How Dublin Became a Smart City, Part Two

This series examines how wooing major tech firms and supporting academic researchers is helping to transform the Irish capital.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 11, 2016

As explained in part one of this series, Dublin is in the midst of transforming into a smart city that leverages sensor networks through platforms focused on improving the city's infrastructure. It is doing this by courting global investments and technology firms, including many of the world's largest information and computer technology firms, such as IBM and Intel, which are developing smart-city technologies and applications in Dublin. But fostering innovation within academic institutions is another key part of the strategy.

"We started life as research group of mechanical engineers at Trinity College Dublin," says Paul McDonald, the CEO of Sonitus Systems, a company located in Dublin's Grand Canal Dock (or, as the area is often called in a nod to the many tech firms there, Silicon Docks). Sonitus Systems now designs and sells noise-monitoring solutions, though initially it was developing sensors to track water pollution in urban environments.

A Sonitus Systems noise monitor is installed near a rowing club in Dublin.
Ten years ago, Dublin began looking for technology it could use to comply with new noise-reporting regulations being imposed on all European Union member states. McDonald and his partners pivoted and began focusing on developing sound-level monitors after they were contacted by Enterprise Ireland, a government agency that supports Irish businesses by providing funding and research support. The Dublin City Council has a relationship with Enterprise Ireland, which looks for novel technologies being developed at academic institutions, such as Trinity College, and helps foster their commercialization.

(Enterprise Ireland is similar to IDA Ireland, the country's foreign-investment agency, except that rather than attracting technology developers to Ireland, Enterprise Ireland helps companies build up novel technologies with an eye toward exporting them.)

The E.U. law is designed to mitigate harmful noise pollution in high-density or high-traffic zones within cities. "The high-level concept is excellent, and benefits of the policy are clear," McDonald explains. "Measure noise, map it, make a plan to reduce it, and then improve it." But cities were left to find their own ways to comply with the regulations in a streamlined manner.

Sonitus Systems provides Dublin with a sound-level monitor that measures sounds ranging from 33 to 121 decibels. The device is housed in a weatherproof casing and runs either on line power or a 9-volt DC battery. The monitor collects and stores recordings every five minutes and can store data for up to a year. It can transmit information to the city through an integrated cellular modem for 3G data backhaul, but also includes a Wi-Fi radio so that city workers within range can access the data via Wi-Fi.

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