Institute keen to apply ICT knowledge of human health to animal welfare
The fourth Tyndall Institute head – the first who was not a professor – is applying his experience of Silicon Valley
From left: Alan O’Riordan, Tyndall Institute; Riona Sayers, Teagasc and Kieran Drain, Tyndall Institute CEO, at the launch of AgriSense in Cork. photograph: daragh mcsweeney/provision
It may seem a long shot trying to make the connection between one of Europe’s leading research institutes for ICT and the deaths of calves on our farms, but the connection is there and it is an example of a new direction being taken by Tyndall National Institute.
“ICT makes things smarter. Why not use ICT to make things like agriculture and medical devices smarter?” asks the institute’s chief executive officer Dr Kieran Drain. “I want to see us exploit what has been invested in centres like Tyndall. How can we get an impact from excellence?”
Drain signed up as chief executive last January, coming back to Ireland from the US where he worked exclusively in the private sector.
“I am the fourth head of Tyndall but I am the first who was not a professor. I have never worked in the public sector and have been involved in research for 30 years in the private sector,” he says.
He has begun to change things at Tyndall, reapplying what he learned in Silicon Valley about the importance of research, basic and applied. “I don’t really see the difference between the two,” he says of this old chestnut.
Tyndall is an “atoms to systems” research centre where blue skies research helps feed products and ideas into the commercialisation pipeline. “We are as much at the ‘what if’ end of research as we are on the delivery of new products.”
Tyndall plans to launch its five-year strategic plan next week and the document will map out the new direction being taken by the organisation.
From its beginnings, the institute has maintained close links with industry, so the decision by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to place a new emphasis on this was nothing new for the Cork-based research centre.
It has a working relationship with 200 companies but still manages to maintain its status as a leading ICT research institute. It has about 460 researchers, but 30 of them are employees of companies such as Intel and Applied Materials, so the research it pursues is certainly of interest to its industrial partners. “A core part of the strategy involves pushing ICT into all segments of the Irish economy,” says Drain.
An early target is medial devices, where sensors developed from new materials research and optical systems can be reapplied to deliver advanced diagnostic services. These in turn can open up the potential for jobs and spin-out companies.
If use of ICT can contribute to human health, though, why couldn’t it benefit animal health and welfare? No reason whatsoever, it would seem, as evidenced by the launch today of a US-Ireland animal health research project worth €900,000.