La French Tech IoT Battle and some thoughts about Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
On September 4, 2017, Berlin hosted an Internet of Things (IoT) battle between German and French startups. Raphael and I decided to go and report on how the event related to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), a topic we follow with great interest.
The event was organized by La French Tech, an initiative created by the French government in 2013 to generate economic value and jobs. This intiative includes anyone who works for a French startup in France or abroad. The event provided a venue for these startups to present quick sales pitches of their projects. Then the audience would vote for the best French startup and the best German one.
Berlin, as a global IoT hub, made a good site for this event. This city has the potential to get bigger than London in IoT, although some big names in the startup world don’t agree. For instance, Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, insists in a Master of Scale podcast that a city in China will be the next Valley. Time will tell, but you should check the episode out.
Back to the event. The voting process offered surprise entertainment! The staff organized a digital vote through a website so everyone could choose the best startup. However, no one realized that the venue’s WiFi wouldn’t support nearly 60 people voting at the same time. As a result, we voted by clapping and cheering! Yup, even in the 21st century we sometimes have to fall back on the old ways. Hahaha! On the other hand, maybe we have a cool idea for a new business – a cheap WiFi system that supports plenty of phones sending data at the same time! Beautiful!
The night began with an open bar and snacks! Great start! Later, the first presentation introduced La French Tech and its impressive numbers. The organization has members across the globe and offers visas to live in France and develop your startup. The organization’s future looks bright, as it has had successful cases! Then the French tech rep talked about Station F, a massive startup campus in Paris. This video from Techcrunch can show you more about it:
Finally, each startup had a few minutes to pitch their products, then answer two questions. So let’s run down the list!
Phonotonic – transform motion into music
This startup created an object that connects to an app and turns every movement into music! It’s a fun party idea or a good toy for your kids, but you can’t make real music with it, and the hype will ebb fast. It’ll be like Kinect, a toy everyone wanted for a hot minute that plummeted to a niche interest after the boom. More to the point, I didn’t see the IoT here, just a way to have fun creating “music”.
Jovo offers a development framework for cross-platform voice apps. This open-source solution strives to unite different platforms so you can build a project that can run on Alexa, Amazon, and so on. However, this solution isn’t an IoT solution for end users, it’s a tool to support developers. Kinda iffy.
A very impressive product, providing data, connectivity, and more. Finally, we get to see a real IoT device! The Unistellar offers a smart telescope with light amplification for visual quality and field recognition for matching celestial objects in databases. Best of all, it supports citizen science, so you can share your data with scientists and help research. A super-interesting and very IoT-relevant project!
Pipe – connecting the Internet of Things
Here you register your device using a web browser and snap the QR code to read the device information. Then you create cryptographic keys between smartphones and IoT devices so that you can give access to trusted people if you want.
Marbotic – tech toys with a soul
This startup invented toys that interact with apps and create new educational games for kids. The website has two products, smart numbers and smart letters. Nice, but I didn’t see IoT here either.
CEDEN – networking by growing plants
Do you want to grow your own food, flowers, and herbs at home? This company has a nice solution. You plant seeds using an app that has a step-by-step guide, information about your plants, and social data on what your friends planted! An excellent example of an IoT device, this gives you connectivity, information, and a social network.
Bixi – making your hand a smart remote
Bixi won the innovation awards honor in the smart home product category at CES 2017! Congrats to the Bixi crew! Basically, you can control any IoT-ready device through gestures without touching it. You can even switch from one device to another on the fly! Yup, if I’m cooking, I can change the video playing on my laptop with a wave of my hand. Definitely the right solution for me!
Ellistra – happy and successful employees
Ellistra promises to help employees and managers build new personal habits! Fascinating idea, but won’t this make the gulf between employees and their managers even larger? Guess we’ll see. I like the idea, but I can’t see any IoT here.
Tempow – multi-streaming Bluetooth technology
Stream music from one phone to several Bluetooth speakers or headphones! Again, I like the idea, but the new Bluetooth 5.0 already has this feature. However, the company’s CEO, Vincent Nallatamby, explained that this feature is just a Bluetooth marketing thing. For audio applications, Bluetooth 5.0 can’t have several Bluetooth speakers connected at the same time. As a music lover, I love this solution.
News and discussions about IIoT
I talked with Raphael after the event, and we agreed that the B2C market seriously lacks an understanding of IoT. In this event in Berlin, maybe two or three presentations featured IoT relevance. The others simply offered devices or software.
Derrick Cook on existing IIoT
In the Automation & Control Engineering group on LinkedIn, we had a great discussion about IIoT two weeks ago. Derrick Cook, director of strategic sales at Cel Controls, asked if anyone saw or owned an IIoT solution. Scrolling through the comments, you’ll see sales pitches but no real examples and little consistency. We had an Emerson rep countering with his company’s solutions, but he only offered old ideas with new interfaces and remote access. One of the articles he shared came from 2015 without a single mention of IIoT. I’m not saying any of the commenters were wrong, just that the idea of IIoT is open to interpretation.
Carlos Mandolesi on SCADA and IoT
Another relevant discussion happened in the International Society of Automation (ISA) group on LinkedIn. Carlos Mandolesi questioned the difference between SCADA and IoT. Again, in the comments, you see widely varied ideas about IIoT systems and SCADA. However, this discussion shows how vendors and end users see this new tech.
Angela Merkel at the Digital Factory
Last but not least, I saw a post on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the Digital Factory. This factory and all its tech belong to Siemens. I appreciate seeing this company test and use its own tech in its facilities. But I expected to see this tech in a customer process, where it should be!
You can clearly see that many vendors, as well as users, don’t really get what IoT or IIoT means. And companies such as GE push different names and messages to the market.
Never mind what you call it. Will it seamlessly integrate devices from any brand and offer the same levels of data as proprietary systems? If not, then it’s not IoT. And sooner or later we’ll find another buzzword to replace it.