Ex-Nasa software chief moves to UL


THE FORMER director of Nasa's software engineering laboratory has taken up a position at Lero, the Irish software research institute based at the University of Limerick.

Prof Mike Hinchey continues to act as a consultant for Nasa, but is now based at University of Limerick full-time, where he is also professor of software engineering.

He intends to continue to focus his research into formal methods, whereby software systems are verified before being put into operation, as well as autonomic computing, the creation of self-managing software which can adjust and evolve to changing circumstances.

In the 2½ years since its foundation, Lero has built up specialities in the areas of financial services, medical devices and the car industry, while Prof Hinchey will bring his aerospace knowledge to the group.

Lero has a focus on "applicable research", which will have benefits to individuals and society in the short term. "There is stuff that has been discovered through space exploration that has been applicable to your TV or car," says Prof Hinchey.

While at Nasa, his work had a much longer horizon - typically the US space agency plans for missions up to 25 years in advance.

Prof Hinchey helped to develop systems that will support the next generation of Mars landings.

"Rather than sending a single lander, perhaps we might send hundreds," he explained. "Rather than rovers, they might be swarms of spacecraft which would fly through the atmosphere and collect data rather than material."

Although based in Limerick, Lero is a partnership between UL, University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin and Dublin City University, with almost 45 researchers contributing to its work.

A native of Limerick and a graduate of UL, Prof Hinchey subsequently completed postgraduate studies at Oxford and Cambridge.

He has held professorships at Loyola College in Maryland, the University of Nebraska, Queen's University Belfast, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the University of Skovde in Sweden.

He believes the Irish software industry and Lero itself are now well regarded on the international stage.

"The industry has had a lot of visibility in the last 10 years," says Prof Hinchey. "Initially, a lot of the work was around localisation and the adoption of existing software, but there's a lot of good work being done on basic research by the multinationals and Irish universities."