Apple: Record Profits Amidst Uncertainty in Silicon Valley [VIDEO]

Mac OSX Lion was launched a day after Apple reported record profits in the last quarter. There are predictions that Apple will go on to turnover $120 billion in this fiscal year.

However, the PriceWaterhouseCoopers MoneyTree Report, also just released, points out that although VC investment has been at its greatest in the first quarter of this year since 2008, there are indications that the VCs themselves are having trouble finding funding.

While there is much debate about whether Silicon Valley is in the midst of a bubble or not it does seem that growth in the tech market sector is very mixed.

Graphene [VIDEO]

Graphene, a new material discovered in 2004, is set to speed up the data transfer between computers. The Nobel Prize was awarded in 2010 for research into its behaviour.

Although there a great many obstacles to be overcome before it can go into production its interesting and unique set of properties hold the promise of a great many new and interesting applications in the future.

Infographic: State of the Internet

State of the Internet 2011

Source: Online Schools

Apart from some rather mind-boggling statistics presented in a very effective way there are a number of interesting takeaways to be had from this infographic.

Although the internet is growing at a phenomenal rate it is not growing at an equal rate across the globe. In some places expansion is inhibited by lack of resources and infrastructure. In other places direct human intervention is holding back the tide.

The former issue may well be resolved before the latter but even so it will be some time before internet growth can be said to be stable or even predictable.

What is intriguing is that there is now no way of even beginning to comprehend these figures easily without the art and craft that it takes to produce a decent infographic.

Trying to discern meaning from columns of figures on a spreadsheet or even a simple pie or bar chart can be so much harder than deriving information from the representative form of the infographic.

Alongside the growth of the internet will be the growth of the infographicist — a profession devoted to making data meaningful and useful.

Thanks to Candice Parkson for bringing it to our attention.

IBM’s Smarter Cities: A Synergistic View of the Modern City

Smarter Cities is IBM’s initiative to utilise the wide array of data and instrumentation available pertaining to city life to enable cities to become smarter in their integration and delivery of services and planning.

Earlier this year, IBM launched their Smarter Cities Technology Centre in Dublin, which will eventually employ up to 200 people, across a wide variety of disciplines. Pól Mac Aonghusa is a Senior Manager at the Dublin Smarter Cities centre, and describes IBM’s approach to building smarter cities as, “a very synergistic view of how a city needs to work as a total organism”.

“We’ve noticed that the world in general has become increasingly instrumented. Devices are telling us about the world, and so there’s a huge amount of instrumentation out there. That’s interesting, but in another way it’s an enormous challenge, because actually what you want to be able to do is interconnect all of those things so that you can get data from rich and diverse sources.

“Ultimately, what you want to generate is the ability to create insights from all sorts of rich data sources so that we can make our cities smarter. And if you think back to IBM’s business model, we are about very, very large system integration. We are about enabling through our technology.”

With half of the world’s population now domiciled in cities, Pól says that IBM views the city as the, “emerging model of economic development, of human concentration, and therefore as a future marketplace for IBM”.

In setting up the Smarter Cities Technology Centre in Dublin, IBM has entered into a non-commercial, research-based collaboration with the city’s local authorities, who have made much of their data available for research, which can be scaled and applied internationally.

Pól believes that, in Ireland “public thinking is quite enlightened in this general area”, and that for this reason Dublin presents an interesting research base, being as it is, “a well known city which is not so big that it’s unmanageable, yet it’s not so small that it’s not significant, where we have a very good open relationship with the city through their interest in research”.

This project represents something of a departure for IBM, not least in terms of recruitment, a process which is ongoing for the Dublin centre. As well as scientists and technologists, “all the kinds of people that you would imagine IBM would want to hire”, the project will involve people with specific expertise in the domains of water, traffic, energy, and other areas less commonly associated with technology.

“The idea of sharing research is also one that is new for IBM, “we realise that, even for a company the size of IBM, a city is a huge proposition, and so we’re creating a model of research which is based on collaboration”.

“If you’d come to an organisation like IBM several years ago, a lot of the research would have been behind closed doors; very much proprietary. But particularly when we started to talk about cities and how we can make them smarter, we realised that we needed a different model of research, so we are very actively seeking the right kind of collaboration with industrial partners, with interesting small and medium enterprises, and also with academic and public sector partners.”

