Plans for £39m Ulster University Artificial Intelligence expansion in Derry detailed at meeting

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Derry and Strabane Council has been updated on two “exciting and transformational” new technological projects planned for Ulster University’s Derry campus, which would be housed on a major new site on Strand Road.

At a Special Invest NI Council Meeting on Wednesday, Councillors received a report on the Cognitive Analytics Research Lab (CARL) and the Centre for Industrial Digitisation and Robotics Automation (CIDRA).

According to the report, CARL will “exploit advances in High Performance Computing by applying AI and machine learning techniques to sectors like advanced manufacturing, personalised medicine, and creative industries.”

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CIDRA meanwhile has “a focus on manufacturing and the use of AI in smart robotic systems, recognising that core technologies have now reached sufficient maturity to provide huge opportunities for the manufacturing industry.”

Previous plans for an expansion of Magee onto Strand Road.Previous plans for an expansion of Magee onto Strand Road.
Previous plans for an expansion of Magee onto Strand Road.

Ulster University’s Professor Brian Meenan told Councillors that the two projects had recently been combined and plans were in place to submit an Outline Business Case (OBC) for approval.

The OBC proposes that both CARL and CIDRA will be located on a Strand Road site, with a £39m total budget to allow for a 2,380 square metre building, construction equipment and staff costs.

Funding was being managed by Department for Economy, who have since deferred responsibility to Invest NI, and both projects are estimated to be completed by 2027.

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“Unfortunately, these projects are a labour of love with a long gestation periods,” Professor Meenan said. “The focus is now on the OBC being finalised. After that there will be a process of planning, design, and getting funding and build time.”

The Magee campus of Ulster University.The Magee campus of Ulster University.
The Magee campus of Ulster University.

Sinn Féin Councillor Christopher Jackson said the project was “exciting and transformational” for the district, and welcomed the partnership between Ulster University and the Council.

Colr. Jackson said: “The university is investing in this campus and, alongside the medical school, we’re moving towards the city centre and showing ambition.”

“That’s an encouraging statement of intent from Ulster University; that this campus has an exciting future.”

SDLP Councillor John Boyle agreed that CARL and CIDRA were “really, really exciting projects” and, while £39m was a “huge outlay of money”, it was important the city and university were “in the game” in terms of competition with other universities.

He added: “If we didn’t develop these types of projects, we would fall significantly behind, so the SDLP welcome the project.”

Professor Meenan concluded by saying both CARL and CIDRA were an “integral part” of the Ulster University’s growth plans and commitments.

He added: “Our expectation is that the project will start to attract more academic staff and will introduce new courses in a planned way.”

Andrew Balfour,

Local Democracy Reporter