TÁNAISTE Leo Varadkar was in Shannon last week for the official opening of the Future Mobility Campus Ireland in the Free Zone.
It’s the country’s first full-scale development centre and test-bed for mobility technologies.
In essence the facility exists to work on the development of driverless cars, air taxis and drones, as well as the air traffic technology to manage them.
Addressing the attendance on the day Mr Varadkar spoke about the development of Ardnacrusha, and how that shows a history of innovation and vision in Clare, while he also spoke about the county’s future.
“I think that first Government showed really enormous vision in making that decision, making that bet for Ireland that turned out to be the right one.
“That was followed up by other innovations in this region, Shannon Airport, Duty Free and of course the Shannon Free Zone where we are now. This region has always been at the forefront of industrial innovation and that should continue.
“We have a vision for the next phase of that for Co Clare and the wider Shannon region. In some ways it’s back to the future, because it’s going to be about future energy and about future transport.
“Future energy because there’s an enormous offshore wind resource off the west coast of Ireland and we want to develop that, bring it in to places where the infrastructure is there already, like Tarbert, like Moneypoint.”
Regarding transport, he said, “The other thing you’re going to be at the centre of, and you are already in many ways, is the future of transport.
“That’s what we see here at FMCI, autonomous vehicles, cars, trucks, vans that can drive themselves, and of course drones that can deliver your medicine, deliver your pizza, can even do policing and security, there’s enormous potential.”
He acknowledged that the use of the new technology means certain new challenges.
“There are some really interesting implications as well that we need to think through, in regards to privacy, drones flying around all over the place all the time, one going over your back garden maybe while you’re sunbathing, owned by the media, you wouldn’t want that!
“Of course huge numbers of men in particular drive for a living and the implications that may arise from having self driving taxis, cars, vans, buses and the rest of it.”
He said that the State will be looking at the potential for developing Shannon as a focal point for modern synthetic aviation fuels, while he said that climate action doesn’t mean that people will stop travelling.
“I know some people think that embracing climate action means not flying around the world any more, I don’t believe that.
“There are some people who think you achieve climate action by making our lives miserable, no more flying around the world for weekends, no more beef, no more dairy, I don’t buy that.
“We can achieve climate action through technological developments, by making our food production more sustainable, and we can definitely do it in aviation through moving towards fuels that are created synthetically and therefore are zero carbon fuels.”
Russell Vickers, CEO of FMCI, said that FMCI is a place where innovation will be facilitated to thrive.
“We’re actually trying to build an ecosystem here. We haven’t notions of grandeur about ourselves, but that’s essentially what we’re trying to do.
“What we’re trying to create here is essentially an area where companies can develop new products, work with Government to focus on things like autonomous driving, which everyone kind of gravitates to, but which is also about safety, saving people’s lives and trying to make people’s lives better.”
He said that when Jaguar Land Rover opted to open a Shannon base it showed the strengths of the region, and he said FMCI came about through conversations with people from various companies.
“We put together this idea, we talked to a few people, companies like Cisco that are here today, Valeo and lots of other partners including Shannon Group.
“Essentially it was just an idea on a piece of paper, something we thought was cool, I think everyone else rowed in behind it and ultimately you’re standing in the cool thing today, some people call in the Bat Cave and that’s kind of the look we were going for!”
Mr Vickers said there had been very strong support in the region, while he said that post-Covid it can make greater progress.
“The doors are open now and hopefully we can really move things on.”