The intelligent systems expert says the industry-facing facility will encourage companies to embrace emerging technologies to create more high-skilled and high-paid jobs in Derry and Strabane.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ after Heads of Terms were signed on the £250m City Deal last week, Prof. McGinnity said: “CIDRA is about supporting industry to deal with a number of developments that have come together almost simultaneously and are going to be very, very important to securing jobs and creating jobs.
“Artificial intelligence has come on a long way over the last decades. We’ve made great progress in robotics and automation. There’s the Internet of Things (IoT) which is basically about the ability to sense lots and lots of parameters in huge numbers and have them all interconnected to acquire data and make use of it.
“The last thing then is called additive manufacturing and that is essentially a fancy name for complex 3-D printing of all sorts of materials.
“Those four things have come together at the same time and they have given rise to the fourth industrial revolution which will provide wonderful opportunities for business if they embrace it but also serious problems if they don’t.”
Prof. McGinnity says firms that harness this cutting-edge tech will be more competitive and this will have a multiplier effect for the Derry economy.
“They’ll be able to improve the quality of the jobs that they have and to generate wealth. There’s lots of other spin-offs in terms of the community and the quality of life of people that work in those companies. If companies don’t embrace this they are going to find it increasingly hard to compete. They will be doing their tasks in an old fashioned manner which means they will struggle to compete internationally and even nationally.”
CIDRA will include the creation of a new demonstration facility that will be open to local businesses and inward investors keen to embrace 21st century innovations. This will eventually be staffed by engineers who will run interested firms through digital, robotic and AI processes and show them how to put them into praxis in the local economy.
The Derry lecturer envisages the centre working closely with its Ulster University sister projects, the £25m Cognitive Analytics Research Laboratory (CARL) and the £20m Transformation Healthcare Research Innovation Value Based Ecosystem (THRIVE), and the council-led £10m SMART City project.
“We are creating practical industry-related demonstrations, not research but industry-appropriate demonstrations. A director can ask, ‘what can this do for my company? Could I use this?’ We are going to show them.”
This is where the £25m City Deal investment comes in .
“Demonstration equipment is expensive. We need somewhere to house this so there will be a bit of bricks and mortar and then there will be personnel, not academic staff like lecturers and professors but R&D engineers who can show companies how this will work and what the potential is and the opportunities are.
“We can increase the confidence of management that this will work, this will improve their efficiencies and their competitiveness.”
A milestone was passed with the signing of Heads of Terms last week. The next step will be the completion of an outline business case. A lot of the groundwork has already been covered through the development of a comprehensive strategic outline case before Christmas.
Prof. McGinnity is now looking forward to delivery.
“I really am glad to say we have strong collaboration with industry. Local companies and those from further afield are very, very supportive of what we are doing. They see the need for this. A lot of small companies realise all of this stuff is coming along and that they need to do something about it but they are struggling to know where to start.
“That’s where we are there to give them that support. Hopefully it will enable them to not only protect jobs and grow the number of jobs but grow the number of highly skilled jobs - people who can deal with AI; people who can programme robots and so on.”