative with UCD that will see the bank and the university work on original research across a number of sectors.

This new innovation partnership covers two main areas – expertise and scholarship.

Firstly, it seeks to support academic and innovation expertise that can enable initiatives designed to improve the economic and social well-being of the country. Secondly, it will promote scholarship in the areas of leadership, service to the community and knowledge transfer.

“Recognising the contribution of academic expertise and the importance of education and scholarship to the national recovery, this innovation partnership between UCD and AIB is a practical demonstration of our commitment to the national agenda,” explained UCD president Professor Andrew Deeks.

Research collaboration

Under the terms of the agreement, AIB will collaborate with the university including on original research in areas such as agriculture, food, medicine, information and communications technology (ICT), biopharma, business and entrepreneurship.

The partnership will support research to identify and develop the most effective higher educational environments to produce graduates who can thrive in the national and international marketplaces.

Some of the funds will be earmarked for scholarships to support access to education for the economically disadvantaged, people with a disability and mature students.

The bank also announced it was launching the AIB/UCD Student Life Fund, working in partnership with the university.

AIB has a long-standing relationship with UCD. The bank was a founding sponsor for Nova UCD – the university’s incubation and technology transfer facility – which has supported over thirty spin-out companies in the past ten years.

The collaboration will also see the establishment of a new AIB student branch.

“The new AIB branch on UCD will be a landmark student branch, co-designed with input from students themselves. Customers will have access to the latest in banking technology and will benefit from extended opening hours,” said David Duffy, CEO of AIB.

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Irish-designed sensor tells farmers when cows are ready to calve

Irish-designed sensor tells farmers when cows are ready to calve

A wireless calving alert device which sends the farmer an SMS text alert when a cow goes into labour was unveiled today at the National Ploughing Championships.

In what its creators Moocall Sensors claim to be a world first, the device warns the farmer when the cow is one hour from birthing to ensure cow and calf are cared for in the event of a difficult birth.

Farmers will no longer need to monitor CCTV or visit calving sheds.

The device, which has so far accurately detected 200 births on Irish and UK farms during the summer, is attached to cows’ tails and uses 3D motion sensors, complex algorithms and embedded machine to machine (M2M) mobile technology.

“We have stress-tested the technology extensively and it has proved faultless,” Moocall’s chief investor and chairman Michael Stanley explained.

“The sensor is fitted to the cow’s tail and activated in a matter of seconds and the robust ratchet strap system means they fit all sizes comfortably. The device is so simple to use and is built to last, they are also fitted with a 30 day rechargeable battery. Users have access to a telephone helpdesk and also an online dashboard to manage multiple devices,” Stanley added.

Moocall has been three years under R&D led by farmer Niall Austin from Offaly who lost heifers and calves on his own farm when he was unable to make it to the birth in time.

“Losing a cow and calf during birthing process is heart-breaking and very often completely preventable,” Austin explained.

“Like humans, labour can be sudden, quick, late or unexpected at times making it difficult for the farmer to predict. Pedigree calves in particular are often big and require Caesarean sections meaning both vet and farmer need to be on hand to make sure nothing goes wrong.

“I believe Moocall Sensors will be invaluable to farmers, giving them certainty and peace of mind as their cows near the end of their gestational period. The sensors are easy to use, inexpensive and can be easily transferred between cows – one device is more than adequate to service a small herd of 40 – 50 cattle.”

The Moocall Sensor is priced at €299 and the first 1000 units sold come with free 12 month text and service bundle worth €160.

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Tyndall and TSSG plan €82m fund for 10 internet start-ups

Tyndall and TSSG plan €82m fund for 10 internet start-ups

Waterford Institute of Technology’s TSSG and University College Cork’s Tyndall Institute have signed a memorandum of understanding to target €82m in EU funding to support 10 internet of things start-ups.

The research bodies aim to draw down the €82m from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.

“Our combined staff of 580 hardware and 120 software engineers, support staff and scientists, together with Tyndall and TSSG’s world-class infrastructure make this partnership uniquely qualified to deliver,” said Dr Kieran Drain, CEO of the Tyndall National Institute.

