FAITH: Improving mental health care for cancer survivors

H2020 FAITH team image and case study heading

FAITH is potentially life-changing research. To achieve the ambitious goals of the project we needed to leverage our networks in Europe and build a consortium of experts.


Philip O’ Brien, Technical Co-ordinator, FAITH Horizon 2020 project

Key Takeouts:

  • Walton, part of the Waterford Institute of Technology, is leading a project that aims to develop a model for mental health monitoring of cancer patients, to improve their quality of life.
  • The FAITH project has received €4.8m in funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
  • As well as co-ordinating FAITH, Walton is driving the development of artificial intelligence (AI) models and the deployment of a federated learning framework.

H2020 Case Study: FAITH

    Cancer remains the second leading cause of death globally and as many as one in five people living with cancer experiences depression and mood change post diagnosis. It’s a stark statistic and one that led researchers at Walton Institute, an ICT research and development centre within the Waterford Institute of Technology, to begin looking at the area of mental health in cancer patients to see if they could use their expertise to help. 

    “We believe the potential for ICT applications in health is massive. We had an initial idea about looking at markers of depression and when the Horizon 2020 call came out, which was specifically targeting improving the quality of life for cancer survivors, it was an opportunity to take the idea to the next level,” says Philip O’ Brien, technical co-ordinator of FAITH.

    The goal of FAITH (a Federated Artificial Intelligence solution for moniToring mental Health status after cancer treatment) is to provide an ‘AI Angel’ app that remotely analyses depression markers, such as changes in activity, outlook, sleep and appetite. When a negative trend is detected, an alert can be sent to the patient’s healthcare providers or other caregivers who can then offer support.

    The project uses the latest, secure AI and machine learning techniques within the interactive app located on patients’ phones. Key to the project is federated machine learning, which enables the patient’s personal data to stay within the AI model on each phone, guaranteeing privacy.

    “As the model collects data on a person’s phone it retrains itself to improve and personalize it for each individual.explains O’Brien

    “As the model collects data on a person’s phone it retrains itself to improve and personalize it for each individual. But we also want to learn from all that data to gain insights that are beneficial to the broader population, so when a model updates, that update, rather than the person’s data is sent back to the cloud. All the updates are processed and a new, improved model is sent back out to everyone and that cycle repeats,”

     

    Another important aspect of the project is a focus on explainable AI, which is about ensuring that healthcare professionals can understand why the machine has reached a particular decision about the person’s mental health.

    “Explainable AI is extremely important for building trust. As AI impacts more and more on our lives the implications of this are huge,” says O’Brien.

     

    Why Horizon 2020?

    “It was clear from the start that to achieve the ambitious goals of the FAITH project we would need to leverage our networks in Europe and build a consortium of clinicians and technical experts. By breaking the project concept into a number of key objectives we then built our consortium based on specific expertise to achieve each objective,” says O’Brien.

    FAITH brings together partners from Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Cyprus into a strong multi-disciplinary team. Trial sites in eminent cancer hospitals in Madrid, Waterford and Lisbon, involving both clinicians and patients, are assessing the concept and feedback is being used to refine the model.

    As with most Horizon projects there are multiple dependencies across the various work packages and co-ordinating the whole presents some challenges. At the helm of FAITH is Gary McManus, Research Project Manager at Walton.

    Different countries and organisations have different regulations and ways of operating so that’s one challenge. Also, from experience from previous projects, I knew it was important to remember that each partner, although working towards the global aim of the project, will have their own interests. Being cognisant of these sub-goals from the outset and, where possible, facilitating these in the overall planning process is essential,” says McManus.

    Different countries and organisations have different regulations and ways of operating so that’s one challenge. Also, from experience from previous projects, I knew it was important to remember that each partner, although working towards the global aim of the project, will have their own interests. Being cognisant of these sub-goals from the outset and, where possible, facilitating these in the overall planning process is essential,” says McManus.

    “But by having strong leaders for each work package, who are experts in their domain, we can be sure that delivery of each element will build towards the final offering.”

     

    Knowledge gain

    Having taken part in multiple Horizon 2020 projects, O’Brien believes that one of the great benefits is the extensive knowledge gain within a short period.

    “Being involved in a Horizon project is the opportunity to upskill rapidly and build on your underlying expertise. Through your links with other organisations across Europe you get an insight into different ways of working and you cross paths with people from many disciplines. For example, through FAITH we’ve been talking to a range of healthcare professionals and leveraging their experience.

    “The EU spends a lot of time and money with experts pinpointing the areas where we need to see technology improving to tackle specific challenges in the next five to ten years. By being involved in these projects you’re building on all of that knowledge rather than working in isolation. Then learning from the people you are working with across Europe pushes you up a level again.”

    Moreover, the end of a Horizon project is usually the beginning of something else.

    “One of our work packages is looking at what happens post project and how we take it to the next stage. We know bigger healthcare trials will be needed, for example. But from Walton’s point of view we’ve broken some new ground on explainable AI which has a lot of applications outside this project, so that’s an area we’d like to take forward. You need to be clear about how you build on the project, either in a well-defined follow-up project or by commercial exploitation of the output.”

     

    For further information about applying for support from Horizon Europe, the successor programme to Horizon 2020, please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie.

     

    Grian Water – Innovating to Target the Environmental Impact of Food Waste

    “There is no downside to our technology. It makes so much more sense to treat food waste at source. We wouldn’t have been able to go live and launch our product without the Innovation Voucher Programme from Enterprise Ireland” – Kieran Coffey, CTO, Grian Water Ltd.

    Globally more than a third of all food is wasted – affecting people, planet and profit and leveraging emerging technology is one of the most vital ways to innovate to target food waste and fight climate change.

    For Clonakilty based Kieran Coffey, this issue has been front of mind for many years. A mechanical engineer, he has always been interested in sustainability and the environment and established Grian Water to innovate around the potential of anaerobic digestion as a technology to generate renewable energy, lessen GHG emissions and recover nutrients as well as playing a role in meeting the climate change targets under the Paris agreement. His company developed MyGug, a micro-scale anaerobic digester for the treatment of food waste that turns organic matter into renewable fuel that can be used in homes and small businesses.

