Monday, 30 January 2012

Gaming Computing Excitement in Athlone IT

Last week I was pleased to visit the new Engineering School at Athlone IT. I was met on arrival by the Head of the Engineering School Austin Hanley. The tour of the School was conducted by Fergal Sweeney Head of Dept of Civil, Construction and Mineral Engineering, Joe Lawless Head of Dept of Mechanical Engineering and Marcus Rahilly Head of Dept of Electronics Computer and Software Engineering.

Athlone IT is the Third Level College of the Midlands Spatial Hub (Athlone Mullingar and Tullamore) and has close links with local industry. A new state of the art Engineering and Informatics Building opened in 2010. The new 11,000 square metre facility is a landmark on campus having won the RIAI award for Best Educational Building in 2010. The Engineering College has classrooms wired for both way remote transmission for teaching purposes.

Athlone IT Engineering and Informatics Building

The Midlands Innovation and Research Centre was established by Athlone IT as a converging hub for innovation, research and enterprise in the Midlands. They are now recruiting for the next Midlands & West Enterprise Programme (MWEP). An example of this local entrepreneurship supported by MWEP is Ann Marie Durkin's company Shasta developing unique and innovative baby products. Ann Marie says 'The MWEP greatly assisted Shasta by structured training and support in the key commercial elements of setting up and running a successful business while AIT has provided the research capability to develop our products from concept to successful commercialisation.' (

Among the niche courses offered by the Engineering School in Athlone IT are a series of BSc Hons degrees in Software Engineering, in Software Design (Game Development), in Computer Network Management & Cloud Infrastructure and in Software Design (Web Development). In my view these courses are critical to our economic survival in Ireland when we hear from ICT Ireland that there are currently some 3000 vacancies for software engineers in Ireland which we are unable to fill. The Athlone IT initiative is therefore leading to real job creation.

Engineers Ireland has a real interest in Computing Engineering and have recently strengthened our Computing Division under the chairmanship of our Past President and leading innovation entrepreneur Dr Chris Horn.

One of the major growth areas in computing is in Gaming where product design requires an depth knowledge of statistical and probabilistic mathematics. This is also an area of real interest to Engineers Ireland. For that reason we included it in our recent TV advertising Campaign for Chartered Engineer 'Will You Come With Me ..... Bringing Dreams to Life for You and Me' where we show software engineers in the gaming industry.

I was intrigued during my visit to Athlone IT to have been shown some gaming devices by Dr Mark Daly - 'hexbug nanos' - these are robotic creatures that react to sound and touch - constantly changing direction in random pattern. Also I was introduced to the ‘Finch robot’ designed for computer science education with light, temperature and obstacle sensors.

Dr Mark Daly Athlone IT demonstrates the operation of a Hexbug Nano
and a Finch robot (white colour on the table) to PJ Rudden

I left Athlone IT with the sense that they are at the cutting edge of Enterprise and Job Creation which augers well for the Midlands Region going forward. I understood that the School are also exploring the possibilities of forming “research clusters” with Northern and Western ITs in the Border Midlands and West (BMW) Region.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Engineers Ireland Annual Ball 2012

Some 600 people attended the Annual Engineers Ball in the Burlington Hotel last Friday night. It was a real celebration of the importance of the industry to the Irish Economy in terms of domestic employment and export of engineering services overseas.

Annual Engineers Ireland Ball Burlington Hotel 13th January 2012

In my short address of welcome (see speech below) I spoke of the challenges to the Irish Economy. I committed Engineers Ireland to help recreate 'an efficient dynamic better regulated economy. We know that as a country we have to change the way we do things. The Irish Engineering profession is both able and willing to change and develop, indeed to help engineer that change and to assist our national recovery in whatever way we can'.

I noted the recent statement from IDA Ireland that 47% of new foreign direct investment (FDI) jobs in 2011 require engineering and science skills including computing.

Professor Padraic O’Donoghue Chairman West Region, PJ Rudden President, John Power Director General

I urged support from our members and companies for two important events in 2012 - Engineers Week 2012 (Feb 27th to Mar 4th) and our Annual Conference in Belfast (April 26th/27th).

The theme of this year's Engineers Week is 'Connecting our Lives' where engineers will visit second level schools to show the importance of Maths and Science to Engineering.

The theme of the Annual Conference is 'Engineering Enterprise in Times of Change' which will coincide with the Titanic Centenary celebrations in April 2012 in Belfast.

Dermot Dungan Chairman Electrical & Electronic Division, Deirdre Jordan,
Marie Dungan, John Jordan Chairman Midland Region
Companies who were present at the Annual Engineers Ball included CRH, ESB, Bord Gais, Shell, Sisk, Mercury, Irishenco, Roadbridge, Murphy, Irish Cement,  Shannon LNG, Amey, Cold Chon, Colfix, Ecocem, Hegarty, Roadstone Wood, Farrans, Celtic Anglian, Wills, Arup, Roughan & O'Donovan, O'Connor Sutton Cronin, Fitzsimons Doyle, Daire Byrne, Malone O'Regan, Clifton Scannell Emerson, Quigg Golden and RPS.

The organisation, decor, food and music at the Annual Ball this year was the best ever. Great credit is due to Shirley McDonald, Debbie O'Sullivan and Rosanne O'Leary of the Engineers Ireland staff for their organisational skills and of course to Domhnall Blair a member of our Council and Executive for his ever skilful Master of Ceremonies role.


Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is my honour as President of Engineers Ireland to welcome you all and in particular Engineers Irelands guests to this year's Ball.

We have just finished one challenging year as a profession. In 2012 we face new challenges as the Irish economy struggles to recover from a Euro Crisis and other recession difficulties. We know that as a country we have to change the way we do things.

The Irish Engineering profession is both able and willing to change and develop, indeed to help engineer that change and to assist our national recovery in whatever way we can. We again commit ourselves to help create an efficient dynamic and better regulated economy. We will continue to promote the brand of Chartered Engineer greatly helped I can say by the much praised TV and Radio advertising campaign now underway.

We will not overcome our challenges tonight but we will celebrate another year of Excellence in Engineering. I will say no more as this is a not a night for speeches but for celebration - at our Annual Ball in the company of our family friends and colleagues many of whom we only meet here annually and long may those friendships remain.

My thanks to the staff of Engineers Ireland for the tremendous organisation that went into this event especially Shirley McDonald. Debbie O'Sullivan and Roseanne O'Leary and of course for Domhnall Blair’s advice and support and to the Burlington as our venue once again.

Finally I strongly urge your active support for two particular events during 2012 – Engineers Week at the end of February when we showcase the importance of Engineering, Science, Technology and Maths. You might bear in mind that according to the IDA last week that almost half (47%) of all foreign direct investment jobs last year were in Engineering Technology which is Computing and Science. Secondly I want to highlight our Annual Conference in Belfast at the end of April during the Titanic Centenary celebrations. We hope as many of you as possible will travel to be with our Northern Region colleagues to share in the new beginnings that is the modern Northern Ireland.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year and an even happier night ahead.

Thank You and have a great night. Gura Maith aghaibh.

PJ Rudden

13th January 2012

Thursday, 5 January 2012

New Year at the Giants Causeway

I wish all readers a successful 2012. Despite the ongoing euro crisis hopefully this year will see better news on the economy.

Unfortunately much of the positive progress we made as a country in the early part of 2011 was eroded in the last quarter by the confidence crisis in the euro zone. Nevertheless Irish exports remain strong (mostly from our own engineering sector i.e. computing, pharma, biomedical) and our balance of payments continue to improve. Our unemployment rate unfortunately remains at 14 -15% as we strive to even stabilise it in the years going forward.

In the break between Christmas and New Year I found myself in Northern Ireland for a few days on the North Antrim coast. The weather was stormy wet and cold - even snowy at times but didn't deter us from either a tour of the Causeway Coast or the Glens of Antrim. I had never before visited the Giant's Causeway beside Bushmills town and Distillery. It was quite a sight in the winter storms.

The Atlantic Coast waves at the Causeway were so high and so vociferous that they sent the sea foam flying inland on the raging wind. It lay on the ground like blobs of snow for many minutes after it fell.

The almost vertical pencils of basalt rock were formed according to local legend by giant Finn McCool needing to battle with another giant in Scotland and built the causeway to give him pedestrian access across the sea. A very futuristic new underground Visitor Centre designed by Heneghan Peng Architects is currently under construction and due to open in summer 2012. The Giant's Causeway is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland.

At the Giants Causeway

The whole experience apart from the weather reminded me of the Mizen Head Bridge in West Cork which I visited last August at the other extreme end of the country. The narrow path access arrangements are similar on both sites though the landscape is very different. The Mizen Head Bridge is man made of course across a spectacular Atlantic gorge while the Giants Causeway is a geological formation from the Ice Age. There is also a famous pedestrian 'rope bridge' at Carrig-a-rede over the Atlantic further eastwards along the Antrim Coast towards Ballycastle town. This footbridge was actually closed due to the high winds on the day.

We passed through the town of Ballycastle famous for its 'Auld Lammas Fair' each summer and then south through Cushendun and Cushendall before turning inland again through the green Glens of Antrim towards Ballymena and Toome across the northern shores of Lough Neagh. It is truly lovely countryside even in the depths of winter. I can only imagine how much nicer it is in the summertime.

A very interesting fact I noticed is that while the Atlantic Ocean was battering off the North Antrim coast, at the same time the Irish Sea was very calm off the East Antrim coast reminding us the Irish Sea is a mere 'calm shallow pond' relative to the Atlantic in technical terms. This fact also helps to inform our approach in terms of harvesting our ocean resources for future export.

All this reminds me too of our 2012 Annual Conference in Europa Belfast next April 26th and 27th in the centenary year of the Titanic Story. All the TV channels this Christmas were starting to remind us that all roads this April will lead to Belfast. Cork Port is also commemorating the first and indeed last visit of the Titanic to Cobh before its fateful voyage across the Atlantic in April 1912.

Our conference theme will be 'Engineering Enterprise in times of change'. It will deal with the linked themes of Manufacturing, Marine and Energy building on Belfast's great engineering traditions and playing to the city's regenerative strengths around the Titanic Quarter – once the Harland and Wolff Shipyard where the Titanic was built. There’s an iconic new Titanic Signature Building which is really a Visitor / Interpretative Centre due to open in April 2012. There’s a very impressive preview of it on ‘Titanic Stories’ website.

New Visitor Centre open April 2012 under construction
in Titanic Quarter in Belfast Harbour

So it’s a message of hope as we head into the 2012 New Year. Let us play to our strengths in the engineering profession seeking out and developing new enterprise and research that leads to jobs. We engineers need to help shape the future - as if we stand idly by or fail to adapt to changing times - then events will inevitably shape us.

Happy New Year!