Ages ago I wrote some fluff about how Northern Ireland was well-positioned for a Technology and Innovation Centre investment from the Technology Strategy Board. We have certain areas of expertise combined with a desire to excel and, in this area, we are not restricted by geography or telecommunications infrastructure.
We are, however, restricted by a sociopolitical landscape. This is from the Closing the Gap document published by the TSB.
The first confirmed technology and innovation centre is in high value manufacturing. … The partners are the Advanced Forming Research Centre (based in University of Strathclyde), the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (based in the University of Sheffield), the Centre for Process Innovation (located in Wilton and Sedgefield), the Manufacturing Technology Centre (sponsored by the universities of Birmingham, Loughborough and Nottingham, and TWI Ltd), the National Composites Centre (based in
the University of Bristol), the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (sponsored by the universities of Manchester and Sheffield) and the Warwick Manufacturing Group (based in the University of Warwick).
With six of the seven partners in the High Value Manufacturing TIC being university-based, you can begin to see the politics of a TIC. In order to create a viable proposition, we need to work very closely together.
The second technology and innovation centre to be established will focus on cell therapies and advanced therapeutics.
The third centre will be in the area of offshore renewable energy.
The further priority areas that we are exploring as potential candidates for a centre, are:
- complex systems
- digital media/creative industries
- future cities
- future internet systems
- resource efficiency
- sensor systems
- smart grids and distribution
- transport systems and integration
There’s so much cross-over here that, I believe, an opportunity exists for Northern Ireland to create a TIC based around:
- digital media / creative industries – because we have a heritage here and also a young and ambitious population. We may not be entirely competitive with the SE of England here (just due to population) but I’m seeing more exciting ideas coming out of Northern Ireland.
- future cities – apart from the vision work being done on Future Belfast and City of Tomorrow, we have some very ambitious councils who have expressed interest here. Our own open data work has been focused on informing people (and machines) and digesting machine-generated content for consumer use.
- future internet systems – this is about the disruptive effects that advanced technology could have on information flows through connected objects. Again, the core here is about machine-generated content. That’s the stuff we use every day when we check our weather apps or look at what trends on Twitter.
- sensor systems – we already have some pioneering work being done at our local universities and extending / partnering these efforts would reap rewards. These technologies easily fit with future cities, future internet systems, smart grids, transport systems.
- smart grids and distribution – we already have a collaborative network based on Smart Grid and two clusters around wind and ocean power. The smart grid concept is really about software – the ability to monitor and control the information and flow of power.
- space – while we may not have anyone building rockets (legally), we do have a lot of businesses which are relevant to this sector. Any time anyone fires up Maps on their phone, they’re using GPS-assisted data, collected from satellites (more machine generated content). I’d like to see companies like Wrightbus and Bombardier get their teeth in here with local digital companies.
- transport systems and integration – correct modelling of transport and the handling of the data flow can easily replace the need for expensive (and often redundant and environmentally damaging) road extensions. We don’t have traffic issues – we have timing and information issues.
The interesting thing is that we’re already doing stuff in these regions and the crossovers between them are already happening here – though it’s on a much smaller scale than a multi-million £ investment. This is why I think it needs a TIC approach. We need to centralise these efforts – invite in the various brothers and sisters in the networks, mix up our clusters and have a centralised place for them to network, post progress and plan for the future.