    In Ireland, households now produce over 250,000 tonnes of food waste annually which equates to a cost of €700 worth of food being thrown out per house every year. Food waste now contributes to 8% of the world’s GHG emissions and the estimated global cost of this is €1.2 trillion of profit lost every year. This is against a backdrop of about 870 million people in the world going hungry every day.

    “Having worked for many years in waste water, anaerobic digestion was always on my mind. I wanted to find a complete food waste treatment system solution and the idea was to design something on a micro-scale that would integrate into domestic and small business settings and that would operate in all weather and climate conditions,” explains Kieran.

    With the support of the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher Scheme, Grian Water approached Wisar Lab, based at Letterkenny Institute of Technology. The Lab is a wireless and embedded systems group that provides electrical and electronic solutions for established companies and technology start-ups. The company wanted to develop a low-cost micro-controller solution using wireless connectivity and cloud storage to monitor the digester’s performance over time. They developed a cost-efficient printed circuit board collaboratively and have already installed it in domestic and small business settings for longer term testing and to gather overall performance data. “There has been a great reaction, particularly from food businesses that are interested in sustainability and want to reduce their carbon footprint,” says Kieran.

    “People are not aware of the potential energy that they are throwing out with plastics and other types of wastes. Once food waste is mixed you’ve diminished its value. It’s harder to handle. It makes so much more sense to treat it at source whether you are a household or business user.” Grian Water is now working with Wiser Labs on a new Innovation voucher from Enterprise Ireland. They aim to work towards complete sustainability in processes and systems and a complete packaged unit.

    Advising other companies to avail of the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher scheme, Kieran says that “the key thing for me was talking to a key figure in Enterprise Ireland. Find out what you want to improve or achieve with your own product or process. Be clear on your own vision of where you want to go.”

    To take your next step towards Innovation visit Innovation Vouchers.

    Keogh’s Crisps – Keep Going, Keep Growing – Innovation and Insights

    “We were able to draw on the insights from the professionals which gave us a fantastic understanding of consumer preferences and thoughts. The knowledge we gained using the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher Scheme enabled us to make tweaks and improvements and our sales have grown on the back of it”

    Ian Maher, Head of Operations, Keogh’s Crisps.

    The Irish success story of Keogh’s crisps is now a worldwide one and their range of premium hand cooked small batch crisps and popcorn continues to expand. Their share bag sales increased by a third during the pandemic and the family-owned company has innovation at its core and continues to scale up.

    The family has been farming for over 200 years at Oldtown, North County Dublin and their crisps now account for nearly 10% of the total Irish crisp market. They also currently export to 20 countries worldwide including the USA. Known as the only firm in the world to have actually taken a potato brand and turned it into a crisp brand, their use of Irish ingredients and flavours like chorizo and cherry tomato, Irish Atlantic sea salt, shamrock sour cream and roast turkey and secret stuffing sets them apart from other brands.

    Keogh’s took part in the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher Scheme and worked with Teagasc to research and test consumer reaction to some upcoming product innovations. “We found it very useful testing and trialling and tasting products to give us an idea of what consumers might think, so that we could go forward and down the right track. After feedback we changed some of the seasoning applications and made improvements” explains Ian Maher, Head of Operations.

    Working with experts from Teagasc, Keogh’s Crisps was able to use the Innovation Voucher Scheme to set up bespoke research models to draw insights from professional panels. They could then realign their thoughts and make changes where they needed to. “We got a good steer in the right direction with the research and we were able to ascertain what aspects of the products that we needed to revisit. We got a good understanding of how we should go about testing something. We learned that it is not about just asking questions, it is about asking the right questions. It was like a light switch for us.” explained Ian.

    “The Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher Scheme helped us to get to where we wanted to faster and with less of a pinch than we would have because we had the support and professional help in the background. It’s not just the process – it’s all about the potential of where it leads you to.”

    Looking to the future, Keogh’s Crisps are always looking at how they are going to expand their range and do even healthier versions with great flavour and taste. They’re also prioritising sustainability and having less impact on the environment. Recommending the Innovation Voucher Scheme to other companies Ian Maher advises: “You cannot do everything at once. Plan out what you need to do over a period of time and think about what you want to achieve with the innovation vouchers. In our business for example, it’s all about timing and there are certain windows during the year for new products.”

    To take your next step towards Innovation visit Innovation Vouchers.

    Lidan Designs – Innovating for Sustainability

    “Lidan was started to create sustainable skilled jobs in the West of Ireland through the design and manufacture of sustainable buildings in an innovative way” – Dan O’Brien, Director, Lidan Designs.

    The interest in contemporary wooden buildings is soaring worldwide and Lidan Designs is leading the charge in creating innovative, energy-efficient modern structures in a move towards a more sustainable society.

    Winners of the ‘Future Focus’ award at this year’s National Enterprise Awards, the Roscommon-based company has a clear vision having recognised the potential of wood as the ideal construction material for the future and specialises in the design, manufacture and installation of premium wood products and structures. Maximising the use of this sustainable and natural material, Lidan is leveraging cutting-edge design to create these structures with craftsmanship at the core and each of their products is handcrafted individually by a team of experienced carpenters and joiners. They are currently in the process of building a bespoke factory to meet the increased demand for their product.

    Former Accenture Corporate Strategy Consultant Dan O’Brien co-founded the company with Liam Casey to offer timber home offices with NZEB standards, a BER A-rating and that can deliver passive house levels of airtightness. The company has availed of the Innovation voucher scheme from Enterprise Ireland to further innovate and grow.