Much of the work in Dublin is centred on trying to understand, to research and to figure out what might be the next generation of computer technology that can exploit both the data made available by cities themselves and also created by mobile devices, and that can then utilise that data in a “smart” way.

“If you think about water, for example, that’s everything from raindrops, to recycling, from flushing toilets to drainage, to flood management and flood prediction. So, for example, the kind of questions there are, “how can we help a city optimise distribution and production of drinking water?”

“The kind of insights that our scientists can provide help do things like predicting where are the smartest places to install various pieces of equipment on the network like pressure reduction valves and so on, that can influence how water is distributed around the network.

“If we had readings from smart meters in peoples’ homes, we could create feedback for these people that could help them alter their behaviour in terms of water consumption, and maybe help reduce the overall consumption of water in smart way.”

An example of a current research project at the Dublin Smarter Cities centre is a study of how analysis of social media feeds could potentially help determine the actual social usage of the city, which could then be utilised to inform certain planning decisions, like the location of amenities or different types of business.

“We’re not there to criticise the decisions that might have been made; I’d hesitate in any sense to do that, that’s not really our remit; but what we can help to do, perhaps, is present data and views of data in ways that will help decision-making, whether that’s faster decision-making or more informed decision-making.”

Pól sees the future, and true utility, of data as being bi-directional, where for example, in addition to providing data about its inhabitants, the city will receive data from them, much like the analysis of social media feeds being investigated in the Smarter Cities centre.

“If you say to me, ‘Is it going to fix process A, or is it going to improve process B in some way?’ That’s more than I can answer because there are obviously political considerations and the IMF and everybody else. What I can say is we believe that we can help people make better decisions, we believe that we can help people make more efficient and maybe faster decisions. How quickly those filter into practice? That’s beyond my pay grade!”

Bio-Inspired: Electronic Chips Emulate Workings of Neuron

Inspired by the operation and structure of the brain, engineers at NUI Galway and the University of Ulster are developing bio-inspired integrated circuit technology which mimics the neuron structure and operation of the brain. Dr. Fearghal Morgan, Dr. Jim Harkin and Dr. Liam McDaid have used the natural architecture of the brain to create an electronic system that emulates some of the workings of a neuron.

Dr. Fearghal Morgan who is Director of the Bio-Inspired Electronics and Reconfigurable Computing (BIRC) research group, at NUI Galway says, “What we are trying to do is replicate a small brain-like structure in electronics. It is bio-inspired and is modelled on the structure of the behaviour of the brain.

“We are trying to replicate the structure of the brain in silicon. But only as a small device which will only be a fraction of the size of the brain.”

The device which was developed under the EMBRACE (EMulating Biologically-inspiRed ArChitectures in hardwarE) project operates in a similar way to the signal traffic of the neurons in the brain and how they are connected. According to Fearghal, the aim is that, “we will have a way of processing data that is different from the the typical micro-processor.”

Normally this would consist of reading instructions and taking data from several sources, some of them from the input to the device. It then manipulates that data and sends instructions to the output of the device: “It is instruction based processing and mostly sequential.” (In many systems processors can be replicated and layered into a multi-core system so there is an element of concurrence.)

“The nature of our device is that it is inherently concurrent. Hopefully, [we’ll have] thousands of neurons eventually with tens of thousands of connections which will give us a brain-like function.

“It will not be anywhere like as powerful as the brain but hopefully it will be low power compared to other computer systems.”

Electronic neurons, implemented using silicon integrated circuit technology, cannot replicate the complexity of the human brain which has 100 billion neurons and 1,000 trillion neuron connections. But the advantage of a bio-inspired processor is in the promise of much reduced power consumption in comparison to a traditional processing device. This allows for more opportunities to embed processors in a variety of locations.

“If you could open up this particular chip you would see electronic components that are connected together but physically they don’t look like neurons and the connections don’t look like synaptic connections between brain cells but the architecture is similar. I wouldn’t compare the structure of the electronics to a physical brain.”

At present the embrace chip is able to control a robot, “It can read signals from the environment. It has ultra-sonic sensors and it moves through a particular environment as quickly as possible without crashing.”

Another way that the bio-inspired processor differs from other conventional devices is that It is capable of learning: “It starts off as a bunch of neurons and we place it in a robotic environment and we allow the robot to move and it feels.” There are particular neuron configurations, “Each neuron has a connection to another neuron. Those connections may be weighted and when little pulses or spikes are passed from one neuron to another the neuron fires. They affect what is called the neuro-potential of the neuron they are connected to. Eventually when enough spikes come into a particular neuron and it reaches a threshold specific to that neuron that neuron will in turn fire.”

