How Dublin Became a Smart City, Part One

This series examines how wooing major technology firms and supporting academic researchers is helping to transform the Irish capital.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 08, 2016

Check out Part Two Here

When you think of Dublin, you probably think of friendly pubs and buskers entertaining pedestrians on cobblestone streets. But you should also imagine efficient, internet-controlled lighting in those pubs, and plan on enjoying those street musicians without having to navigate around littered sidewalks, or car-clogged streets. That's because Dublin is in the midst of a transformation into a smart city that leverages sensor networks through platforms focused on improving the city's infrastructure.

Ireland has long sought to attract technology companies to its shores. Through IDA Ireland, its foreign-investment agency, the nation has enticed nine of the world's top 10 information and communications companies, including IBM, Hewlett Packard and Intel, to open R&D operations on the island. In some cases, technology firms have also established larger operations there. Intel, for example, has run a manufacturing plant in County Kildare since 1989.

IDA Ireland's Ken Finnegan
"From a government perspective, we want to ensure tech companies can grow here," says Ken Finnegan, IDA Ireland's chief technology officer. To attract global investments, the agency offers low corporate tax rates and incentives to develop intellectual property.

With so many of the firms that Ireland has wooed quickly developing Internet of Things products and solutions, it comes as no surprise that Irish cities, particularly Dublin, are turning into real-world laboratories. "We're positioning Ireland as an IoT testbed," Finnegan says.

One of the seeds for this was planted in 2010, when IBM opened the Smarter Cities Technology Centre and Research and Development Laboratory at its Dublin facility. "That was a big kickoff," says Jamie Cudden, a policy advisor to the Dublin City Council and, as of its launch in March of this year, the manager of Smart Dublin, a city-wide effort to coordinate and amplify smart-city projects being developed throughout Dublin.

A Sonitus Systems noise monitor is installed on a gate to a waste collection depot.
IBM and other companies needed to interact with city governments even while designing smart-city projects, because accessing stores of data related to city operations and infrastructure is vital to deploying, say, a smart street-lighting network, or projects related to transportation. But it quickly became obvious to the technology providers and city officials that such projects would only work through deeper collaborations. "Big tech firms were coming in and saying 'We can solve all your problems,'" Cudden states. "But then they realized that cities are very complex."

At present, the role that IDA Ireland is playing is as "a liaison for IoT folks," Finnegan says. "We'll knock on doors on their behalf. What we're hearing [from tech firms] is about the need for partnerships and collaboration. They're saying, 'We want to talk to city managers.'"

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