    In demand for more and more projects in the public sector, their clients now include the OPW, Department of Education and many others. One of their showcase achievements is a highly-sustainable ecological Nearly Zero Energy rapid build dwelling for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, which apart from being one of the first dwellings fully finished off-site in Ireland, it is also possibly the lowest embodied carbon dwelling in Ireland. The two bedroomed house at Fernhill near Stepaside, Dublin was fully designed, built and finished by Lidan off-site and took just a few weeks to complete from design to handover. A fully fitted kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, plumbing, electrics and energy systems were all done off-site. This work allowed the company to showcase the potential of sustainable house building in Ireland.

    As lifestyles and global work patterns have changed, there has been a huge demand from private sector clients for additional space whether it’s for home offices, gyms or studios. The buildings created by Lidan have been growing in both size and complexity and public sector clients are also now recognising the potential of the use of wood from a design, efficiency and construction point of view – from larger offices to schools and community centres. The affordable and social housing crisis has also spurred on the need for well-regulated rapid build and modular housing systems.

    “There is a huge demand now from housing to schools to bigger public amenity buildings. We aim for growth but sustainable growth at a sustainable pace in expanding, hiring people and increasing our product set”, explains Dan O’Brien.

    The Innovation voucher scheme from Enterprise Ireland allowed the company to become agile. They partnered with Sligo Institute of Technology to use the scheme to examine the energy profile for their current range of modular buildings, assessed renewable energy and water and waste sustainability options. The voucher also helped them to increase their 3D modelling capabilities – enabling them to create renders of finished products for clients.

    “I’d strongly recommend that companies look at the Enterprise Ireland Innovation voucher scheme for their innovation projects. We’re now looking at further expansion and examining the export market. It has been very helpful to us in terms of solving problems and allowed us to bring in outsourced expertise as needed and it was a great way of starting connections with the talent available at third level.” says Dan O’Brien.

    To take your next step towards Innovation visit Innovation Vouchers.

    Geowox - innovation vouchers

    Geowox – Innovating Home Buying Through Technology

    “We speed up the home buying process by providing a home valuation that can be done in one hour. Our business is designed to solve a problem. With the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher Scheme our goal was to do more research and development on satellite and aerial imaging to further develop our platform and we achieved this” – Stefano Francavilla CEO and Founder, Geowox.

    Property tech start-up Geowox has completely revolutionised the process of home buying. Traditionally valuations are completed by surveyors manually which can be slow and sometimes not fully accurate and when dealing with large asset books not very feasible. Geowox has changed all this, creating scaled, fast and accurate valuations using open data, automation and machine learning.

    The company is very much on the radar as one of the first tech companies in Europe to receive direct investment from the EU – €1.6million in 2021. They’re on a trajectory to success and as part of their continuing growth availed of the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher scheme to work on refining and improving some of their imaging methods and this proved to be really successful for them.

    “We set up the company to digitize the mortgage process and enable a fast track valuation through automated property valuation solutions”, explains Stefano Francavilla who founded the company in late 2017 with Paul van Bommel and Marco Giardina. With the help of Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation vouchers Geowox worked with Trinity College Dublin to look at applied satellite and aerial imagery and discovered how accurate object recognition is to increase their automated valuation model coverage.

    Geowox leverages three components – open, licensed and proprietary data which includes data extracted from aerial images and this was the core of the work that they used the innovation vouchers for. The information they gleaned through their research and development with TCD and the workflow they have built now enables them to further refine and adjust and they aim to expand into new markets.

    So how did Geowox become aware of the Innovation voucher scheme? “Enterprise Ireland has done a great job in supporting business start ups. I was being kept informed of all of their supports and then saw the innovation supports and felt that it was a big fit for us at this stage in our growth”, says Stefano.

    The innovation voucher allowed the company to look at what was available in aerial imaging and satellite images when it came to detecting lot size of properties. “We went to the Adapt Centre at TCD with this broad idea. We gave them the initial idea and then asked them to expand on it and they brought in their expertise and we got a lot of promising results. The end result was a presentation and baseline and we ended up setting up a team and now have a roadmap.”

    Stefano and his team found the process straightforward and they now have a resource within the company working specifically on this topic and solutions for recognising lot size with a higher degree of accuracy for properties in Ireland. They have achieved what they wanted to with this baseline. He advises companies to engage as early as possible with the innovation voucher process. “Start building the relationship with Enterprise Ireland and get early feedback and have your goal in mind. They have the knowledge and industry experience. Have your clear questions ready and go to them with a goal in mind so that they can help you at an early stage.”

    To take your next step towards Innovation visit Innovation Vouchers.

    TriviumVet – Innovating with an Eye on Global Pet Healthcare

    “The research and validation work we embarked on with the Innovation Voucher Scheme from Enterprise Ireland gave us a very data-driven solid foundation as a platform to be able to make sound strategic decisions and move to the next stages of our ambitions” – Dr Liam Byrne, Head of Technical and Business Development, TriviumVet

    The global companion animal health sector market has been growing like never before, along with the rising numbers in the adoption and purchase of pets. This has created a need for more sophisticated and efficient therapies for animals and the mission of TriviumVet is to deliver ground-breaking innovative healthcare solutions to bridge the treatment gaps in veterinary healthcare for these companion animals.

    Founded by a seasoned group of entrepreneurial experts, the Waterford-based company now has many breakthrough veterinary therapeutics in the pipeline and has been named in Ireland’s top 100 start-ups for the second year running. Dr Liam Byrne, Head of Technical and Business Development at TriviumVet, who has a background in chemistry, joined the company two years ago and from his time in Waterford company EirGen Pharma was familiar with the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher Scheme.

    The company is on a fast-moving trajectory around product development and needed to push research and development around formulation, good manufacturing process, scale-up plans and more. This stage was crucial before moving to the clinical aspects and proof of concept, safety studies and field studies before approval to ensure all safety and standards are being met along with regulatory and licensing requirements for the European and US markets.

    Working with three academic institutions – TU Tallaght, Waterford IT and Liam’s alma mater Dublin City University, TriviumVet used the Enterprise Ireland Innovation scheme vouchers to embark on proof of concept research for a number of their products. As part of this product development, TriviumVet used an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher and worked with the PMBRC Gateway in WIT to carry out research allowing them to proceed with clinical studies of their treatment – an exciting project which is currently underway.