“So you have all these little neurons firing at different times depending on the pulses that are coming in that represent the world they are looking at.” The output of all this activity then goes to transducers which in turn control the robot.

To train a brain involves, “many thousands of attempts at possible configurations… and eventually you evolve the next generation of solutions. Slowly but surely, over hours and hours, you train a particular neuron connectivity between certain neurons and the threshold at which each of these neurons spike.”

Like a human baby this brain is constantly developing abilities, “and some of it is by trial and some of it is by error.

“There is so much more within the brain that we electronic engineers don’t understand. We need to work with neuro-physicists to understand the multiple layers of complexity.

“Self-awareness in robots is not something that we are anything close to. We are trying to put very specific functions that we would want to put into a neuron-like piece of silica. Hopefully we are moving toward more powerful neuron based systems.”

Taoiseach Launches Engineering Building: ‘A Brilliant Opportunity for the Next Generation of Engineering Students’

Speaking at the opening of the National University of Ireland, Galway’s new engineering building, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny today said that the Irish government has, “a philosophy of opening doors to creativity, to initiative, to ambition and to potential”, and that with the completion of the new, €40 million engineering building, “the foundation has been laid for a new future, just as the foundation was laid in the 1850’s for a century and a half of excellence coming out of Galway.”

Before unveiling the plaque commemorating the launch of what will be the largest engineering building in the country, Mr. Kenny said that the world as we know it was, “changing before our eyes, with nanotechnology, robotics, genetics, biotechnology and the Internet”, and commended NUI, Galway on being, “recognised internationally as a research-led university.”

Mr. Kenny professed to being amazed at some of the research he had seen while being shown around the University by NUI, Galway President Dr. Jim Browne, and said that with the completion of the new engineering building, there was, “a brilliant opportunity for the next generation of engineering students in Ireland to make their mark not just here nationally, but internationally.”

He referred to the announcement by wind turbine producer C&F Wind Energy that they were to create 145 jobs in Athenry, Co. Galway, as, “the conclusion, in part, of what this building is about”.

The €40 million development was co-funded by the Irish government, the University itself, and by private philanthropy. The Taoiseach said that while he didn’t want to dwell on the cost of the building, he was confident that it would prove to be money well-spent.

“It’s what walks out the door, in the next twenty years, in the next fifty years, that will make this building what I know it can achieve.”

The striking, angular, 14,000 square metre, four-storey building will house the University’s School of Engineering and Informatics, continuing a strong tradition in Galway of engineering, which has been taught at the University since it opened under the guise of Queen’s College Galway in 1849. The University can also lay claim to the world’s first ever female engineering graduate, Alice Perry, who graduated in Galway in 1906.

The building itself has been designed to serve as a “living laboratory”, with live data from sensors will measuring the behaviour of the structure and its energy consumption, to be used as a teaching tool for structural engineering and building performance concepts. Students will also be able to view sections of the foundation, structure, and service pipes, which have been deliberately made visible, so that the anatomy of the building can be studied.

After the unveiling, the Taoiseach warned, however, that large infrastructure expense would have to be curtailed in the future, saying that there, “isn’t any money for many of these projects now”, but reiterated his government’s commitment to, “turn around the fortunes of the country and of the people.”

How to Create Irish Entrepreneurs – Do the Irish Lack The Entrepreneur’s Most Important Asset?

Optimism is not a trait I hear coming out of Ireland right now. As I talk to people in Ireland, the words “negativity and depressed” comes up way more than the words optimism or fearless. It could be a problem and one that we need to address quickly.

Many of the Irish entrepreneurs I meet have lots of optimism but they are also nagged by a fear of failure which diminishes the optimism. There is a sense that a failure in a new venture will haunt them and continue to show up on the “permanent record”. If that is true, we need to change that mind set. Failure in a new venture could mean that the market wasn’t ready or that the technology wasn’t quite right or any number of variables dictated by the phases of the moon and international events.

The attitude of an entrepreneur and the culture that fosters them is more like, “what’s the worst that can happen to me if this idea/company doesn’t fly? I’ll just learn from it and do it again.”

Friends and family can be your worst enemy when it comes to maintaining entrepreneurial optimism. They will question all decisions and suggest you get a “real job”. Entrepreneurs must embrace the belief of success, ignore the negative, and never give up. Any feelings that failure is inevitable and my life is over are to be ignored.

