DCU is in the running to house a European Space Agency lab for 5G tech

The university has bid for the contract to house a ‘maker space’ for innovators.

By Conor McMahon Deputy editor, Fora

DUBLIN CITY UNIVERSITY is in the running to house a European Space Agency-backed hub for trialling 5G-related technology.

The university’s Alpha innovation campus in Glasnevin was previously home to the ESA’s ‘maker space’ incubator for exploring machine-to-machine and ‘internet of things’ tech for satellite communications.

The programme will officially end today at a showcase to be attended by ESA officials and Minister of State John Halligan.

Since its launch in May 2017, eight companies have gone through the incubator programme, working on 10 satellite communications challenges.

Projects varied from the development of a life jacket that can transmit the exact location of a person in distress, to finding a cheap way to collect data from the moon, to creating a robotics education programme for children.

The purpose of the ‘maker space’ was to quickly create prototype solutions rather than ready-to-roll technology. In total, €500,000 in research and development funds were made available by the ESA.

Frank Zeppenfeldt of the ESA told Fora the purpose of the ‘maker space’ incubator was to give the agency access to innovations it might otherwise miss.

The ESA’s procurement process is famously onerous, with the same rigour applied to small-scale developments as complex rocket-building projects.

“We often see that the smaller companies and individuals who have very bright ideas that could be used in the area of satellite communications, they do not always offer their services to ESA or bid for tenders or approach us,” Zeppenfeldt said.

“Sometimes the paperwork puts them off a bit.”

Spaceport Kourou
Source: Janne Kieselbach/DPA/PA Images

Six of the eight ‘maker space’ participants are now bidding for various contracts with the space agency and wider space-tech sector. One outfit, Software Radio Systems, has already successfully secured a significant deal through an ESA project called IOT Satback.

Mark McCarville, who managed the programme at DCU Alpha, told Fora the original target was to prepare at least one company for the ESA’s cumbersome procurement process.

Instead, six outfits are now either bidding for contracts or seeking funding through the organisation and its partners.

5G test bed

Following the end of the internet-of-things hub, the ESA is now considering DCU as the home for another ‘maker space’ programme focused on the development of 5G-related technology.

It is not known yet whether the university has successfully secured the contract, but it is likely to develop some kind of 5G test bed on the back of the ‘maker space’ programme.

“We may not be the prime bid on that but we may be the secondary. In other words, (the ESA) may give the contract to somebody in Belgium or somewhere on the basis that we do the same thing here,” McCarville said.

“We can maybe get R&D (funding) from the university and set up 5G test beds … It would mean anybody doing further research in telecommunications – be it a punter, a small business or university undergraduates or faculties – could come and test and validate their solution.”

Zeppenfeldt didn’t confirm whether DCU was successful in its bid but said the ESA “would like to continue the spirit that has been created by ‘maker space’”.

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