    “The work we did through the voucher scheme went from an idea that we were examining, to us being able to validate that theory with lots of data and reports that we could use to then create a portable point of care test. We were in a position to avail of specialist skills that we did not have in-house,” explained Liam. “We were able to research and investigate and without this process it wouldn’t have been possible to know if this would work. It went from a concept we were talking about to reality”.

    Liam Byrne points out that the innovations have helped TriviumVet to build up the foundations of their business and they hope in the future to be able to develop a suite of diagnostic tools and have not just one test but a range of them. “The innovation vouchers allowed us to find our feet in a relatively risk free way. We now benefit with a clear path forward and are in a position to move to the next steps of development of these biosensors and their commercial development”.

    “I would highly recommend companies to get involved in the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher process,” says Liam. “The process is very user friendly and they are happy to guide you. It is also very beneficial to partner with an academic institution. If you’re trying to answer a technical problem or trouble shoot an issue or if you are trying to test whether a concept is valid, the innovation voucher can be invaluable”.

    To take your next step towards Innovation visit Innovation Vouchers.

    ASINA: enabling safe-and sustainable-by-design nanotechnologies

    Picture of male interviewee, Dt Ehtsham U.Haq

    “One of the advantages of being involved in Horizon projects is the breadth of experience one gets by sharing expertise and access to new networks in partner countries.”


    Dr Ehtsham U. Haq, University of Limerick, ASINA Horizon 2020 project

    Key Takeouts:

    • The University of Limerick is taking part in a major project that is developing scientifically sound safe-by-design nanotechnologies.
    • The 42-month ASINA project has received €5.99m from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme.
    • The ASINA project will support the fast industrial uptake of nanotechnology by providing safe-by-design solutions and supporting tools.

    H2020 Case Study: ASINA

      Nanotechnology impacts nearly every sector of the global economy from electronics to cosmetics, and from defence to the automotive sector and agriculture. It plays a part in everyday items such as antibacterial hand creams and coated textiles and it is anticipated that the market worth will exceed $120 billion by 2024.

      However, safety issues in relation to producing and disposing of nano-enabled products remain a concern.

      “Although previous EU-funded projects have defined tools and concepts to ensure the safety of nano-enabled products through design, the current state of the art indicates that industrial production is struggling to activate the safe-and sustainable-by-design (SSbD) approach and the fast industrial uptake of engineered nanomaterials (NMs) is missing or unsafely implemented,” explains Dr Ehtsham U Haq, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Limerick, one of the ASINA (Anticipating Safety Issues at the Design Stage of NAno Product Development) project partners.

      “The ASINA project aims to promote consistent, applicable and scientifically sound SSbD nanotechnologies by collecting information across all the design dimensions: functionality, production technologies, safety, environmental sustainability, cost effectiveness and regulatory requirements.”

      Led by the National Research Council of Italy, the Horizon 2020-funded ASINA project will use an approach modelled on six-sigma practices, that  focus on process improvement.

      One of the challenge that ASINA will address is how to distil existing methods into simple, robust, cost-effective methods for monitoring of physio-chemical properties and biological effect assessment of nanomaterials and address properties of concern like technical performance, hazard and exposure related issues in product-relevant matrices. ASINA will develop pilot facilities with a combination of digital technologies and artificial intelligence technologies (Digital Twins) under a SSbD framework,” adds Haq.

      In turn, this should help to accelerate the uptake of nanotechnology by industry and reassure end users of its safety, matching existing challenges summarised by the European Green Deal.” 

      Real-world applications

      One of 21 partners in the ASINA consortium, the six-strong University of Limerick team is tasked primarily with physical-chemical characterisation of the nanoparticles and developing information about their properties. Two spin-out companies from the university are also partners on the project.

      Focusing on two real-world product lines–antimicrobialcoatings for clean technology applications (textile and air filtration sector), and nanostructured capsules for applications in the cosmetic sector, ASINA has also had a part to play in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

      “The methodologies of physio-chemical characterization developed by us can be applied to other nano-enabled products as well. We are developing coatings for variously functionalized textiles for face masks, air filters for example in collaboration with other partners,” says Haq.

      “We’re enthusiastic about ASINA because what we’re doing will be used in real-life industrial applications,” explains Haq.

      “We’re using machine learning tools to generate response functions and obtain the full set of design solutions performance attributes. An expert system (ASINA- ES), easily adoptable by industries, will be developed for supporting the industrial product designers in identifying the suitable SSbD solutions better complying with the design constraints….There will be huge learning from this project.”

       

      The Horizon advantage

      Like all Horizon projects, ASINA is a multi-disciplinary, international project involving a range of players from large research institutes to small and medium-sized enterprises. The project is also collaborating with other Horizon 2020 funded projects focusing on safe-by design production of nano-enabled products. While ASINA is still very much in its infancy, having been held up by laboratory closures due to Covid-19, Haq has recently been involved in two other Horizon projects – OYSTER and M3DLOC.

      “One of the advantages of being involved in Horizon projects is the breadth of experience you get and the profile of your research in an international audience. The projects I’ve been involved with have all been very different. OYSTER  aims to develop standardized measurement protocol for surface free energy for quality control in nano-enabled and bioinspired products, while M3DLOC involved 3D printing for the fabrication of microfluidic MEMS for lab-on-a-chip and sensing applications.  ASINA is on the other hand is dealing with nanoparticles and nano-enabled products. That makes the work very interesting, challenging and in return it also extends your technical expertise,” says Haq.

      “Overall, the Horizon experience is beneficial for both your research and personal development. Because you are dealing with people from other professions who have a completely different perspective and experience, you become more multi-disciplinary and broaden your collaborations and skill level.” says Haq.

      For those considering getting involved in a Horizon proposal, perhaps for the first time, Haq highlights two issues.

