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Three NI tech start-ups to keep your eye on in 2020

  • Northern Ireland’s tech start-up scene is inventing real solutions to modern problems. Here are three recent NI inventions to keep your eye on in 2020:


    #1: AirBrio - Using Machine Learning to revolutionise Asthma treatment.

    Over 5 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma, and over a thousand of those affected die from asthma attacks in the UK annually. Derry-based start-up AirBrio has developed a new sensor technology and software platform that has the potential to revolutionise the monitoring and treatment of asthma and other respiratory disorders. A device attached to the patient’s inhaler informs the user whether they are inhaling correctly with each use, and sensors on the device record data on when and how the inhaler is used.

    Research indicates that most people aren’t using inhalers correctly, so providing immediate feedback could help improve the quality of treatment and keep levels of medication waste down. The real opportunity for the technology, though, is in collecting inhaler use data over the long term to track severity of symptoms and compliance with prescriptions. The company is even combining data from the sensors that track inhaler use with data on air quality and temperature, which is then being used to train a machine learning model.

    This model could eventually help predict where and when asthma attacks will be likely to strike patients, giving it with the potential to save lives. An accurate model could give users alerts when environmental conditions are likely to trigger an attack so that they can be sure to have medication on-hand, and the data could potentially be combined with geographic data to highlight asthma hotspots and help design safer public spaces.


     #2: CropSafe - Using satellite imagery to fight crop disease

    The AgriTech sector is always looking for new ways to increase crop yields, improve safety on farms, reduce agricultural waste, and automate expensive or time-consuming tasks. Agricultural management platform CropSafe hits on most of those objectives by making satellite imagery accessible to farmers. It will replace expensive manual crop surveying with cheaper satellite scans, the cost of which are steadily dropping over time.

    Among the problems the platform seeks to solve is the spread of crop disease and ground contamination, which is estimated to cost farmers up to £5 billion each year globally. Entire fields full of produce often have to be scrapped by the time someone notices a problem, but CropSafe aims to spot these problems earlier and alert farmers through a simple app.

    The platform is now employing machine learning techniques to automate interpretation of satellite images and provide data on crop status across large areas of land without manual inspection. It’s being trained to spot the telltale signs of common problems such as blight, drought, and nitrogen waste, and then alert the farmer to check out the problem fields early when intervention is still effective.


    #3: Signal Optimiser by TORANN - Improving signal quality in music 

    Music is a global industry covering a wide range of target audiences, from professional recording artists to amateurs learning an instrument for the first time. Everyone who plays an electronic instrument such as an electric guitar wants it to sound consistently good, but the signal quality between the instrument and the amplifier can vary heavily depending on factors such as volume.

    Newtownards-based Electronics and Engineering student Lewis Loane is solving this challenge with a new piece of kit that sits between the instrument and amplifier. Named Signal Optimiser, the device pre-processes the signal from the instrument to maintain signal quality at different volume levels and conditions. The invention recently won the 2019 Catalyst Invent Awards, where it was recognised for its broad global commercial potential.

    Lewis also believes his tech could be used for other applications in which signal quality are important, such as improving the efficiency of wireless charging stations for mobile phones. He’s currently developing a suite of prototypes for the consumer market, and like any tech there may be potential to license it out for integration in other products in the music and mobile markets.


    This column was written by Sync NI writer Brendan Drain and originally printed in Ambition, the official magazine of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It has been reproduced with permission.

    About the author

    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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