Breda Kiernan, Chief Operating Officer, Insight; Joseph Moore, Principal Officer, Innovation, Research and Development Policy; Prof Philip Nolan, CEO, SFI; Prof Noel O'Connor, CEO, Insight; Siobhán Roche, Director of Science for the Economy, SFI; Yvonne Smyth, Pre-Award Grants Manager, Insight

Report: Insight SFI Research Centre worth over €1bn to economy

Submitted on Monday, 19/06/2023

The Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics celebrates ten years with the launch of economic report

 19th June 2023, Ireland: Insight, the SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, today launched an economic report that highlights its value to the Irish economy at €1.1bn, building on ten years of public investment of €80m, supported through Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

The Centre, which is hosted across Dublin City University, University College Cork, University College Dublin and University of Galway, specialises in research in data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI), including sensors, data engineering and governance, human computer interaction, smart cities, climate AI and digital health.

Welcoming the report, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, said: “I congratulate the Insight SFI Research Centre for its significant impact on the Irish economy and society. This report demonstrates the importance of the Government’s policy of establishing and continuing to invest in the world-leading SFI Research Centre Network, supporting research excellence and scale in areas of strategic national importance. Seeking value from big data, the Centre provides innovative technology solutions for industry and society, which enable better decision-making, and promotes the ethical use of AI and analytics technologies to improve the world we live in. In our increasingly digital world, this is helping us to create a better tomorrow for all citizens.”

The report outlines Insight’s economy-wide impact, estimated at 5.54 times that of Insight’s own direct economic activity, with a total economic impact of €1.108bn. With over 400 researchers actively involved in the Centre, Insight has produced 1,087 research alumni over the last ten years. It also partners with Maynooth University, Trinity College Dublin, Tyndall National Institute and University of Limerick.

Prof Phillip Nolan, Director General of SFI, joined in the celebration of the Centre’s success, saying: “The Insight SFI Research Centre has a strong track record of generating high quality research and supporting world-class talent. Alongside its work in education and public engagement to promote digital wellbeing, the Centre has trained the next generation of data scientists and attracted over €100m in additional investment from industry and EU sources, further highlighting the value of publicly funded research to the Irish taxpayer.”  

Prof Noel O’Connor, CEO of the Insight SFI Research Centre, added: “In 2013, Insight was established as a national research endeavour, co-led by multiple HEIs, at a scale of undertaking never before attempted in Ireland. As these figures demonstrate, this has proven a resounding success for Irish research, the economy and most importantly the taxpayer. This is thanks to the collaborative ethos and the collective vision of our excellent scientists; ably supported by a shared national research management infrastructure. It demonstrates that a small nation like ours can punch above our weight by committing to the maxim that we are better together.”

More key figures from the report:

  • The Centre has signed 219 Collaborative Research Agreements involving 146 companies; 73 located outside Ireland;
  • Insight has spun out 14 companies; accounting for 6 per cent of all spin-outs from Research Performing Organisations in Ireland; which employ over 170 workers and have attracted €413m in investment;
  • Insight has collaborated with over 150 companies, from project-based engagements to multi-year multi-site research programmes;
  • Annual funding received by the Centre has tripled from just under €8m in 2013 to €24.2m in 2022.
  • Insight has directly funded 238 graduated Masters/PhD students and are currently supporting 141 PhD/Masters students. The Centre has directly employed 216 Postdoctoral researchers/research Fellows, 52 of whom are still in Insight.


Read the full impact report here.

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Contact Louise Holden on or Tel: 00353872423985


Editor’s Notes – key research highlights/impacts

Health and Wellbeing

A significant number of Insight’s research activities target health and wellbeing impacts. Most of these are being carried out in close collaboration with industry partners providing a clear and enduring route to impact as the research matures. For example, Insight technology has been licensed to spinout In the Wild Research Ltd, which is a software platform for smart data collection in the domain of clinical trials research. The company is working with partners in that sector where the technology is being used to capture data related to the health of a number of patient populations. It is currently in use in the US, UK and Ireland. Studies of note include the system’s use in the US where it is used to improve patient experiences in Boston Children’s Hospital in a study undertaken with Harvard Medical School. Another notable use is in the UK where it is used in the Locomotion Long Covid study managed from the University of Leeds where it forms part of the data collection study protocol[1] including data capture from wearables as part of a mixed methods study. Other examples include Insight’s partnership with Contego Sports that aims to reduce head injuries in sports at all levels, from grassroots to elite players and our ground breaking work with Neural Signals Ireland Ltd into human neural interfaces for recording cortical signals in patients with paralysis and those who are unable to speak.