      “In Horizon projects a great deal of time is spent on consortium building. You’re bringing together not only researchers but managers, Intellectual Property experts, SMEs and others, so that side of things is as important along the original idea, and it’s important to get it right.

      “Also, take advantage of any support that’s available if you are involved in producing the proposal. Enterprise Ireland has a range of supports and my experience of dealing with them has been very positive.”

      For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie

      SmartAgriHubs connecting European agricultural and IT innovation

      “The SmartAgriHubs project has been invaluable not just to Walton but to Ireland, as it’s allowed us to build a network of contacts and strong strategic relations with similar partners across Europe.”

      Hazel Peavoy, Walton Institute, SmartAgriHubs Horizon 2020 project

      Key Takeouts:

      • Walton Institute, part of the Waterford Institute of Technology, is involved in a major project that is driving the digitisation of the agricultural sector in Europe.
      • The SmartAgriHubs project has received €20m in funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
      • With 164 partners, the ambitious project aims to build a network of over 2000 Competence Centres supported by 250 Digital Innovation Hubs and deliver 80 new digital solutions to the market.

      H2020 Case Study: SmartAgriHubs

         

        Increasing the competitiveness, resilience and sustainability of Europe’s agri-food sector is a prime focus for the European Union as it looks ahead to the challenges of climate change and feeding a growing population. Central to the future success of the sector will be the widespread adoption of innovation and smart-farming techniques but this will rely heavily on interconnectivity and knowledge-sharing across a multitude of stakeholders.

        This is the focus of the ambitious €20m SmartAgriHubs Horizon 2020 project. Involving a consortium of 164 partners, including start-ups, SMEs, service providers, technology experts and end-users spread over nine Regional Clusters, the project aims to build a network of over 2000 Competence Centres supported by some 250 Digital Innovation Hubs and deliver 80 new digital solutions to the market.

        Walton Institute, a centre for information and communication systems science and part of the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), is leading the Ireland & UK Regional Cluster, with Hazel Peavoy at the helm.

        “Part of our role is to identify the Digital Innovation Hubs and Competency Centres across Ireland to build our local network. Digital Innovation Hubs are larger centres that bring together research, funding, business models and services, while the smaller Competency Centres tend to have a single technical service,” she explains.

        “The aim is to create a network that will work together on ground-breaking research and innovation. We want to be able to give farmers a clear view of the technologies that may be coming down the line and to ensure they get assistance to apply whatever technology they need to support their activities.”

        SmartAgriHubs is also funding a number of Flagship Innovation Experiments through which technology solutions are tested with a view to eventually bringing them to market. The experiments are conducted with the help of the Digital Innovation Hubs and Competence Centres.

        The Ireland & UK Regional Cluster is currently running two Flagship Innovation Experiments. The Farm Sustainability Audit is measuring a range of metrics in the dairy industry related to energy and water use, nutrient use efficiency, animal welfare and greenhouse gas emissions, while STREAM is applying digital technologies to simplify the production of farmland habitat reports.

        “These experiments are helping to bring innovation to the fore. Currently there are three more open calls under SmartAgriHubs that are offering funding for experiments that will drive digital innovation,” says Peavoy.

         

        Connecting the dots

        SmartAgriHubs’s full project title is ‘Connecting the dots to unleash the innovation potential for digital transformation of the European agri-food sector’, which highlights the importance of excellent communication and dissemination of information across project partners and stakeholders.

        “The project has been very successful with regards to communication. The Regional Cluster leads attend monthly meetings and then we disseminate the information down to other elements of the project. And there are also monthly meetings with the Flagship Innovation Experiments. So we can quite clearly see what’s happening across Europe with the other partners and with agriculture and we can learn from each other,” says Peavoy.

        “Having such a large number of partners meant, at an early stage, it took some time to mobilise the consortium but once that was achieved the network has become invaluable to all involved in this sector globally.”

         

        The value to Walton Institute and Ireland

        Peavoy believes that taking part in SmartAgriHubs has positioned Ireland and the UK as key drivers for the agri-tech sector across Europe.

        “This project has been invaluable not just to Walton but to Ireland, as it’s allowed us to build a network of contacts and strong strategic relations with similar partners across Europe.”

        “From a personal perspective, it’s very interesting to see how other countries approach particular problems and to get an insight into what research is required by the sector to meet its future needs,” says Peavoy.

        “Likewise, we can see that our partners in SmartAgriHubs are learning from us. For example, the Competency Centres we’ve identified through SmartAgriHubs are often start-ups and SMEs and through WIT’s Technology Gateway they’ve been able to benefit from Enterprise Ireland funding. Our partners in Germany were very interested in how our Technology Gateways function because they don’t have anything like that.

        “The SmartAgriHubs partners are also looking at how we’ve created a culture of multi-disciplinary collaboration in Ireland. What was once a landscape of competition has become a landscape of collaboration; A perfect example of that is the VistaMilk Research Centre which has brought together a number of RPO’s to develop new technologies for the dairy sector. I believe that in many ways Ireland is leading the charge in this space and is well-positioned to lead on future Horizon Europe projects linked to agriculture” says Peavoy.

        For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie

        NIVA – simplifying the Common Agricultural Policy claims process

        Horizon 2020 is an ideal funding stream as it enables cross-border collaboration and ensures that technology developed will be fit for purpose on a pan European basis.

        David Hearne, Walton Institute, NIVA Horizon 2020 project

        Key Takeouts:

        • Walton Institute (formerly TSSG), part of the Waterford Institute of Technology, is involved in a project that aims to develop and implement a range of digital innovations to improve the administration of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
        • The NIVA project has received €10.5m in funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
        • Walton Institute is focused on developing a geo-tagged photo app to help simplify the CAP claims process for farmers and paying agencies.

        H2020 Case Study: NIVA

          The European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) supports farmers, safeguards agri-food supplies and encourages sustainable management of land resources. Administering and controlling payments to farmers under CAP is done through the integrated administration and control system (IACS), which is the subject of the Horizon 2020 project, NIVA (New IACS Vision in Action).

