The fourth annual BelTech Conference, curated by Kainos, was held on 6 – 7th April in Titanic Belfast. It featured two days of keynote speakers and panel discussions, aimed at technology professionals, developers, creatives, entrepreneurs and business leaders.
Here’s a selection of the best speakers I heard and what they had to say.
Dr. Suzanne Little
Dr Suzanne Little is a lecturer in the School of Computing and researcher in multimedia analysis at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, Dublin City University. She gave a talk about her work with Croke Park Smart City. Croke Park is wired up with multiple connected devices including sensors and cameras that collect data from special events. The analysis of this data helps Croke Park build new services, and better customer experiences. Croke Park has partnered with Intel, DCU, Sun Devil Stadium and Arizona State University to deploy pilot IoT technologies, mostly involving fan experience and crowd behaviour. It’s a small enough space to trial smart city solutions but wide enough to get results that can be used to solve problems. Dr. Little described it as “a playpen for researchers” and described some of the experiments they had undertaken so far, including analysis of traffic around events, how major games affect the surrounding community, whether the network could support high quality video streaming and how wearables could improve the crowd experience.
Philip is CEO at See.Sense, a company which produces an intelligent bike light. Philip invented the light when he was a commuter cyclist in Singapore. After a cycling accident, he’d grown tired of drivers saying, ‘Sorry mate I didn’t see you’, and set about using his skills in electronic and software design create a bicycle light that used sensor technology to improve his visibility to cars. He has now further developed its capabilities by allowing it to pair with the cyclists mobile phone, alerting users to low battery and allowing them to control the brightness. Taking this one step further, he is now running beta tests in Dublin and Milton Keynes where participants’ sensors allow cities to collect valuable crowd-sourced cyclist data on near-miss events, crashes, road surfaces (for early detection of potholes before they form), temperature and more. With the cyclist’s permission, anonymised data can be sent to the cloud via the cyclist’s smartphone, giving cities accurate, low cost data that helps them identify how to improve cycling infrastructure and create smart cities. Philip is now working with Sustrans to measure the outcomes of the current experiment which allows taxis to use bus lanes in Belfast and is also looking at ways the technology could be applied to buses, motorbikes and cars.
Panel discussion on Smart Cities
Suzanne and Philip were joined on stage by Belfast City Council’s Mark McCann. Mark is currently working with city partners to develop a ‘Smart Belfast’ framework that aims to encourage greater collaboration between public, academic and private sector organisations to encourage the adoption of innovation and new technologies to address city challenges.
The panel discussed how Belfast was currently working with small businesses and academics to create a test bed and how the sharing economy could harness this through, for example, wheelchair hire, city bikes and car shares. Mark acknowledged that there were difficulties around procurement (although SBRIs and hackathons were considered a very successful way to engage small businesses) and data privacy and sharing. Belfast is currently developing a Smart City Framework and wants to develop “city challenges” which will allow local businesses and universities to solve problems together.
Ryan is a Senior Technical Evangelist working for Microsoft across Ireland and works with customers looking to build next generation mixed reality experiences using HoloLens. He gave a great overview of Hololens, Microsoft’s Mixed/Augmented Reality platform. He explained that the main difference between Hololens and other platforms is that the device is “contextually aware” of its surroundings, allowing greater application in scenarios such as production lines (it’s already being used by Volvo and Japan airlines), architecture (you can create 3d models and then scale them up easily) and education (allowing students to see anatomy in full 3d). Perhaps the most compelling story Ryan shared, though, was that a few weeks earlier he had been approached at a demo by a visually impaired man who wanted to try the Hololens out. The man could see for only a few inches but as the visuals were played on the headset he was able to virtually “see” for the first time.
Deepa Mann-Kler is an award winning, internationally acclaimed, multi-disciplinary artist and the Producer and Creative Director of RETNE, the first production from VRNI Ltd. RETNE has just made its US debut at SxSW. Deepa outlined how to successfully create an immersive experience with compelling content in VR for HTC Vive in just 6 weeks. Here’s her talk:
Stephen is UX Director at Big Motive, developing innovative solutions to client problems and enhancing content and user experiences. He discussed Big Motive’s latest project, “Tara’s Locket”, a VR storybook for children which has just been showcased at SWSX. He noted that designers were having to relearn many aspects of UX when working with VR because, to quote Us Two “There is no such thing as a button”. The goal was now to ensure that the experience is compelling enough to counteract the restrictions of the headgear.
