Tuesday 21 February 2017

Inventors set to take the world by storm

From a new rival for Blu-Tack to bars that can turn you into Mr Universe, smart Irish entrepreneurs and boffins are working on some hot new ideas that could become the next big thing, writes Louise McBride

Published 22/05/2011 | 05:00

IT'S 160 years since the Irish scientist Robert Mallet founded the scientific study of earthquakes. Mallet pioneered seismology, when he used dynamite explosions to measure the speed of elastic waves in surface rocks. He was one of the great Irish minds who thought outside the box and developed something new.

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The recession has shaken the country over the last few years. Yet ironically, it could be the recession which will transform many of today's young Irish people into the scientific heroes of the future.

Unemployment has forced many young people to set up their own businesses and to create innovative and quirky products that have grabbed international attention.

"There's a lot of activity out there among start-up businesses," said Michael Moriarty, Enterprise Ireland's manager of business software.

"Because the climate is tough, you have to get a good idea to get a business going. We're getting a lot of good ideas from graduates and the under-30s."

So what kind of cool inventions and ideas have sprung up over the last year or so?

MOBILE PHONE GAME FOR LONELY HEARTS

You no longer need to worry about getting stood up, thanks to a mobile-phone games company that started up in Dublin earlier this month.

The company, 2PaperDolls, develops social-media gaming tools. It is already a few months old but relocated from France to Dublin this month.

"With the company's technology, you could go into a restaurant and play a game on your mobile while waiting for your meal," said Moriarty.

2PaperDolls essentially provides the restaurant -- or any business for that matter -- with the system it needs to enable its customers to tap into games on their mobile or over the internet.

It also allows the restaurant to create games that would entice the customer in -- such as by offering a free coffee or dessert if you play it. The company is receiving start-up funding from Enterprise Ireland this year.

PLAY-DOH GLUE

It's been called the best invention since Sellotape or Blu-Tack -- and it was created by a former arts student from Kilkenny. The invention, called Sugru, looks like play-doh but acts like superglue.

Last November, it was named by Time Magazine as one of the 50 best inventions of 2010. The 'play-doh' can be moulded into any shape and fixed on to leather, metal, ceramic, wood and plastic.

As well as being used to glue things together, it can also make feet for wobbly chair legs, custom handles for hospital crutches, or hooks for headphones or tea towels.

Its inventor, Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, worked with scientists for five years to develop a material that would be soft enough to mold, yet strong enough to stick things together.

RACE HORSE SPEED TEST

The Queen and John Magnier may well have the knack for spotting champion racehorses -- but not all horse owners are so lucky. However, a UCD scientist has made it a bit easier to track down the thoroughbred horses most likely to turn into champions.

A few years ago, Dr Emmeline Hill made the first known identification of a gene in thoroughbred horses which detects whether the animal will be a successful racehorse or not. The gene, which is linked to muscle development, predicts the best racing distance for individual horses.

In 2009, Hill and Irish racehorse trainer Jim Bolger set up Equinome to sell the speed-gene test. The company launched the test in Australia last December.

As well as helping owners pinpoint a good horse before deciding to buy it, the test helps trainers identify horses they would wish to race.

FRIDGES FOR DESERT TRUCKS

Galway knows more about wind and rain than it does desert temperatures of 55 degrees celsius. Yet it is a plant in Galway which developed a refrigerator used by trucks to keep the goods they're carrying cool -- even in extreme desert conditions.

The refrigerator -- known as the T-series -- was launched by the global transport-refrigeration company, Thermo King, in April 2010. Much of the development work for the T-series was done in the Thermo King plant in Galway, according to its marketing director, Donal Cox.

The T-series allows trucks to cut their fuel bills by as much as 15 per cent.

Thermo King in Galway also helped develop a refrigerator for trailers, known as the SLX range. With the SLX, which was launched in June 2009, a trailer uses 20 per cent less fuel than it would if it was carrying an older refrigerator, according to Cox.

SNOWPLOWS AND HEDGE TRIMMERS

Not many drivers will be hoping for another white Christmas, after being caught in hairy situations during last December's big freeze.

One machine that was unphased by those Artic blizzards, however, was a road clearer developed by the Louth company, Multihog.

The vehicle, the Multihog MH90, kept Dublin Port Tunnel free of snow and ice in the run up to Christmas.

The MH90, which was the first machine produced by Multihog, is fitted with a snow plough and salt spreader. It was brought to the market in late 2010.

As well as clearing snow from roads and airports, it prepares roads for resurfacing and cuts hedges, rough grass and shrubbery.

Multihog was set up in 2008 by engineer Jim McAdam and his daughter Ruth. The company has developed a range of vehicles like the MH90 since.

"We are now manufacturing over one vehicle a week and exporting to Norway, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Poland, Italy and Britain," said Ruth McAdam.

Later this year, the company plans to introduce a narrower Multihog, which can be used by local authorities to keep footpaths and cycle routes clear. The company also plans to launch in the US and Canada early next year.

BABY LIFE-SAVERS

Many new parents live in fear of losing their newborn baby to cot death. Researchers at the Tyndall National Institute in University College Cork -- which Queen Elizabeth vpopped in to visit last week -- recently developed a microchip sensor, which can detect whether or not a baby has stopped breathing.

As well as allowing for the constant monitoring of babies in cots, the chip can be used to observe bed-bound hospital patients or people with sleep-related breathing difficulties.

It can also be used to detect drivers falling asleep at the wheel. Tyndall announced the development of the microchip sensor last month.

It was in UCC too that a breakthrough was made on the detection of seizures among new-borns.

"Babies can't tell you if they're having a seizure," said Graham Love, director of policy and communication with Science Foundation Ireland.

"The problem is that if you don't know a baby is having a seizure, the damage is usually done by the time the seizure is over."

Dr Geraldine Boylan, who heads up the Neonatal Brain Research Group at University College Cork, has developed a computer system which can monitor a baby's brainwaves to gauge whether a baby is having a seizure.

Until now, small hospitals have not been able to get the immediate benefit of Boylan's research as many don't have the expertise to recognise whether a particular pattern of brainwaves indicates that a seizure is taking place.

"If a small hospital suspects that a baby is having a seizure, they usually have to get the data on to a CD and send that CD to a larger hospital," said Love.

"At the moment, a system is being developed where information can be transferred from smaller hospitals over the internet to the larger hospitals with the expertise -- so that the information can be read immediately by the smaller hospital."

MRSA BUSTER

If you catch MRSA in hospital, you're more than seven times likely to die than a non-infected person. At a cost of over €23m a year, MRSA infections are also a huge financial drain for Irish hospitals.

A Dublin company has developed a mobile handwashing device that prevents the spread of hospital acquired infections among healthcare staff.

Known as Surewash, the device uses a camera to monitor how well staff wash their hands. Surewash was developed by Glanta, a company set up last November.

BODYBUILDING BARS

If you do more body building than the average Eastern European weightlifter, you probably already know you need to eat protein to build up muscles.

Irish food company Glanbia last year developed a bar that could help bodybuilders build up their muscles. The bar, Wholly Oats, includes a protein which primes muscles for rebuilding after training, according to Glanbia.

A few months ago, the company also developed a drinkable shake called Natural 100% Oats & Whey, which is targeted at athletes and sports people. Oats and whey are key parts of an athlete's diet and the company says that each drink has as much fibre as a big bowl of oatmeal.

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