Computational models of human visual attention and their application

Insight researchers have been developing state-of-the-art computational models of human visual attention for a number of years. These models, also known as visual saliency prediction models, attempt to predict the regions of images that humans are likely to find important, which has many applications such as intelligent video editing and improving content-based retrieval engines. Highly cited models developed include SalEMA that delivers state-of-the-art performance on standard benchmarks and 3DSAL an efficient architecture for saliency prediction in 360 degree images. In 2021, research focused on developing a model (FastSal) that gives results on-par with many state-of-the-art algorithms at a fraction of the computational cost and model size and visual attention modelling with unsupervised learning as part of a Targeted Project with Xperi. Source code for all models developed is publicly available.

Dr Aoife Morrin is collaborating with Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and Virginia Tech on the “SkinSense” project that is developing a novel medical device that can noninvasively collect disease biomarkers from our skin.


Wellbeing project for blind or vision impaired sports enthusiasts

In 2022, The Insight SFI Research centre pioneered a first of its kind investigation of the health, physical activity and sports participation, and wellbeing of children and adults who are blind or vision impaired across Ireland. Ireland’s 2016 Census data revealed stark challenges faced by people who are blind or vision impaired participating in leisure and other activities, with two in every five declaring difficulty in participating. The research, a collaboration between Vision Sports Ireland, the National Council of the Blind Ireland, DCU’s School of Human Health and Performance and Insight, aims to learn more about the barriers and challenges to physical activity and exercise and on this basis develop evidence-based interventions that can help address this national inequality.

Employee Mental Health Prediction Project

Passive Prediction is a digital mental health tool being developed by Insight to improve employee mental wellbeing. Companies are aware that employees are under more stress than ever and have been trying to support them through the provision of wellbeing benefits. Unfortunately, the uptake of these benefits is often lower than 2% of the workforce. The tool intelligently screens and triages employees to help them know when they need benefits and what interventions are most appropriate.

Student Mental Health Project

A survey in 2020 found that only 42% of young adults in Ireland are in the “normal” range for depression and anxiety, with university life, managing finances and worrying about the future being the three main stressors. Initiated as an Insight Platform Research Initiative, FLOURISH is now an accredited new elective undergraduate module offered by DCU and UCD that allows students to see how harnessing their personal data can help manage their life, be well and reach their goals. Such was the demand for the module, enrolment had to be capped at 250 students.


Zero Carbon Emissions Bus Trial

Insight and DCU were academic partners in the trial of the first ever zero emissions hydrogen powered bus on the island of Ireland, under a strategic initiative to develop next generation technologies for environmentally sustainable transport. The collaborative innovative trial with industrial, commercial and academic partners is focused on researching, testing and developing hydrogen as a viable, sustainable low emission solution for transport.

NSF-SFI Tri-partite Success

Dr Margaret McCaul and Prof Noel O’Connor of Insight DCU received funding for a US-Ireland NSF-SFI project in collaboration with Queens University Belfast and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to design, build, validate and field test a novel prototype sensor system for the real-time detection of the three most commonly monitored forms of nitrogen: nitrate, nitrite and ammonia/ammonium.  This cheap and robust sensing platform will provide real-time capability in monitoring of water quality.


Education & Public Engagement/EDI

Marie-Curie COFUND – Developing the next generation of leaders

As the role of data analytics becomes ever more important across multiple disciplines, it is clear that new types of researchers will be required in the future. For example, as advances in neuro-technology continue to accelerate there is an increasing need for a new kind of postdoc trained to develop skills in data science (AI, machine and deep learning, data analysis and integration) and the ability to apply these skills to address challenges from neurological conditions. The NeuroInsight Marie-Skłodowska Curie Fellowships COFUND programme with the FutureNeuro SFI Research Centre is a direct response to this and will produce 33 such postdocs by 2026, nine of which were recruited by Insight in 2021/2022.

Multimodal Data Analysis for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)

In order to guarantee equality, diversity and inclusion across social media platforms, technological solutions need to be developed to identify and track non-compliant messaging at a large scale. A main challenge in this area is in clearly defining the objective of the task from a computational perspective, while taking into consideration the societal and subjective aspects of EDI. Insight research has focused on the development of data sets for this task as well as the development of innovative algorithms for addressing this challenge accurately and at scale. Insight researchers are working on taking a positive reinforcement approach towards online content that is encouraging, positive and supportive. Insight@Galway has constructed a Hope Speech dataset (HopeEDI) and Homophobia/Transphobia Detection dataset for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion containing user-generated comments from the social media platform and Speech Recognition for Vulnerable Individuals dataset (vulnerable old-aged and transgender people). Building on the existing research, researchers built a DC-LM dual-channel language model that recognises hopeful speech by training using the English translations of the code-mixed dataset. Researchers then built upon previously developed automatic approaches to multimodal content classification in regard to offensive or hateful messaging in social media and beyond. Finally, with international colleagues, Insight has developed new methods for dealing with data imbalance in the Hope Speech detection problem. All the data is made publicly available.