“At Tyndall we passionately believe that Irish technology companies have the potential to lead on the internet of things (IoT) and that it is our role to facilitate and accelerate their growth from product conception through to commercial reality. This MoU will accelerate the development of new technologies, generating new growth opportunities for indigenous industry, while also encouraging further foreign direct investment.”

The rapidly expanding internet of things market – where physical objects interact with the internet – was valued at US$613m (€473m) last year alone and will be worth an estimated US$7.1trn (€5.5trn) between now and 2020.

Tyndall National Institute CEO Dr Kieran Drain, Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation Damien English TD and the director of Waterford IT’s TSSG, Willie Donnelly

Prof Willie Donnelly, founder, director and chair, TSSG, said a key focus of the joint plan is to create technologies that will extend beyond the internet of things and into an everyday future for the citizens of tomorrow’s societies.

“The partnership will place Ireland at the centre of the IoT conversation, positioning Ireland as a location of preference for the IOT industry. TSSG are delighted to be partnering with Tyndall and we look forward to what will be a very exciting future with them.”

Tyndall and TSSG are currently collaborating on several projects across the energy, agriculture, environment and health sectors to deliver a tangible connection for people between two worlds, the physical and connected.

The advent of wearable technologies, smart appliances and services, along with dynamic sensors, all indicate the need for Ireland to capitalise on its reputation as a digital hub and lead on IoT technologies.

This MoU encapsulates that goal, said Damien English, TD, Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation.

“This strategic partnership adds great strength to the position of Tyndall and TSSG as leaders in the development of new technologies and companies in the ICT sector,” English said.

“It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that Irish innovation continues to be at the forefront of technological development and that through the facilitation of such projects and collaborations, commercialisation opportunities are maximised and job creation is accelerated.”

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Irish company Skytek to host major space meeting in Dublin

Irish company Skytek to host major space meeting in Dublin

Astronauts and other space experts are gathering in Dublin this week for a major think tank about the International Space Station (ISS), and Irish company Skytek is hosting the event.

In Ireland we occasionally get an astronaut or two passing through, but this week several will assemble in Dublin as part of a working group to discuss future technical requirements for the ISS.

Officially called the Operations Data File (ODF) and International Procedure Viewer (iPV) Working Group, the gathering will include not just astronauts but also space managers and scientists to talk about work programmes and plans for the ISS, which orbits Earth and supports crews who live aboard and carry out scientific experiments.

“It is the first time the meeting is taking place outside of one of the space agencies’ own facilities,” says Dr Sarah Bourke, CEO of Irish software development company Skytek, which is hosting this week’s events.

Skytek’s CTO Paul Kiernan explains that the meeting “helps defines the future direction that technology to support astronauts on board will take over the next few years, especially of interest now with the emergence of new wearable devices and mobile platforms.”

And although the focus of the meeting will be on ISS requirements and will not be open to the public, Skytek is also organising a public lecture by astronaut Leopold Eyharts tomorrow evening in Dublin’s Science Gallery.

Skytek, which is based in Dublin, developed technology called the International Procedural Viewer, or iPV, that has been aboard the ISS since 2005. The software runs on laptops deployed throughout the ISS, and it allows the astronauts to view procedural information about tasks and experiments, explains Bourke.

“It has all the information they need,” she says. “Our system assists them as they do their work on board – if they have a scientific experiment the system walks them through the process, or if they need to do a spacewalk it tells them the procedures that should be followed.”

The company is now working to deliver the system through other platforms on the ISS, such as tablets and wearables, and on expanding the voice-commanding capabilities.

As well as ensuring that astronauts can access the information they need, Skytek has also been working with clients who are a little closer to sea level.

“We have been adapting our technology for use in other industries,” says Bourke. “We developed a satellite-enabled communication system with Dublin Fire Brigade, we have just completed a system with the Irish Navy and the technology is now being adapted for aircraft maintenance.”

This week is a busy one for Skytek, as it also sees the launch of its new ‘space weather’ division, which will work with astrophysicists at Trinity College Dublin to gather and analyse data about solar flares and other events at the sun’s surface that could potentially disrupt satellites and power grids on Earth.

Skytek’s space weather division is being set up to react to the growing threat of solar storms and other space weather phenomena, according to the company, which will provide both consultancy and research in the area.

And in a case of particularly good timing, the news comes hot on the heels of a large burst of solar activity just last week.