          The three-year project, led by The Netherlands’ Wageningen University & Research and involving 27 partners, aims to modernise IACS by delivering a suite of digital solutions, e-tools and good practices for e-governance. These will ultimately produce more transparent, simpler processes that will reduce the administrative burden on farmers, paying agencies and other stakeholders.

          In Ireland, a multi-disciplinary team made up of The Walton Institute (formerly TSSG) – a centre of excellence for ICT research and innovation – the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), Teagasc – the Agriculture and Food Development Authority – and led by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is tasked with developing a geo-tagged photo app.

          The app will be used to resolve claim queries by enabling farmers to send digital photos of their land parcels directly to the paying agency, which will reduce the need for inspections and accelerate claim processing.

          “Our app is one of nine innovations in this project with different countries working on each,” explains David Hearne of Walton Institute’s Creative Design Unit. “Other areas include decision support systems, machine data and a solution for simplifying payments, but in the end they will all come together in one ecosystem, which will be used by paying agencies across Europe.”

          Although it won’t be the first geo-tagged photo app on the market, Hearne explains that what sets this one apart is the user-centric, multi-actor design.

          “We take the approach that we don’t know what the users want; we can’t decide what’s best for a farmer in the west of Ireland who needs to send a photo to the Dept of Agriculture. So the project started by gathering data about the needs of all stakeholders, not just in Ireland but across Europe. It’s an iterative process, so when we’d developed the first version of the app, it was tested by users across Europe and their feedback informed the next iteration and so on.

          “The fact that farmers and other stakeholders have been involved from the beginning gives them a sense of ownership, and that should result in a higher adoption rate at the end,” adds Hearne.

           

          Horizon benefits  

          Horizon 2020 has provided €10.5m in funding for the project, but beyond the financial investment the programme offers multiple other benefits.

          Horizon 2020 is an ideal funding stream as it enables cross-border collaboration and ensures that technology developed will be fit for purpose on a pan European basis,” says Hearne

          “Currently, our app is being tested across nine EU countries with over 200 users, and other solutions being developed under NIVA will likewise be tested across different countries, so there’s a lot of interaction, integration and learning across the project.”

          Monthly work package meetings and bi-monthly project meetings, all virtual at the minute, keep the project on course and ensure that innovation is shared across the partners.

          On a personal and professional level, Hearne believes his involvement in Horizon 2020 projects has been highly advantageous.

          “It’s great to focus on these large projects with so many moving parts. You learn so much, for example, the various technologies used in different countries, how they are implemented and what the issues are.

          Hearne confirms “The opportunity to collaborate with researchers in other countries is also invaluable. You build up a huge contact base, which gives you the opportunity to collaborate on more projects.”

          To others who have not yet dipped their toe in the Horizon water, Hearne simply says “Do it”.

          “It’s a great opportunity to be involved in projects that can actually change people’s lives. With NIVA we’re reducing the burden on farmers, so we’re making a difference. My advice would be to focus on something that you’re really passionate about.”

          His other advice is to seek out the right partners at the start and use the supports that are available to help with putting the proposal together.

          “I was involved in writing sections of the NIVA proposal. It was a new experience for me because I come from a very technical background, but I had the support of people in WIT to guide me in how to approach it. And the more you do it the easier it gets.

          “We’re also in close contact with Enterprise Ireland, who have a real interest in the project, and we know that they’re there to help us if we need it.”

          For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie

           

          AgROBOfood – stimulating the uptake of robotics in the agri-food sector

          “The Horizon 2020 & Horizon Europe funding streams give participants exposure to a large European network of relevant research organisations, business advisory services, investors and companies.”

           

          Christine O’Meara, Walton Institute, AgROBOfood, Horizon 2020 project

          Key Takeouts:

          • Walton Institute, formerly TSSG, part of the Waterford Institute of Technology, is involved in a major project to encourage and facilitate the uptake of robotics in the agri-food sector.
          • The AgROBOfood project is being funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
          • Acting as a Digital Innovation Hub, The Walton Institute, is a one-stop-shop, supporting those in the Agri-food sector in locating and accessing robotics services or expertise and is mapping out the robotics ecosystem in Ireland.

          Case Study: AgROBOfood

          By 2050, our planet will be home to almost 10 billion people and the pressure on food production will be immense. There is now an urgent need to find and develop smart ways to farm and process food, and this underlies the European Union’s huge investment in agri-food-related innovation projects.

          AgROBOfood is one such project. Focused on helping the Agri-food sector become more efficient through the use of robotics, the four-year, €16.3m Horizon 2020 project involves 39 partners and is led by Wageningen University & Research in The Netherlands.

          The project team is broken into seven territorial clusters enabling more agile and effective group sizes. Ireland, represented by The Walton Institute (formerly TSSG) – an internationally recognised centre of excellence for ICT research and innovation and part of the Waterford Institute of Technology is in the North West cluster. This cluster comprises the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, United Kingdom and Ireland.

          AgROBOfood has three aims: to build a network of digital innovation hubs and competency centres; to load this network with a catalogue of services; and to showcase what robotics can do for the sector.

          “Walton Institute is the Digital Innovation Hub for Ireland. We can signpost stakeholders to competency or research centres or other hubs in Ireland or across Europe that can provide the services or expertise they need. And as an R&D centre itself, Walton can also provide services directly,” explains Christine O’Meara, Walton Institute project lead.

          “There’s definitely an appetite for digitization and automation, and Ireland has strong national players in, for example, the dairy sector where smart technologies are well advanced.” says O’Meara

          “There are a lot of exciting start-ups in Ireland working in robotics in diverse areas from pasture management to sustainable poultry production. Across Europe, great progress has been made across agri-food with areas like robotic weeding and harvesting set to advance quickly.”

          A key driver in the growth of the robotics ecosystem will be the results of three funding open calls. Two of these (Open Calls for Innovation Experiments) will involve a technology provider and a technology user coming together to advance and demonstrate their solution. The third open call will be targeted at a range of specific industrial challenges, for example, asking if robots can improve working conditions in the food industry.

