Connaught Automotive Research Group: Making Driving Safer

NUI Galway’s Connacht Automotive Research (CAR) group last month announced a strategic partnership with car-component manufacturer Valeo Vision Systems, in a move which cements pre-existing links between the two, and will keep both CAR and Valeo at the forefront of automotive vision systems, providing an example of how collaboration between Universities and the private sector can be of benefit to both parties.

Valeo, founded in 1923 in France by Eugène Buisson as a manufacturer of clutches and brake-linings, now has a presence in 27 countries worldwide, and is a leading producer of emissions-reducing technology, and of driver-assist technology, utilising ultrasonics, cameras and radar.

The CAR group was established in 2005 by its directors Dr. Martin Glavin and Dr. Edward Jones, although its origins date back as far as 1999 when CAR’s directors worked alongside Connacht Electronics, which was subsequently acquired by Valeo Vision Systems. Dr. Patrick Denny (senior R&D engineer and expert at Valeo Vision Systems) was appointed as an Adjunct Professor of Automotive Electronics at NUI Galway last year and has been actively working with the CAR group on securing additional research funding to sustain, develop and grow the CAR group substantially over the next few years.

The CAR group carries out research in areas such as wireless communication for information distribution in the automotive environment, and in image-processing technology for “driver assist” applications.

Dr. Glavin describes the work of CAR as, “Detecting objects, and trying to understand the context of the vehicle on the road, and other objects that might be around it, such as other road users or pedestrians, and other non-road users, maybe obstacles or objects, that a vehicle might come across and might need to be of note, road markings, road signs, things like that”.

“Fundamentally we want to try and make the vehicle have the ability to accurately determine the environment in which the vehicle fits, and there’s an awful lot of work to be done in that space and the variety of scenarios that a vehicle can find itself in.

“In normal traffic, maybe highway scenes, where you’re just talking about road markings, road signs and other road-going vehicles, that’s all very fine, that’s a nicely-controlled environment with very little variation. Whereas if you go to a suburban scene with lots of pedestrians, maybe at an intersection, with complex numbers of lanes, maybe people crossing the road, with cars making unpredictable decisions to change lanes, and you couple that with adverse weather conditions, it’s a very dynamic environment and it’s a very difficult environment to say that there’s one solution that fits all problems.”

Although CAR group and Valeo have a, “good working relationship”, which includes Valeo’s part sponsoring of PhD students and has resulted in a number of CAR researches working for Valeo, this latest partnership, “is about a framework for funding so that we don’t really need to worry about dealing with projects on a project by project basis in terms of the intellectual property that may arise from the project”,a process that will speed-up the transition from research to practical applications, explains Dr. Glavin.

The automotive space is, he says, “a very intellectual property-sensitive space, and the car companies like to have a very clear picture of ownership of intellectual property. This partnership puts in place a framework where intellectual property resulting from CAR’s research, “very quickly goes from the research lab in NUI Galway, to the vehicle, and there’s an agreed process by which that would happen, whereas in the past we would have to agree on a project by project basis what the outcome would be”.

The benefit of such technology is obvious. Myriad distractions can cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle: “Maybe they’re on a telephone call, or maybe they’re distracted by a child in the back seat.”

“Even a very simple situation like a car reversing out of a garage can be very, very dangerous. In the US alone, a large number of child deaths are attributed to vehicles just driving around the owner’s premises. Some of our research has shown that you can have a blind spot that extends up to 70 metres at the rear of an SUV, so essentially there’s a kind of an unknown black hole at the back of a vehicle where the driver really does not know what’s in that space. So when the driver is in reverse, they really have no hope of seeing what’s going on behind them.”

“The ultimate scenario,” according to Dr. Glavin, “would be if the vehicle could make the decision not to proceed,” in the direction of, for example, a child who has wandered out into the driveway, but he believes that drivers will not willingly relinquish their autonomy over their vehicles.

“Lots of people like to drive their cars so they may not be that willing to hand over control, they like the feeling and the freedom of driving their own vehicle.”

Tthere are plenty of developments that can be made in this space to improve driver safety, and Dr. Glavin is enthusiastic about the potential for progress offered by partnerships like that between the CAR group and Valeo Vision Systems.

“The trend now is that most vehicles will have at least one camera and it’s very likely that they will have several cameras in years to come, so why not have the cameras looking around them and trying to make sense of the environment that they find themselves in?

“We’re working in a University, we’re developing new and innovative technologies, but we’re also working with a company, so in many ways the loop is being closed there, where the company feed back some ideas to us and they guide our research in the direction where there’s a real market for what we do.

