Three helping DCU Alpha start-ups build IoT solutions
Company has played part in creating many success stories at innovation campus
Karl McDermott, head of 3Connected Solutions: ‘DCU Alpha is the leading centre for IoT development in Ireland, if not in Europe.’ Photograph: Naoise Culhane
Co-located with Dublin City University, DCU Alpha is a research-intensive innovation campus with a particular focus on internet of things (IoT) technology and bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds. The campus offers an opportunity for like-minded companies to cluster and work together across various technology spheres and aims to become the epicentre of IoT development in Ireland.
Success stories from the campus abound. Touchtech Payments, for example, is a DCU student start-up that developed biometric technology for credit card payment verification, and was acquired by Stripe last year.
Novaerus has developed an air purification solution to combat Covid-19 by leveraging innovative technology that was prototyped and developed on the campus. The company is also one of the many DCU Alpha-based firms to work with the Three IoT team.
“DCU Alpha is the leading centre for IoT development in Ireland, if not in Europe, ” says Karl McDermott, head of 3Connected Solutions. “They approached us to get involved a few years ago. IoT is a great growth area for us and many of the companies we work with are interested in it.
“There are two aspects to our collaboration with DCU Alpha,” he says. “The first is the IoT connectivity piece. We connect the devices in an intelligent way. The second is helping to develop solutions for our own business customers. Many of them know they need IoT solutions to issues but don’t know where to start. We are working with them and looking at their needs and challenges and we are bringing them together with DCU Alpha companies to solve them.”
One of these collaborations is in the agri-food sector. “A firm in the sector had a problem with their grain siloes,” McDermott says. “They didn’t know how much grain was in them at any given time. This meant they were getting grain deliveries even when they didn’t need them. Measuring grain in a silo is very difficult as it behaves a bit like a fluid but not quite like a fluid. Firmwave, a company based in DCU Alpha, had the solution.”
Firmwave built the solution, trialled it with that firm and quickly sold it to another major Irish food company.
“That’s a real world problem that the agri sector needed to solve and was able to find a solution by working with DCU Alpha,” McDermott points out. “There are actually three companies involved in it. Another firm built the sensors while we provide the connectivity piece in the background. The sensors in the siloes are connected to a monitoring station and can trigger orders to suppliers.”
The value of the solution didn’t end with more efficient supply chains. “One of the interesting things about it is that the sensors can also measure the humidity of the environment and that can be linked to respiratory problems in the animals being fed on the grain. The solution is being used to address another problem.”
Another company working with Three is Think Smarter which specialises in footfall analytics. “They can pick up footfall data from wifi networks,” McDermott says. “Most retail stores have wifi networks and Think Smarter can use them to monitor where customers are in the store at any given time. That can be used to redesign and reconfigure the stores both to match customer behaviour and manage it to get people to go to places within the store. We are working to put the firm together with some of our retail customers.”
The technology also has applications in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, McDermott adds. “If we combine Think Smarter’s data with what we know from our mobile phone network, we can produce lots of useful information to share with councils and other bodies on where people are congregating and so on.”
Rentalmatics is another Three collaborator. “They developed a device that can track and manage global fleets in real time. They are providing the car tracking to Europcar, one of the world’s largest car rental companies. This is very useful for things like insurance. If an accident is reported the company can see exactly where the car was at the time. The potential for other uses in the private car market is enormous.”
It is not surprising that Three has a permanent presence on the campus. “Working with DCU Alpha is fantastic,” says McDermott. “It gives us an opportunity to help our customers to build IoT solutions. Very often they have problems and know they need something but don’t know what that is. We rent desk space in DCU Alpha and have teams sitting out there working with the companies there to help find those solutions. It’s been a really positive experience for us.”