The hosting of this week’s meeting in Dublin reflects the long-standing engagement by Skytek with theEuropean Space Agency in developing software solutions for use by the crew of the ISS, according to Tony McDonald, space programme manager in Enterprise Ireland and a member of the Irish delegation to the European Space Agency (ESA).

“It also reflects on the quality and performance of Irish technology in supporting mission-critical activities for ESA and (US space agency) NASA,” he says. “This technology also has multiple applications in non-space markets, such as aerospace and emergency response (and) Skytek is an excellent example of a growing number of Irish technology companies developing highly innovative technologies for the space market, in line with the national strategy for Ireland’s membership of ESA.”

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Irish Government invest €5m in new pharma manufacturing tech centre

Irish Government invest €5m in new pharma manufacturing tech centre

Ireland’s Government is to invest €5m over the next five years in a new Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Technology Centre (PMTC) that will be headquartered at the University of Limerick.

Damien English, TD, Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation, launched the centre today.

PMTC is the latest of 15 state-supported technology centresestablished jointly by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. The centre brings together 24 industry partners and nine Higher Education Institutes that will deliver the research.

PMTC will deliver advanced technology solutions to contemporary manufacturing issues challenging the Irish pharmaceutical sector.

The aim of PMTC is to make Ireland the global hub of pharmaceutical process innovation and manufacturing and ultimately support an industry that directly employs more than 25,000 people.

Manufacturing cost competitiveness and patent expiry are among the two most critical issues threatening the future of this industry, which contributes more than €40bn in Irish exports per annum.

“The pharmaceutical industry is a very important provider of employment and growth in Ireland’s economy,” English said.

“This joint initiative of Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland to make the pharma industry more competitive and efficient is most welcome. The fact that the research agenda is defined and informed by the companies involving both Irish SMEs and multinationals gives strength to the industry’s effort to tackle challenges such as the patents cliff and manufacturing competitiveness.”

The industry consortium comprises a mix of indigenous multinational pharmaceutical companies and SMEs, including Alkermes, Allergan Pharmaceutical, Applied Process Consulting, Astellas, Bristol-Myers Squibb Swords, Crest Solutions, Eli Lilly, Gilead, GSK, Helsinn Birex, Innopharma Labs, Janssen, Label Art, Leo Pharma, Merck Sharp Dohme, Pfizer, Process Analytics, Roche, Servier, Sigmoid Pharma, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Techno-Path, Teva Pharmaceuticals and TopChem Pharma.

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World’s first brain to brain message sent

World’s first brain to brain message sent

Scientists have been able to send a simple mental message from one person to another without any contact between the two, thousands of miles apart in India and France.

Research led by experts at Harvard University shows technology can be used to transmit information from one person’s brain to another’s even, as in this case, if they are thousands of miles away.

“It is kind of technological realization of the dream of telepathy, but it is definitely not magical,” Giulio Ruffini, a theoretical physicist and co-author of the research, told AFP by phone from Barcelona.

“We are using technology to interact electromagnetically with the brain.”

For the experiment, one person wearing a wireless, Internet-linked electroencephalogram or EEG would think a simple greeting, like “hola,” or “ciao.”

A computer translated the words into digital binary code, presented by a series of 1s or 0s.

Then, this message was emailed from India to France, and delivered via robot to the receiver, who through non-invasive brain stimulation could see flashes of light in their peripheral vision.

The subjects receiving the message did not hear or see the words themselves, but were correctly able to report the flashes of light that corresponded to the message.

“We wanted to find out if one could communicate directly between two people by reading out the brain activity from one person and injecting brain activity into the second person, and do so across great physical distances by leveraging existing communication pathways,” said co-author Alvaro Pascual-Leone, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

“One such pathway is, of course, the Internet, so our question became, ‘Could we develop an experiment that would bypass the talking or typing part of Internet and establish direct brain-to-brain communication between subjects located far away from each other in India and France?’”

Ruffini added that extra care was taken to make sure no sensory information got in the way that could have influenced the interpretation of the message.

Researchers have been attempting to send a message from person to person this way for about a decade, and the proof of principle that was reported in the journal PLOS ONE is still rudimentary, he told AFP.

“We hope that in the longer term this could radically change the way we communicate with each other,” said Ruffini.

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