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.

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