Food Nutrition Security

Dr Eileen Gibney, based in Insight UCD, secured €493,750 and is a work package leader as part of Food Nutrition Security (FNS)-CLOUD, a four year H2020 programme which began on October 1st, 2019.  FNS-Cloud will overcome fragmentation problems by integrating existing FNS data, which is essential for high-end, pan-European FNS research, addressing FNS, diet, health, and consumer behaviours as well as on sustainable agriculture and the bio-economy. Current fragmented FNS resources result in knowledge gaps that inhibit public health and agricultural policy and that prevent the food industry from developing effective solutions to make production sustainable and consumption healthier.  Furthermore, current resources do not allow for the exploitation of FNS knowledge for the benefit of European citizens.

Insight/Medtronic collaboration

Insight and Medtronic are collaborating to leverage the learnings and knowledge gained during the COVID pandemic to better understand how supply lines of medical devices such as ventilators can be managed in times of crisis. Prof. Máire Connolly, at Insight Galway, one of the world’s leading academics in pandemic preparedness, heads up this exciting project with world-leading healthcare technology company Medtronic through their offices in Galway. This new collaborative project analyses the performance of ventilator supply chains over the last two years and will develop tools to enhance supply chain resilience for health emergencies to come. The project also evaluates training materials for nurses without prior experience of managing ventilated patients to support rapid upskilling in a future pandemic. The €300,000 investment is part of Medtronic’s ‘Giving back to Galway’ initiative which has contributed over €900,000 to local projects in Ireland.

International Leadership

The impact of Insight’s scientific excellence is also manifested through its leadership of important international scientific initiatives. In July ADRA-e, an EU project that will have significant scientific impact across Europe in the domain of AI, Data and Robotics, was kicked off. Prof Edward Curry is leading Insight’s participation in this project which has a budget of €6.48 million over three years. Europe has excellent research centres, innovative start-ups, a world-leading position in robotics and competitive manufacturing and services sectors, from automotive to healthcare, energy, financial services and agriculture. The consortium is composed of leading industry and research organisations with significant expertise in all disciplines. The Adra Association, representing the private side of the AI, Data and Robotics (ADR) Partnership, leverages this diversity through its founding organisations (BDVA, CLAIRE, ELLIS, EurAI) and channels it to the benefit of the European ecosystem. The ADRA PPP is the European focal point for AI, Data and Robotics and the entry point for organisations willing to collaborate and shape directly with the EC the direction these three domains of application will take.


Insight’s Funded and Principal Investigators are recognised internationally as leaders in their respective fields and contribute significantly to the advancement of their disciplines. Some examples include: Prof Barry O’Sullivan was elected a Fellow of the Asia-Pacific #Artificial Intelligence Association[2]. Prof Patricia Kearney was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy. Dr Helmut Simonis of Insight UCC received the 2022 Association for Constraint Programming Distinguished Service Award[3]. Dr Paolo Palmieri was awarded membership of the EU HiPEAC Network (High Performance Embedded Architecture and Compilation), a key element of the European Commission’s Advanced Computing policy and a premier venue for networking, dissemination, training and collaboration activities in Europe for researchers, industry and policy related to computing systems. Prof Barry O’Sullivan was appointed a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Training Centre in Optimisation Technologies, Integrated Methodologies and Applications (OPTIMA[4]), a collaboration between the University of Melbourne, Monash University and Australian industry. Insight PIs/FIs sit on international advisory boards contributing to the development of other data science research centres around the world, including the Centre for Data Science at Queensland University of Technology, Institute for Data Science Durham University, and Vicomtech-IK4.

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Photo Caption L to R: Breda Kiernan, Chief Operating Officer, Insight; Joseph Moore, Principal Officer, Innovation, Research and Development Policy; Prof Philip Nolan, CEO, SFI; Prof Noel O’Connor, CEO, Insight; Siobhán Roche, Director of Science for the Economy, SFI; Yvonne Smyth, Pre-Award Grants Manager, Insight