“We do the research, we train up the students, they graduate, they get their qualifications, then they get the option of maybe going working with the likes of Valeo Vision Systems and they go into the company and maybe generate some much-needed revenue for the country. It’s the model that successive governments have tried to propagate; that Ireland is a place where you can do some very hi-tech, innovative business, and that the Universities play a key role. It’s very much a real manifestation of the knowledge economy.”

President Obama in Dublin: “Is féidir linn. Yes, we can.”

“Ireland’s youth, and those who’ve come back to build a new Ireland, are now among the best-educated, most entrepreneurial in the world. And I see those young people here today. And I know that Ireland will succeed.”
President Barack Obama, Dublin, May 23, 2011

Although, a key photo opportunity from this visit was the picture of the President of the United States with a pint in his hand in a small Irish town, it was the words he used to address the crowds in College Green, Dublin that are going to be best remembered.

Moving between good humour, pathos and inspiration, and in just under two and a half thousand words, President Obama managed to recount the history of Ireland and the fortunes of its disapora from his long distant forefather sailing for the New World driven by hope and hunger, to the healing of old wounds and the promise of a peaceful future.

But the key to a prosperous future is contained in the words quoted above. In a radio interview with Newstalk, John Hartnett from the Irish Technology Leadership Group said that this visit was the “biggest opportunity that Ireland will ever get as a showcase on the world stage in terms of what Ireland has to offer the world.

“The message that we should get out there is that, ‘We are open for business.’ We’ve got quality [and] talent here in Ireland. This is the place where the likes of Google, Intel, Apple, some of the top companies in the world have been attracted to.

“The future of Ireland is about innovation, it’s about jobs and it’s about our ability to attract the world’s best companies to Ireland… We’ve got the best talent in the world.”

As President Obama said, “This little country, that inspires the biggest things — your best days are still ahead.

“Is féidir linn. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Is féidir linn.”

Main photo by Cian Hughes

Neurowear: Fashion Meets Technology via Mind Control

Brain wave controlled cat ears, dubbed necomimi, a combination of the Japanese words for cat and ears, could soon become the latest must have accessory to be seen on the streets of Galway, Tokyo and New York City.

The engineer behind the ears, Tokyo based company Neurowear say they have created new human organs that express your emotional state before you start talking. The ears react to brainwaves allowing the user to wiggle them by concentrating. When the wearer concentrates the ears stand to attention, when in a more relaxed state, the ears lie down or flap.

On the Neurowear website they say, “It’s the new communication tool that augments human body and ability.” Necomimi are built around the concept of abolishing the limitations of the human body and exploring the development of new organs that don’t yet exist.

A set of Necomimi consists of a headband that contains a brain wave sensor connected to an EEG sensor that can be attached to the forehead of the wearer, this EEG then sends this signal to the two cat ears that react to the brainwaves.

This technology really is in its infancy and at this point purely for aesthetic purposes, with few practical uses for Necomimi. However once the novelty wears off this technology could be used for more beneficial applications such as health care.

The technology could enhance interactions for someone otherwise unable to communicate or with limited communication abilities such as patients of “locked-in” syndrome.

There have been other products previous to this that react to electrical impulses in the head such as Neurosky’s “Star Wars Force Trainer” toys and brainwave controlled wheelchairs.

Necomimi are currently at the prototype stage and price and colour have yet to be agreed upon but they are set to be released at the end of this year with information and updates promised through their Facebook page.

Open Data: Taking the Initiative on Making High Value Data Available

Open Data is an initiative that has emerged from researchers working at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) in Galway, Ireland in combination with members of the Open Data Ireland Google Group. It is designed to help individuals, developers and other interested parties access datasets that have been generated by the Irish Government and its offices of State, departments and regulatory bodies.

The Open Data website is a place where people that are interested in open data, and Irish open data in particular, can go and learn what kind of data, tools and applications are available to help them have a better understanding of the decision-making processes of government that can and do affect all aspects of their lives.

The main goal of the Open Data project is to make it easy for people to have access to Irish government data via an innovative platform that takes a grassroots approach to get people involved in achieving a more transparent and accountable government in Ireland.

The project aims to do this by helping Irish citizens to get access to high value, machine readable data sets that have been created by the Irish government sector authorities in the normal course of their business.

By having this data available in a meaningful form we can help enhance government services and open up accountability.

