Treating lung disease to smart toy tech: where Ireland is spending €65m to disrupt tech

We take a closer look at some of the projects being backed by the government’s disruptive tech fund.

By Laura Roddy Reporter, Fora

WITH AN EYE on the future, the state has committed to spending €500 million over the next decade to help fund projects that have the potential to move the needle. 

Through the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF), the state recently announced that it has splashed €65 million on 16 projects in the second tranche of funding, which brings together a range of collaborations between SMEs, multinationals and research organisations. 

Earlier this week Fora reported on how two video data analysis companies, Kinesense and Overcast, have received money from the fund to help develop their technologies. 

Clonmel-based OmniSpirant is working with medtech company Aerogen and the National University of Ireland Galway on the largest project to be funded, which received €9.4 million. 

Gerry McCauley, chief executive of OmniSpirant, told Fora that the project could be “transformational” for up to 500 million patients that suffer from various forms of lung disease globally. 

The treatment he has been working on uses a mixture of regenerative medicine and gene therapy to regenerate damaged cells in the lungs through an aerosol delivery system or nebuliser. Aerogen will be providing the technology for the delivery system.

Unlocking the toy market 

A project known as Data-center Audio/Visual Intelligence on-Device (DAVID) received €6.9 million to privacy-proof artificial intelligence that can be used in children’s toys and smart home devices.

Dublin company Soapbox Labs is working on the project alongside FotoNation, a subsidiary of US multinational Xperi, and NUI Galway.

Patricia Scanlon, chief executive and founder of Soapbox Labs, told Fora the funding could unlock the potential of a part of the smart toy market which has been worried about embedding artificial intelligence devices because of privacy issues.

“Nobody has to worry about data privacy implications because nothing leaves the device, which is just going to unlock the whole market – it’s been pretty stagnant because of data privacy concerns,” she explained. 

Soapbox Labs intends to use technology to take the processing of data that normally happens in the cloud and enable it to happen within the child’s toy.

“We will be taking the technology solution that Soapbox Labs has and deliver to the toy industry, embedded on chips,” she explained.

“We plan to extend the project further to create an AI platform so that audiovisual multi-modal processing can all happen on one device,” she added. Fotonation’s expertise will come into play with the visual aspect of the technology.

Scanlon said the company, which works on speech recognition technology, first came up with the idea when it was approached by toy companies. 

Data control 

IT company Ergo is working alongside the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Microsoft and software developer Singularity Alpha on a project which received €3.9 million that aims to allow patients control their health data and matches patients with clinical trials, based on their personalised clinical and genetic data

John Purdy, chief executive of Ergo, told Fora that the company has been collaborating with the RCSI for the last five years, building an application that helps epilepsy patients manage the disease. 

The new project will use the experience of developing that product and apply it to other patients, he explained. 

Through the use of blockchain technology, Purdy said the system is safe and compliant with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Microsoft is providing its cloud Azure to host the platform, with Singularity Alpha and Ergo working on the software using artificial intelligence and blockchain. 

“We’re going to build a world-class platform that we hope will allow people to record their experiences with various treatments that we can compare those to others,” he said.

The government also awarded €4.4 million to develop technology to treat a stroke called Stroke-Cis, which is being developed by Galway-based Perfuze in partnership with medical device companies Teleflex and VistaMed.

A project known as EyeVU was also awarded €3.2 million for the development of a camera shaped like an eyeball that can look around corners and help with ear surgery. Galway-based Tympany is working on the tech alongside design-company Gentian Services, National College of Art and Design (NCAD) and UCD.

The state is also backing a quantum computing collaboration to the tune of €7.3 million, which brings together IBM, Tyndall National Institute, UCD, NUI Maynooth; Rockley Photonics Ireland, MasterCard and Equal 1 Laboratories. 

Radisens Diagnostics, Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR), Poly Pico Technologies and Trinity were also awarded €7 million for a project FerrTest, which is working on ferritin testing for at-risk blood donors, women and children. 

Other projects funded include a micro-needle drug delivery platform, the development of a clot ingestion system medical technology to treat stroke and a next generation heat pump for affordable decarbonisation of heating.

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