International Conference on Field-Programmable Logic and Applications

Edmund Burke Theatre

27 August 2018

Good morning,

And welcome everybody to Trinity College Dublin for the 28th International FPL Conference. This conference comes to Trinity for the first time, and to the island of Ireland for the second time, having been in Queen’s University Belfast in 2001.

It’s an honour for any university to host FPL, the largest conference covering the rapidly-growing area of field-programmable logic and reconfigurable computers. I am particularly pleased to welcome you all here today because

  • I’m an engineer myself – though my area is bioengineering rather than electronics – and because
  • the School of Engineering is one of the university’s largest and most significant Schools, founded 177 years ago and at the forefront today of engineering education and research.

You will be hearing from one of our professors of computer science, Linda Doyle, as a keynote speaker tomorrow, speaking on communications tech; she is also the Trinity’s Vice-President and Dean of Research.

Let me give you a brief snapshot of Trinity in terms of our mission in research, education and innovation.

Trinity is a member of LERU, the League of European Research Universities, and we are known for the quality and impact of our research. We have been awarded 35 European Research Council PI grants since 2007, the inception of the programme, worth nearly €64 million in funding. Trinity is 28th in Europe out of over 900 higher education institutions in terms of numbers of ERC awards secured during Horizon 2020 and we are 33rd out of 1,500 Higher Education Institutions in terms of value of all H2020 grants secured.

In the domain of Physical Sciences and Engineering, we have won 63% of all ERC awards nationally, in the School of Engineering.

Our success in research goes hand-in-hand with success in industry engagement. We work closely with State agencies such as Science Foundation Ireland, the Industrial Development Authority and Enterprise Ireland in helping industry invest, locate, grow and succeed in Ireland. We have reached over 800 collaborations with industry over the past decade, including with key innovation business leaders such as Huawei, Becton Dickinson, AbbVie and Nokia Bell Labs. 

An example, relevant to this conference, of our multi-faceted engagement with industry is our relationship with Intel, which goes back many years now. Intel is a partner in all four national centres which are run from Trinity:

  • the AMBER centre for advanced materials and bioengineering,
  • the ADAPT centre for digital content technology,
  • the CONNECT centre for future networks and communications, and
  • the Learnovate Centre in digital learning and EdTech research.


Intel has funded studentships, sponsored activities in Science Gallery, acted on advisory boards, mentored our students, and partnered with us in creating the Intel Trinity Employability Awards, aimed at helping students build skills and knowledge to make them ready for the workplace. This conference will be hearing from Patrick Dorsey, the senior director for planning and strategy at Intel Corporation, as a keynote speaker on Wednesday.

Intel’s engagement with students showcases our highly cohesive approach to education, research and innovation in Trinity. For the past three years running, Trinity has been ranked Europe’s number one university for educating entrepreneurs, according to evaluation by research firm, Pitchbook

And we recently secured investment for an ambitious new approach to STEM education and research. Our new Engineering, Environment and Enabling Technologies institute, which we’re calling E3, will be built in two stages over the next few years.

In the first stage, the E3 Learning Foundry will be transformative in terms of content – with more focus on the challenges of sustaining the earth’s resources – and in terms of methods and teaching techniques.

With E3, students will develop transversal skills through working on multidisciplinary projects in collaborative student-managed learning spaces. Students of engineering, natural sciences and computer science will learn from each other to develop innovative solutions towards, for instance, climate change, renewable energy, personalised data, water, connectivity and sustainable manufacturing.

I believe that what we achieve with E3 will be relevant to the electronics sector - and its potential to address environmental challenges.


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We welcome FPL2018 to Dublin because the electronics sector is such an important one in Ireland’s economy. The sector grew by 20 percent in 2016, and accounted for more than 10 percent of industrial production (1). The Irish Government announced a 40 million euro investment from Xilinx in November 2017. Xilinx is currently the largest worldwide designer of FPGA (2) components, and their European HQ is in Dublin. The new wave of hardware devices that accelerate deep learning algorithms was invented by Michaela Blott and her AI Team in Xilinx European HQ, here in Dublin. We are delighted to have Michaela as one of the three technical chairs of this conference.

And we are also delighted to welcome Brendan Farley, vice-president of engineering at Xilinx, as a keynote speaker later today - Brendan is a Trinity graduate in electronic engineering; we are particularly happy to welcome him back on campus.

Ireland now boasts two hardware centres in the area of Deep Learning: Xilinx and Intel, which acquired Movidius and Alterra in 2016. And Microsemi, with 4% of the FPGA worldwide market share, is also based in Ireland, while Qualcomm, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of smartphone processors, which use FPGAs to simulate their final chip designs, have a large workforce in Cork.

So there is a significant amount of reconfigurable hardware activity in Ireland, which is great for Trinity and our Electronics and Computer Engineering staff and students. Indeed the activity is such that recruitment into the sector is now a challenge.

The explosion in the demand for reconfigurable hardware has been fuelled by the rapid growth in the communications and entertainment industries, and because FPGAs are now used in everything. The multiplicity of applications is very well showcased in this conference. As well as the keynotes already mentioned, we look forward to

  • Vivienne Sze from MIT talking about energy-efficiency edge computing,
  • Dan Wertheimer from SETI and Berkeley talking about computational aspects of the search for extra terrestrial life; and
  • Marilyn Wolf from Georgia Tech, on IoT systems caring analytics for long-term care of people with special needs.

There are many people to thank for enabling FPL2018 in Trinity:

  • Prof Peter Cheung of Imperial College, and Patrick Lysaght, Chair of the steering committee, for encouraging Trinity to host FPL2018;
  • Anil Kokaram and Michael Manzke, the general co-chairs, for hosting FPL2018 at Trinity;
  • Miriam Leeser [Northeastern University], Michaela Blott [Xilinx] and Suhaib Fahmy [Warwick] for acting as the Technical Programme Committee and assisting in almost all aspects of local organisation;
  • our institutional sponsors - Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Tourist Board; and
  • our industrial sponsors – Xilinx, Micron, Deephi and others - who made this event possible, especially in helping to keep PhD student costs low;

There is a feeling that with AI and machine learning we are crossing frontiers of knowledge. This conference, established in 1990, serves as both a stimulator for the industry and a repository. Through the programmes and minutes of previous FPL conferences, we track the evolution and development of the industry. It is astonishing to be contributing to such a nascent field. Anyone involved can judge themselves hugely fortunate to be deploying their talents where there is such potential.

I wish you all a wonderful few days here in Dublin and Trinity. I hope you will get a chance to explore the campus and the city despite the full schedule, and that there will be many memorable moments, both inside the lecture theatres and outside.

Thank you very much.

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