The Irish government, like many governments, has been a little slow in coming forward and fully embracing the idea of transparency. Rather than waiting to see what happens the members of Open Data have taken the initiative and decided to demonstrate the virtues of open data and the great applications that can be built using readily available technologies.

Dr. Michael Hausenblas, Coordinator of the Linked Data Research Centre at DERI and a team member of the project says, “The government does have other priorities at the moment but there should be contemplation to look at all the possibilities that they have at hand.

“One of the possibilities is using the data the government agencies already have out there in html and pdf format and put it out in a machine readable format.

“Open data can help on cutting down with costs by seeing where the money goes and we at Open Data can help lead the way.”

Developers can combine visualisations and data aggregations into mashups. A mashup can combine data from two or more sources to present data in a more readily accessible format beyond what was originally envisaged by the original producers of the data.

The real innovation of these mashups is to make already existing data more useful and easily understandable by the those untrained or unskilled in interpreting the data in its original format.

There are a great variety of free tools for developers and citizens to use available on the Open Data website. Three worth investigating and playing with are:

A good example of how this technology can work comes from Vancouver, Canada. Vantrash came out of an idea blogged in a post called “How Open Data even makes Garbage collection sexier, easier and cheaper” by David Eaves. In the post he laments that while the data for collection times and routes was available it wasn’t in a form that was of much use to anyone.

Subsequently, the idea was taken up at a hackathon by Luke Closs and Kevin Jones and a mashup was created that reminded people by email to take their garbage out for collection.

Simple stuff but very useful and highly effective. More garbage gets collected more efficiently. Everyone benefits both in cost and in not having uncollected trash lying around the place.

Some of the applications that are using Irish government data now are:

Michael says, “The hope is that through this grassroots movement  Open Data is providing an incentive for the government to put out  the data to make the data publicly available.”

Information flows in more than one direction. A vital aspect of the Open Data initiative that Michael identifies is the feedback from citizens who could use this information but otherwise find it inaccessible even if available.

“Engineers are in general very good at solving problems but they might not be solving the right problems. They have the tools but as engineers they don’t always know what people need.

“People telling us what kind of application they want or need would be the most valuable input to the Open Data initiative.”

The possibilities for Open data are immense but depends on the Irish government making data available in a meaningful way.

Many of the apps that will emerge from the Open Data initiative will serve to empower local and national governments while at the same time give greater voice to individuals in their local community.

People can engage in the movement by registering data sets and by building applications that use Irish government data. Joining the Open Data Ireland mailing list will introduce you to other people involved in the project.

President Obama, Shamrocks and Tech

With the Queen’s visit last week and President Obama’s this week the attention of the world has been focused on Ireland.

It is important to remember that Ireland is not only about Leprechauns, shamrocks and Guiness.

It is growing one of the most successful hi-tech economies in the world with plenty of scope for more to come.

Report by Ina 0’Murchu

Mark Gayler: Open Government Data Initiative

The Open Government Data Initiative (OGDI) is a free, open source platform developed by Microsoft to facilitate the publishing of data on the internet. It allows interested parties to develop visualisations, data mashups and other innovative ideas for the sharing of knowledge.

Mark Gayler, Platform Strategy Director for Microsoft has the job of working with, “Customers, partners and other stakeholders in our community to get people to understand the benefits of the open and interoperable features of the Microsoft technology platform.”

His particular area of expertise is around open government, open data and technologies that can be used to enable those kinds of initiatives.

Greater transparency, the hoped for result behind the initiative, helps people understand how things work and the benefits,values and importance they may have to an individual, community or entity.

“Transparency is very valuable in that sense. It provides some insight into the workings of whatever the entity is that is being transparent.”

OGDI enables government organizations to open up their data sources to make them available to citizens, communities and developers. In doing so it makes the data transparent. Therefore it makes part of the workings of government transparent.

The technology is based on Microsoft’s cloud platform which is Windows Azure and it provides a repository for governments to host their data in the Cloud.

Because of the open and interoperable nature of the cloud platform citizens and developers are able to get access to that data in a very open, user-friendly, accessible way using a variety of tools.

But it is not enough to have the technology available; people, organisations, institutions and governments have to be willing to use it.

Mark says the way to, “getting governments to use these kind of technologies is to help them understand the benefits of open government, open data initiatives. Understandably, some governments are reticent about those concepts. Part of my job is to get them to understand the benefits of it and how the technology can make that easier and lower the barriers of entry.