          “From a TSSG perspective, the opportunity to reach out to, and build relationships with, start-ups and SMEs in the agri-food space through these open calls is really important,” says O’Meara.

           

          The Horizon advantage

          One of the advantages of the Horizon 2020 approach, says O’Meara, is that it presents a means of looking at broader impacts, beyond the local and across disciplines.

          “The Horizon 2020 funding stream gives participants exposure to a large European network of relevant research organisations, business advisory services, investors, technology companies, agri-food start-ups and large enterprises,” says O’Meara.

          “Although in this project each cluster is working somewhat independently, we’re collaborating through a shared technology platform to ensure best practices are replicated and everyone has full visibility of progress and developments.”

          O’Meara is involved in several Horizon 2020-funded projects, including Demeter and NIVA, and is keen to encourage others to explore the opportunities such projects present.

          “As well as giving access to a breadth of expertise, Horizon projects provide a way of broadening your network and extending your skills,” confirms O’Meara

           

          Don’t be daunted

          For some, however, the Horizon process remains an intimidating prospect.

          “Don’t be daunted by the proposal process. It’s quite structured and it’s clear what the EU wants to see. But you need to give yourself plenty of time. As soon as a call comes out you need to start thinking about what topics you’re interested in, what partners you’ll need and get the right team on board. Remember that there’s a lot of support available,” O’Meara advises.

          Most research institutes have in-house support for Horizon 2020 applicants but another excellent source of support is Enterprise Ireland’s National Contact Points These provide information and guidance on all aspects of Horizon 2020 from signposting to webinars about areas of interest, to helping identify partners and reviewing proposals.

          “Begin by identifying what supports are available to you and speak to someone who’s been involved in the process before. If you or your organization need help in writing the proposal, Enterprise Ireland can also provide consultancy support,” adds O’Meara.

          “If you’re successful in getting Horizon 2020 funding, you will have a  very well defined plan of action set out in your implementation description and detailed work packages and you’ll have specific deliverables. So you’ll know exactly what to do from day one.”

          For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie

           

          SpeakingNGI – Shaping the internet of the future

          “We are delighted and proud to have contributed to the successful building of the EU’s flagship Next Generation Internet – An Open Internet Initiative (NGI)”.

          TSSG’s Strategic EU Liaison Manager and coordinator of the SpeakNGI.eu project, James Clarke

          Key Takeouts:

          • TSSG (Telecommunications Software & Systems Group), an internationally recognised centre of excellence for ICT research and innovation at the Waterford Institute of Technology, led the influential SpeakNGI.eu project, which was a Pathfinder Project for the European Commission’s large-scale, flagship Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative.
          • The project was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation ICT work programme 2018-2020 (WP2018-20).
          • SpeakNGI.eu’s NGI Consultation Platform and Knowledge Base were among numerous contributing projects helping to shape the internet of the future into an Internet of humans that responds to people’s fundamental needs, including trust, security and inclusion, and reflects the values and the norms that we enjoy in Europe.

          Case Study: SpeakingNGI

          Evolving the internet from its current problem-strewn form into a human-centric, secure, inclusive space that supports people’s needs and addresses global sustainability challenges is a European Commission (EC) priority.  It’s an ambitious goal, now embodied in the EC’s flagship Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative.

          SpeakNGI.eu, a partnership between TSSG and Trust-IT Services Ltd, was one of three Horizon 2020-funded Pathfinder Projects that aimed to identify research topics, enable dynamic consultation, and shape the programme for the NGI initiative. For more information on the initiative, please consult the NGI Brochure.

          Begun in 2017 and running for just 18 months, SpeakNGI.eu addressed the dynamic consultation aspect of the pathfinder programme, by building a platform with mechanisms for engagement with the NGI stakeholder communities, creating a knowledge base and establishing a 16-strong European Champions Panel of thought-leaders.

          “These pathfinder projects were important cogs in a bigger wheel and a very important step towards the establishment of the EU’s flagship NGI initiative and directly contributing to the selection of priority NGI topics for the open calls being funded by the larger scaled NGI Research and Innovation Action projects,” explains James Clarke, SpeakNGI.eu project coordinator.

          “We were considering what the Internet will look like 10 years from now, dealing with mounting concerns about security and privacy, and anticipating radically new functionalities. Our platform enabled organisations and individuals to share their ideas and we collated the information and published it in a readable format, essentially building the topics that would eventually be funded through cascade funded open calls by the NGI RIAs.”

           

          From data gathering to experimentation

          Following the successful conclusion of the Pathfinder Projects, the EC launched Research and Innovation Actions (RIA) as the next step towards its vision of creating the ‘internet of humans’.

          In the first tranche of the NGI RIAs, they funded open-call NGI projects based on the topics the pathfinders identified, such as privacy and trust technologies, decentralized data governance, and better search and discovery technologies.

          On the back of SpeakNGI.eu’s success, Clarke led a five-partner team that secured an NGI RIA project covering EU – US cooperation. The project, NGIAtlantic.eu, which runs until June 2022, is funding EU-based researchers and innovators to carry out NGI-related experiments in collaboration with US research teams.

          “We have a 3.5 million budget, 80% of which is dedicated for open calls funding third-party projects. We select, fund and monitor the projects, which are building on research results and moving to the experimentation stage on EU and US experimental platforms,” says Clarke.

          “The vision of a new initiative, launched by the EC in 2016, is now at the stage of funding innovators through RIAs with an overall budget of €75 million over a three-year period. We are delighted and proud to have been part of this long-term strategic action and to have contributed to the successful building of the EU’s flagship NGI initiative.”

          Building on experience

          The two NGI projects are not Clarke’s first foray into the world of EU funding and he has a wealth of experience to call upon.