David is the CEO of Immersive VR Educationand has won multiple awards for his pioneering work on creating and producing the VR Documentary “Apollo 11 VR” and has been an integral part of the VR development community over the past few year. David is passionate about re-engaging students into educational studies and ensuring that access to good education is available to everybody regardless of their financial status or geographical location. Apollo 11 is now installed in 10% of all VR headsets and David is now working on a VR project to tell the story of the Titanic.
Jonny is a Senior Manager in the PwC Cyber Security Practice responsible for Managed Threat Detection and Response. Along with the PSNI’s Dougie Grant he highlighted some of the main cybersecurity threats affecting businesses today. The surprising point was that Phishing, a relatively unsophisticated method of fraud, is by far the most common – 38% of all NI companies surveyed reported it last year. The average loss per attack to small businesses was £16k and to larger businesses, £147k. Dougie reiterated the importance of businesses reporting cybercrime and recommended the cybercrime reporting portal Action Fraud.
Dr Austin Tanney
Austin is Head of Life Science & Healthcare, Analytics Engines and helps clients in the pharmaceutical, biotech, diagnostics and healthcare sectors derive value from their data. He noted the big change in AI was that, although AI has been bundled with your phone for several years (eg Siri) it wasn’t a product you would have bought. But with the introduction of products like Alexa, people are now spending significant amounts of money on a product that ties them to the vendor (ie further purchases from Amazon). Austin then looked at the ways he felt AI would revolutionise healthcare in the near future and how it can help at various points in the patient journey. He cited a Babylon Health/NHS pilot chatbot which aims to replace the 111 service in North London. He also looked at Sense.ly, which has developed a mobile “triage nurse”, Olivia, to identify first line treatment. As FDA approval times reduce we can expect to see big changes in Life & Health Science – for example Arterys Cardio DLTM is the first technology to be cleared by the FDA that leverages cloud computing and deep learning in a clinical setting. Closer to home, Path XL has developed Tissue Mark which automates identification of tumour tissue on standard H&E stained digital slides. Finally, he mentioned the collaboration between Google Deepmind and the Royal Free Hospital, where the Streams system sees patient data being scanned by the app to predict when an acute kidney injury (AKI) is likely to occur, freeing up two hours from each nurse’s shift.
Martin is the Co-Founder and CEO of Yedup which delivers next generation AI – ultra-fast statistical machines which learn continuously in real time from streaming online content. The company applies its technology to predict intra-day share price movements in real time from analysis of live social media content. Yedup publishes its results live to clients in the capital markets, enabling them to profit systematically from being first to know about impending market movements. In fact, Yedup can process 30m “posts of interest” per day, or 6,000 Twitter posts per second and can deliver information to high frequency traders before the tweet is seen by followers!
Rose Kane Quinn
Rose is a BI Analyst and Software Developer with Neueda Consulting. She demonstrated ‘GAFF’, a data game designed to aid teaching of GCE A-level subjects Digital Technology and Applied ICT, as well as the GCSE subject Applied ICT. The game asks the student to use and manipulate open data and in doing so they learn about databases and managing data. The application has the potential to be of great benefit in the education sector.
Stephen is Academic Program Manager at Microsoft and his role involves engaging lecturers and students of all disciplines and levels with tech talks and curriculum advice. He gave a great demonstration of Kinect 2 Scratch, showing how to build games that use machine learning to recognise human gestures, without knowing how to code.
Matt is a Belfast-born designer now based in San Francisco and the founder of Extraordinary Facility, a design studio for learning and play. Before that, he worked on exploratory user interfaces in the Human Interface Prototyping Group at Apple. He explained that if you want to work in Tech, you must first learn to play in it. He explained how he developed his latest music toy, Tune Zoo, and outlined why he felt creativity and curiosity are more important than code.
Sam is a Director of CineCopters, an aerial drone filming company. One of the industry leaders in aerial cinematography, Sam leads a group of highly dedicated professionals with over 45 years hands on television and film experience.
These are just a few of the keynote speakers – and Beltech was also packed with great panel discussions and plenty of opportunities to experience many of the latest innovations first hand, with exhibitors from leading NI and global technology organisations. BelTech aims to be the premier technology event for Northern Ireland software practitioners, business leaders, entrepreneurs and young people aspiring to break into the industry and on that basis, this year’s event can be considered a resounding success.