“We also get governments that come to us and say, ‘We’ve got a lot of data, we want to get it out there, we want to share it, how can Microsoft technology help us do that in a way that is open and accessible to all?’”

The Cloud is an open platform and was designed inherently from the beginning to be open. It is easy to get your data in and once it is there it is eminently scalable. You don’t need a lot of additional software or hardware to manage the infrastructure.

Once data is in the Cloud developers and citizens can access it through a variety devices, protocols and development tools.

Making data available is what makes it valuable and as more governments and their associated institutions avail themselves of programs like OGDI we can hope to greater light shed on the decision-making processes of our representatives. That would be very valuable indeed.

The Library @Facebook: Books Have Gone Social

We all have books sitting our shelves that no matter how enjoyable at the time of reading we know we will probably never look at again. However, it is too much, almost sacrilegious, some would say, to throw them into the green bin for recycling.

Another reason not to dispose of them as if they were yesterday’s newspaper is the thought that someone else, somewhere else might enjoy the book as much, if not more, than yourself. So, two questions arise, ‘Who are they?’ And, “Where are they?

The answer to both is Facebook.

Harnessing the power of the social network and the availibility of over half a billion users The Library @Facebook makes the sharing of books and just as importantly the thought and opinions about books that much easier.

Ian Lucey is the Founder of The Library @Facebook. He says it all began with a resolution he made to himself, “I decided I’d try re-educating myself this year. So, I said I would read a book a week for the year.

“I put a post up on Linkedin and asked, ‘What books should I read?’ A lot of people got back to me and said what they liked.

“About a week later I got deliveries of books into the office from people sending them to me. I thought, ‘That’s a very nice idea. We should build a community where we could encourage each other to read. Especially in the startup community.’

“I had about 70 odd books lying around the house and when I went through all of them there were probably six that I would have kept. I think most people are like that; they have a chunk of books sitting on shelves somewhere that they won’t read again.”

Ian also runs Lucey Technologies which has 13 staff and is based in Dublin, Ireland. It offers a cloud based collaboration software system which handles online payments for small and medium sized businesses.

“We hadn’t built anything in Facebook yet and I wanted to understand it a bit better. So, at the very worst it was going to be a very good training exercise for us.

“But the feedback on it has been great so far. It is great to see people you don’t know on book forums saying this stuff is brilliant.

“What we are trying to do is figure out, ‘Why can’t you build a global, online library where when you have finished a book you list the ones that you are happy to give away and just send it off to somebody.?’ It only costs a couple of euro to post it off.”

Working with Facebook has its own set of challenges and getting people to OK at the trust screen is one of the key ones. Ian says, “People are so worried about what these third party companies are doing with them on Facebook. Everyone’s heart stops when this setting comes up, ‘Will I trust my app with this data?’

But the advantage of working with Facebook over normal websites that offer similar services is the potential to be really social.

“One of the features that we are going to put into the next iteration and that we are getting feedback on already is that you will be able to give rolling feedback on your books as you are reading them.

“I can post a thought on a book but then, instead of writing a book review at the end, I’ll be able to click into someone’s book review and see their thoughts as they read the book.”

As well as the <a href="App itself, you can visit The Library Facebook page as well.

ITLG launches East Coast Chapter

John Hartnett, Noel Kilkenny, Craig Barrett

After four years of successful operation in Silicon Valley the Irish Technology Leadership Group has opened an East Coast chapter of its organisation in New York. The ITLG is a network of Irish and Irish American executives and businesspeople that provides, amongst other things, mentorship, support and investment for many Irish startup companies.

The event was commemorated at the residence of Noel Kilkenny, Consul General of Ireland in New York. Those present were former CEO of Intel, Dr. Craig Barrett, and ITLG Founder and President, John Hartnett, as well as other East Coast Irish and Irish-American senior executives.

John Hartnett is quoted as saying, “While we are extremely proud to be headquartered in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of the technology industry and home to some of the world’s largest corporations like Intel, Cisco, Apple and Google, it’s also important for us to have a presence on the East Coast in New York and other technology hubs including Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago and Atlanta.”

The ITLG has over 2,000 members around the world and this recent expansion reflects the effectiveness of its activities in facilitating inward investment by U.S. multinational companies to Ireland to mutually benefit the economies of Ireland and the United States.

John Hartnett went on to say, “The ITLG has gained a significant amount of traction here in Silicon Valley, and the more chapters we can open, the more support we can provide to growing Irish companies.”

The ITLG’s ongoing commitment to promoting the technology connection between Ireland and Silicon Valley and to help Ireland address the challenges of embracing new technology opportunities is central to its mission.