          “I’ve been involved in EU-funded projects back to the early-nineties so this wasn’t a first for me. For the most part, the experience has been good and challenging. Where it hasn’t been so good, it can be down to teaming up with the wrong partners, perhaps with not enough foresight into the strategy and team building experiences when working in the proposal stages. With experience, I’ve learned how to pick the right partners every time, which is very important,” says Clarke.

          Clarke says “There is certainly a lot of work involved in putting a proposal together for projects. I found the Enterprise Ireland Coordinator Grant to be a huge support in helping prepare a successful Horizon proposal.”

          It has enabled me to bring in great mentors to help with not just the reviewing process, but also to generate content, where needed. And if I couldn’t find someone suitable, who was also available, in Ireland, I could go further into Europe to get the right person.

          “Before Covid-19, I would meet the mentor and spend a couple of days working with them on the proposal and I found that much more effective than relying on feedback from written drafts. Since I started taking that approach, I’ve been winning more projects.”

          Although he admits that being a coordinator on a Horizon 2020 project can be sometimes difficult, Clarke firmly believes the experience has many rewards.

          “Working with like-minded researchers and innovators from around Europe has been a big thrill for me. Coordinating a Horizon 2020 project also frequently offers the opportunity to be invited to participate in more projects, events and follow-up activities. The more you succeed, the more invites you get. Overall, it’s very fulfilling and enjoyable.”

          For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie

          FlowPhotoChem helping to green the chemical industry

          “Innovation activities in the area of solar energy conversion technology, including solar chemicals, are key to achieving the decarbonisation targets set by the EU.”

          Dr Pau Farràs, coordinator of the FlowPhotoChem project

          Key Takeouts:

          • NUI Galway is leading a major project that is developing innovative, sustainable ways to manufacture ethylene using artificial photosynthesis.
          • The four-year project has received €6.99m from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
          • The FlowPhotoChem project will pave the way for a range of other green chemicals to be produced solely from sunlight, water and CO2.

          Case Study: FlowPhotoChem

          If the European Union is to achieve its target of a climate neutral economy by 2050, which will involve reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 80–95%, new and disruptive approaches and technologies is needed across all sectors. Reducing emissions is a challenge, in particular, for the chemical industry, one of Europe’s largest manufacturing sectors but also one of the most polluting, emitting over 145 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents each year.

          The Horizon 2020-funded FlowPhotoChem project is one of many innovative projects currently developing technology that will help to reduce the chemical sector’s CO2 emissions. The project aims to develop an integrated system of modular reactors that consumes CO2 and uses concentrated sunlight to form ethylene.

          Involving 14 partners from eight countries, €6.99 million in EU funding and led by Dr Pau Farràs from the Ryan Institute, NUI Galway, FlowPhotoChem will produce ethylene as a proof-of-concept and will pave the way for a range of other green chemicals to be produced solely from sunlight, water and CO2.

          Innovation activities in the area of solar energy conversion technology, including solar chemicals, are key to achieving the decarbonisation targets set by the EU,” says Dr Farràs.

          Combining the expertise of research teams from Ireland, Germany, Hungary, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Uganda and the UK, FlowPhotoChem’s technology is innovative and so too is the overall aim of the project. “Our new technologies will enable the production of chemicals using solar energy to be carried out in small-scale installations and not just in large-scale infrastructures as at present,” says Dr Farràs. For example, this technology can be used to create small devices that could produce hydrogen peroxide to purify water, responding to the needs of rural, isolated areas in sun-rich countries.”

           

          Unique platform for collaboration

          Alongside FlowPhotoChem, Dr Farràs is involved in a number of other EU-funded projects related to green energy and chemicals, including Solar2C­­­­­­hem, SeaFuel and HUGE, and recognises that funding mechanisms such as Horizon 2020 offer a unique platform.

          “A wide range of skills is needed on an ambitious project like this, beyond what an individual organisation would have, so collaboration with different partners is compulsory to achieving our goals,” says Dr Farràs

          As coordinator of the project, Dr Farràs is tasked not only with keeping on top of the development of the technology but also with managing the integration of academics and industry with different skills.

          “Our approach is to manage the individual work packages through monthly conference calls to keep everyone engaged and make sure we are on track with the work. This means that when we have larger meetings with all partners, we can talk about the bigger picture because the technical details have already been covered. This kind of management structure is working well. I feel it’s important to have face-to-face interactions; at the moment it’s all virtual meetings but we’re planning for physical workshops next year.”

           

          Advice for Horizon 2020 applicants

          Horizon 2020 had a budget of over €80 billion over seven years and its successor, Horizon Europe, will have a significantly bigger budget offering immense opportunities for individuals and consortia to secure funding for cutting-edge research.

          However, some potential applicants are wary of the paperwork involved in securing funding.

          “It’s true that there is a lot of work involved in putting together projects like this,” admits Dr Farràs. “But my advice would be to use the help that’s available. The support from Enterprise Ireland is fantastic. For both the FlowPhotoChem and the Solar2Chem projects, I applied for and received the Enterprise Ireland Coordinator Grant.

          “I needed someone not only to review the proposals but also to help write them. Thanks to the Coordinator Grant I was able to work with a consultant who had a lot of experience in this area, and who also helped with the administrative side of things,” says Dr Farràs

          “It was also good that FlowPhotoChem was a two-stage call so the shorter document that we had written for the first stage helped with the longer second stage proposal.”

           

          Personal and professional benefits

          Helping to create world-changing technologies brings its own rewards but beyond that the Horizon experience offers personal and professional benefits.

          “First of all, when you undertake research with other groups the impact of your research is improved. We’re also seeing that the Horizon proposals increasingly ask for information on the social aspects of the project as well as technical content, so it’s a great way to meet people from both your own discipline and from others,” says Dr Farràs.

          “No matter what stage you are at in your career there are benefits to being involved in these projects. For example, there are eight PhD students involved in the FlowPhotoChem research. It’s a great opportunity for them as they will see their individual tasks converge at the end into the final system contributing to a specific and significant application.”

          For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact h2020support@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizon2020.ie