They say that it is possible for an entrepreneur to be successful without capital – just use your credit card. They say you can find success without a plan – every day makes for a new plan. Who cares about marketing, HR, finance and all the other staff functions? An entrepreneur doesn’t pay attention to those things. But there is a secret sauce that is critical to success – optimism. An entrepreneur needs to believe, without equivocation, that the company will be successful. The optimism could be irrational, but without it, chances of success are diminished.

There are lots of optimistic companies with operations in Ireland. Maybe it will rub off. The Irish do not lack that most critical arrow in the entrepreneur’s quiver – optimism. We just need to exercise it more and kill the fear of failure.

Once, when I was having an entrepreneurial crisis of self doubt, my good friend (who is not Irish) once told me to “Get your Irish up”. He meant get mad, be optimistic, take a risk and get something done.

Come on Ireland, get your Irish up. Get optimistic.

This is the second in a series of articles by Rich Moran. The first article was entitled “Entrepreneurship Is About Action“.

Nines Photovoltaics: Irish Company Making Solar Energy More Sustainable

Nines Photovoltaics is an Irish company, founded in 2010, which aims to improve the manufacturing process for solar cells with a new sustainable and scalable dry etching technology. The Dublin-based firm recently received a European Commission Framework Programme 7 funding award of €1.2 million to continue its development of this technology, which requires significantly smaller quantities of water than prevailing production methods for solar cells.

Nines Photvoltaics was founded in 2010 as an offshoot of semiconductor manufacturer Nines Engineering. Nines’ founder and CEO Edward Duffy explains that the overlap in technology between semiconductor and solar cell production, combined with a “very attractive” growing market for solar energy led him down the photovoltaic route.

“I always wanted to do something in the solar space, particularly because of the convergence between the semiconductor manufacturing and the solar sell manufacturing processes.

“I felt that there was an opportunity to look at the manufacturing technologies and maybe try and add value in that space because a lot of the processing technologies that are used are quite mature and not really specifically designed for solar cell manufacturing, but just adopted from semiconductor manufacturing.”

Nines’ dry etching technology can process silicon wafers at atmospheric pressure with no requirement for the vacuum chambers which are typically used in semiconductor manufacturing for dry etching.

“It’s much cheaper technology to purchase, in the first place, and to run. It will deliver much higher throughput so it’s specifically designed for solar cell manufacturing where you will need to be running wafers at 4,000 or 5,000 wafers per hour as opposed to a semiconductor plant which can get away with maybe 10 or 15 wafers per hour.”

Nines have collaborated with the Fraunhofer ISE institute, “probably the best known and the leaders in their field”, for the purposes of trialling their technology in their pilot production plant in Freiburg, Germany.

Together with the Fraunhofer Institute and, “a consortium together of other SME’s that have kind of bolt-ons or add-ons to machines that are used in this space”, Nines made its successful application for the FP7 funding for a pilot programme which will commence in the Autumn.

“What it will allow us to do, is it will allow us to put our first prototype machine or pilot production machine into a working pilot production plant and actually produce solar cells, so that’s really very important for us.”

Despite the likelihood of peak oil supply having been reached, and the massive potential of solar energy, it accounts for only a tiny proportion of energy supply internationally, but with there being, “six or seven hundred times more [energy] than we’re ever going to need there”, Edward is confident that solar cell production is a growth area, and the sustainability offered by Nines’ manufacturing process will place it at the forefront of the photovoltaics space.

“One of the big things that has been identified when we talk to our customers is the consumption of water is a major part of it [the manufacturing process], and it’s not just the cost, it’s the amount of water and the facilities that need to be built and implemented in terms of infrastructure in a factory to bring the water to the machines and to the solar cells.

“Really, it’s a gate to the way these factories can scale, and be sustainable in the future, so it’s not just the cost, per se, of one technology versus the other, it’s also the sustainability and being able to scale production.

“To make a proper penetration into the energy market, you really need to look at innovation in the manufacturing space, so at the moment we estimate that our technology is going to be a little bit cheaper than the current technology, but when it comes to scale, it has much more potential for scale, and as you scale of course, you will be able to get much further cost reductions.”

Nines Photovoltaics is currently engaged in a private fundraising round, seeking a further €2 million, which, Edward hopes, will allow it “to execute on this FP7 programme”.