Connected objects are now experiencing extraordinary growth. It would be advisable for startups and major established companies to get together to work in this field.
As part of our recent study on how everyday items are becoming connected objects, L’Atelier met up with Anne-Sophie Bordry, President of the French think tank Objets Connectés & Intelligents (Think Tank on Connected and Smart Objects).
L’Atelier: Could you tell us a little about the Think Tank on Connected and Smart Objects?
Anne-Sophie Bordry: The organisation was set up one year ago. The idea is that following the social networks revolution, we’re now going to have a ‘connected objects’ revolution. So our aim is to bring together all the business areas that are involved in connected objects: engineering, design, investment funds, and so on. As this is a field of innovation undergoing continuous change we bring together experts who ask the right questions and learn from each other. We really want to help drive forward the ideas of the various players in this area in France and support their growth potential.
How would you describe the Internet of Things at the present time?
Well we can’t ignore the fact that this field is seeing exponential growth. We’re moving towards a totally connected environment which goes way beyond just smartphones. This is about connecting up ordinary, everyday physical objects. Then we have to make the distinction between connected objects and ‘smart’ objects. An object may be able to measure how it’s being used and consumed, and connectivity can also help improve the performance of the actual object. Or it can be connected and send information to its user.
Recently we met the Commissariat Général à la Stratégie et à la Prospective (General Commission for Strategy and Prospection – a French government organisation which acts as a focus for discussion and debate about economic, social, cultural and environmental development) and we raised the issue of planning for future standards. If every company creates its own connected objects we could potentially be facing a situation where everything becomes a mere ‘gadget’. Or aim is therefore to co-ordinate the movement around a single standard. This is a very important concept but it really isn’t being talked about at all at the moment.
How will the movement evolve, and what will be the impact on business models?
When all objects can talk to each other and to their users, we will then be experiencing the connected objects revolution to the full. It’s important to ask the right questions, for instance will a powerful Internet market leader in this field be able to emerge without having a basis in traditional industry, or the reverse – will manufacturers as we know them succeed in incorporating into their large-scale production processes all the elements needed to create connected objects that meet people’s habits and uses?”.
The large traditional manufacturers have a role to play in France’s digital economy but they need to open up their Research and Development so as to integrate connected objects developed by young, daring startups that show greater creativity. If a startup product is to be commercially successful, it must be used widely and must therefore be designed to ‘plug & play’ easily. It needs to be easily usable in terms of logistics and it must be interoperable. The flexibility of a startup allied with a major operator is the key to success for the connected objects industry.