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Irish inventors seek to create the shining hi-tech city of the future

Irish and international companies including Intel, Glen Dimplex, SAP and ESB are brainstorming amazing new stuff together that will shape our future.

Some of the innovations that are going to reinvent our lives at home, in the office and in schools are being displayed at the 'Your Future City' Digital Showcase at the Mansion House in Dublin next week. We got an exclusive sneak preview of some of this novel stuff.

Robots at home

Although we don't like to think we're so predictable, the truth is, by analysing data on peoples' behaviour, a heck of a lot can be anticipated about what they're going to do, from when they wake up in the morning to when they come home at night.

Your car activity, for example, tells a lot about your daily habits.

Software giants Intel and SAP have teamed with ESB networks, Irish electric goods maker Glendimplex and wireless technology company M2C to mine this data and use it to improve consumers' lives.

Intel, ESB Networks, SAP and wireless technology company M2C have collaborated on a 'behaviour prediction' project that is harnessing that information to improve our lives, David Boundy of Intel's R&D wing tells us.

"Remote navigation systems in car brands including BMW and Renault produce data that can make your home life more comfortable – and push your energy bills down."

There are no 'Big Brother' worries as Intel et al don't actually access the data, but rather facilitate connecting your car's remote system with your home networks to predict your every need. It connects with your electricity and internet to, say, turn on your central heating, switch on the hot water, set your security alarm, turn on the oven, everything short of giving you foot-rubs and throwing a steak on the pan for you.

This fledgling technology can even have your car open and warmed up for you in the morning before you head off for the day.

But best of all, the efficiencies these innovations create can slash your energy bills.

Within the home, motion sensors in a room can be used to predict your family's usage of heating and electricity from room to room. They can be connected to individual radiators to microcontrol them for your comfort, and for smaller oil and gas bills.

All these innovations are being trialled at the ESB's testing nerve centre in Clonskeagh in suburban Dublin.

Walls that talk

Intel's innovation lab is working on an incredible interactive wall device. It's called PIXEE, and it turns any surface into a giant iPad. Think Minority Report-style interactive screens. A-Mazing.

Images are projected onto a wall and that becomes a huge interactive display that you control at the touch of a finger and add in sound, music, colour and social media elements.

Intel's Margie Morris has worked on this and also has a clinical psychologist background.

"At the highest level, what we're trying to examine is how social media can be an emotionally richer experience. Instagram and Facebook are interesting but we can push that further.

"It's about how computing can be more socially and emotionally engaging. How the tools people use in daily life can help them express themselves and have interesting conversations."

Cities from Lego

The company behind the world's favourite coloured plastic bricks has teamed up with NASA and MIT and even various governments in a quest to help shape the future.

Now it's inspiring children to build their vision of the world they want to see, through its 'build the change' concept.

To that end, tomorrow will see 400 kilos of Lego bricks arrive in Dublin, letting over 600 kids unleash their imaginative powers to build their vision of a dream city.

In Norway and Demark, concepts created by kids at these sessions have gone on to be built in real life. "In a market place in a city in Norway, which was very boring and where no one really wanted to go, children designed a play area and the council built it," Camilla Thorpe of Lego said. "The same happened in the harbour area in Copenhagen in Denmark."

"It gives children who will inhabit our future cities a voice through Lego bricks. They can come with their suggestions for our future cities and future urban areas and what they'll look like."

Lego has worked with MIT in Boston to create robotic tool kits that allow children to build a robot that they can programme to perform tasks.

The company has also worked with NASA on gravity experiments, the government of education in Singapore, ArtPlay in Melbourne Australia, and Gehl Arkitechts, who are helping rebuild Christchurch in New Zealand, to explore what can be achieved through toys and computers.

The magic chair

Ergonomic strain (that's backpain to you and me) is the single biggest cause of injury in the office. Something called the Axia Smart Chair should change all that.

It's a work chair that can monitor the way you sit through a series of sensors. If your posture's bad or if you're slouching, that's reported back via Bluetooth to your PC to tell you you're not sitting correctly and how to fix that.

It's basically the office version of your mother poking you in the back and telling you to sit up straight at Mass.

It's being trialled in Dublin and Japan as part of a collaboration between manufacturer BMA, Intel, Carlow Institute of Technology and University College Cork.

The same team are also testing solutions to cut energy consumption in the office. Sensors can tell people how much energy they're consuming compared to their colleagues, whether they're a heavy user of the printer or photocopier or whether they're burning up wattage with a space heater or a mini-fridge.

Not ideal if you're using the office colour printer to run off your wedding invitations, but it's great for keeping the company's costs down and it enables staff to set goals to do better and be more efficient.

Staff can also avail of a user-interface connected to their computer to say if they're too hot or too cold at work, to work more comfortably and consume fewer resources.

home omnigadget

Most homes have multiple set top boxes that control the cable TV, home alarm, internet and heating, all competing to consume energy and all demanding separate plug sockets and having separate energy costs. Intel has developed a platform called PUMA that combines everything in one efficient box.

"It's a virtualised box that runs multiple services simultaneously," Boundy of Intel explains. "So instead of just a Skybox, and internet modem, a heating panel and so on, you have something that can even switch on your dishwasher remotely. And it has a much smaller impact on the electricity grid."

SuperSMART class

Intel has been working with health monitoring company Shimmer and Dublin firm Solarprint (which specialises in providing solar energy that can run laptops, phones and iPads using just power generated from electric light) on technology that will trial in classrooms around the country later this year.

They have developed energy-monitoring software called Airducate that tracks Co2 levels in the classroom so that students have a comfortable learning environment. Excessive levels of Co2 causes headaches and breathing issues and even nausea.

Airducate is a solar-powered prototype that will alert a teacher or building management on Co2, temperature and humidity levels.

Intel is also testing a system that allows teachers to interact with pupils through tablets and laptops using a centrally pooled learning system.

Teachers and students can privately interact on a one-to-one basis in the classroom and students can also share their work and collaborate across the class.

The 'Your Future City' Digital Showcase is at the Mansion House in Dublin next week. Admission free

Irish Independent