Wood-cased computer that shows its mettle


KAN BODY PROTECTOR:iAMECO (pronounced I am eco) is an Irish-made desktop computer with a social conscience. Its carbon footprint is only 30 per cent that of a normal desktop PC; it is highly energy efficient, 98 per cent recyclable, virtually silent when operating and contains no mercury, lead, PVC, plastics or flame retardants. All of these green credentials add up to iameco becoming the first Class B computer (covers all integrated office and home computers) to be awarded the EU Eco Label.

The company behind iameco is MicroPro, an eco-aware computer business employing 25 people in Dublin. Unhappy about the short lifespan of computers, coupled with the amount of waste they create when disposed of, the company set itself the task of designing a prototype PC with a reduced environmental impact and longer life that would meet both EU Eco-Label and Eco-Design criteria.

iameco has a lifespan of around 10 years and is now on the market at €850 (plus VAT) with an additional cost for software of around €100. The product is manufactured in Galway and its wooden housing is made from sustainable forestry.

“Our aim is to become the world’s third brand after Apple and the big PC manufacturers,” says iameco designer and company founder, Paul Maher. “The big challenge for us will be distributing it on a global stage.”

MicroPro has an active RD department and Maher says the business has constantly reinvested in research throughout its 21-year history. Having designed its prototype, the company called on the expertise of the University of Limerick, the Fraunhofer Institute in Berlin and a Germany-based computer refuse company to evaluate the outcome. Based on their feedback, changes were made and the final version of the product (which is patent-protected) was produced last year. iameco units have already been shipped to Irish, UK and European customers.

“We wanted to show that eco design can be practically and effectively applied in our sector and that even a small company with drive can create a new product and local jobs as a result,” says Maher. “We are now partners in a major European project to develop an eco-friendly laptop and we are also participating in a European initiative where our iameco computer is being used as a case study for life cycle assessment software tools for SMEs.”

Queuing software company lined up for big things

WITH SOME exceptions, booking an appointment with healthcare providers such as GPs and dentists still requires a phone call within office hours; few practitioners offer the option to book online. But this will change if the founders of swiftQueue have their way.

swiftQueue is a newly launched, cloud-based, self-service appointments system that allows patients to make a booking online with participating practices at any time from anywhere. Key to its success will be its ability to convince as many healthcare facilities as it can (including primary-care clinics, consultants and out-patient clinics) to join up as quickly as possible.

“The image of an overcrowded waitingroom is one that haunts everyone needing medical attention, and 80 per cent of patients we surveyed would go to a different healthcare facility if they knew they would be seen quicker,” says the company’s co-founder, Brendan Casey.

“On the other hand we have also interviewed many healthcare professionals whose schedules are not being fully utilised in the current economic climate. They have spare capacity and by using our system can make appointments available to a wider audience.”

The service is free for patients, who will receive appointment confirmations and reminders by SMS or email. The revenue model is software as a service and the cost to practices will vary depending on scale. However, the aim is to keep it attractively low, with a starting price of €100 a month.

“We want to become a global leader in queue management in the healthcare industry and we have first-mover advantage,” Casey says. “We estimate the potential value of the market in Ireland and the UK for this service at around €400 million.”

Casey and his co-founder Declan Donohoe are no strangers to entrepreneurial ventures. Both have a number of successful start-ups and exits under their belts. Their current project has received assistance from Enterprise Ireland, Shannon Development, Endeavour Ireland and the Propeller programme at DCU’s Ryan Academy.

Practices do not need to buy new hardware to make swiftQueue work. “We can get people up and running in as little as 15 minutes with their existing systems,” says Casey.

Scope for success

COLON CANCER is the third most common cancer in the developed world and national screening programmes are widely seen as the answer to early detection. However, Trinity College researcher Dr Gerard Lacey says that while colonoscopy is the gold standard for screening, it is not perfect. “Studies have shown that 22 per cent of polyps of less than 1cm are missed during screenings because some parts of the colon were never seen by the clinician due to difficulties in manoeuvring the scope or poor bowel preparation,” he says.

From discussing the problem with clinicians, Lacey saw how his expertise in robotics might be able to help. The result is EndoView, a piece of patented software aimed at scope manufacturers that can also be retrofitted to existing camera units. EndoView uses robotics software to build a map of the colon and ensure that all parts of the colon have been thoroughly inspected during a colonoscopy. At the end of each procedure the system produces a quality report.

EndoView is a research collaboration between the School of Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity College, Beaumont and St Vincent’s Hospitals. The project has been supported by Enterprise Ireland and the product will come to market in the next 12-18 months.

Lacey’s area of interest is coming up with IT solutions to medical and healthcare-related problems. He is no stranger to bringing research from the lab bench to market. His development of an intelligent walking frame for older people has already been spun out into a commercial enterprise, as has his hand hygiene system, Surewash, which uses gaming technology to train people how to wash their hands thoroughly.

EndoView is aimed primarily at the European market and is the first product of its kind to be offered as an add-on. “This type of research takes a long time to come to fruition but we are on the final stretch now and have a team put together to actively work on sourcing venture capital to bring it to the next level,” Lacey says.

The shape of women's body protectors to come new

WENDY McCAUGHAN from Co Down is a clothing designer and keen horsewoman. Her particular niche is designing elegant shirting for women. As someone well used to designing for the female upper body, she had worked with a number of military bulletproof vest manufacturers to help them produce protection that was more female-form friendly.

As a result of this and her interest in horses, she turned her attention to the body protectors women riders typically wear. She found they were heavy, cumbersome and took no account of the female shape. McCaughan knew she could come up with something better. Her priorities were comfort and maximum protection. To this end she hit on the idea of harnessing the kind of smart technology used to protect motorcyclists competing at the top end of their sport.

She teamed up with Plant-Knox, a long-established UK company making body protection for bikers, and the result is the Kan body protector, which is made up of moulded foam panels that hug female curves. The Kan protector is made from a sophisticated blend of foams and is soft enough to be easy to wear, but highly resilient on impact.

“Traditional body protectors are made from Nitrile PVC rubber, which is very difficult to form due to its very high density, which will always try to remain flat,” McCaughan says. The Knox HR [high resiliency] foam is full of open and closed cells with air trapped within it. It is these cells that create convoluted passageways that let the trapped air move freely. However, when under load [impact], the air can’t move freely so it gets compressed and helps absorb energy.”

The product had to go through rigorous, lengthy testing to achieve safety certification. McCaughan had also had to be patient in getting her message across to the equestrian community, which has been slower to embrace safety developments than other high-risk sports. McCaughan has self-funded the project and, a year into launching her online shop, the product is gaining traction, with orders coming in from as far afield as Tasmania, Thailand and the US.