These are not just nice sounding words. ITLG Chairman Craig Barrett, at a talk given in Dublin recently, laid out some key principles that describe in a practical manner how this could be done.

  • “Substantial investment in new ideas: Ten years ago, 3% of Gross National Product devoted to R&D was considered ample. For investment to be considered substantial that figure should be 5%.
  • “Sustainable investment: Competitive ideas can take longer to develop and bring to market than the electoral cycle in most democracies. Politicians have an inbuilt resistance to others, particularly opposing parties being seen to benefit from their ideas and the decisions they make.
  • “Synergy. Bringing the private sector closer to Universities is absolutely key.
  • “The acceptance of failure: In Silicon Valley you are not considered experienced unless you have had two or three failures. Without those sort of lessons learned first hand in the only way possible then what gives you the idea that you can be successful?

“The only way to get out of recession in a stronger fashion than when you entered recession is to invest your way out and not to save your way out. This is absolutely contrary to any advice you may receive from investment bankers, the press, or a Wall Street broker that deals in stocks.

“Those companies and those countries that invest their way out of recession will come out the other side in much better condition. Don’t try and save your way out of a recession – invest your way out.”

Transparency and The Sunlight Foundation

The Sunlight Foundation was founded in 2006 and is dedicated to creating a more transparent government through the use of technology. The idea is that government would be more accountable if journalists and citizens had more access. The decision making process would be less opaque and more light could be thrown on what influenced on why certain decisions were taken in the first place.

The goal is to change how the government (the United States government in this case) shares information with the public and release information in more meaningful ways.

Transparency makes accountability possible, which is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions. Many people believe that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight.

John Wonderlich, Policy Director at The Sunlight Foundation, says, “Representation in government is only possible if you understand what your representative is doing…It’s very important to have transparency, almost everyone agrees that we’re better off if people understand what the government is doing.”

Many people will think of transparency and automatically think of WikiLeaks but John says his organisation differs from the work WikiLeaks does. The main difference is in the mechanisms the organisers utilise, “Leaks are very important for creating accountability and keeping check on abuse of power, however you can’t rely on leakers to leak everything, that’s only one piece of a broader sweep of accountability mechanisms.”

One of the tools that Sunlight uses on a daily basis is Influence Explorer, “You can look up a business and see who they’re hiring to lobby for them and what money they’re giving to politicians.”

“That’s a powerful combination when you look at those different information sources in context with each other. One of a number of websites we have built that has the same focus on influence is OpenCongress which gives information on what congress is doing and puts this information online in a user friendly way.”

Nor is the Sunlight Foundation dependent on government cooperation. They lobby for the government to release information in more meaningful ways, “When they’re not willing to, we’re more than willing to pick up the slack and build tools and databases ourselves or even collect information ourselves to start communicable access.”

In a previous article, “How Open Data Can Be A Better Path To Job Creation Than Stimulus Packages” we pointed out that, “Unless people are free to access and make use of information, then the value of the data is zero. Making it available makes it valuable. It is axiomatic that the more relevant and useful the information that one has at one’s disposal then subsequent decisions are much better informed. “

The value of transparency is that it allows citizens to better understand what their government is doing. The global crises of the past few years are less likely to reoccur if citizens and journalists have better access to information and can form personal opinions on representatives and their choices regarding decision making.

For accountability to be present there needs to first exist accounting, a system whereby anyone who engages in an action can then be traced back to their action. An absence of accounting means an absence of accountability. This is the aim of The Sunlight Foundation, to use the power of the internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provide new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike.

In the same sense as we have the freedom to shop online, view all prices for a product and develop an understanding of what a fair price is, we should also be afforded the same luxury when choosing a good government representative and making ourselves more knowledgeable of what constitutes a reasonably reached decision..

To repeat what John Wonderlich said, “Representation is only possible if you understand what your representative is doing.”

You can contribute to the open government movement or support open government in your state by visiting Alternatively, the The Sunlight Foundation can be used as a model to form like-minded organisations in other countries.

Additional material by Ina O’Murchu, @ina

Linkedin: Social Media Goldrush? [VIDEO]

Linkedin launched its IPO today at a valuation of $45 which then rocketed to over a $114.00 before dropping back below $100.00 as traders took early earnings.

There is a clear desire for investors to put their money into social media companies and makes the future public offerings of such companies as Facebook and Zynga events of great interest in the tech sector and beyond.

Report by Ina O’Murchu