The expert: Franck Biehler, co-founder of Sen.se and former senior executive of Violet, the designer of Nabaztag, the connected ‘rabbit’.
What does being connected bring to an object?
Franck Biehler: Making an object ‘connected’ isn’t trivial. Connectivity brings new possibilities both to individuals and to businesses. An espresso machine could tell me when I’ve used up my stock of coffee. The same would apply to a professional tool. It should be noted that this connectivity changes the relationship between the buyer and the seller, allowing the seller to maintain links with the people who buy its products. If a mattress is connected so that it can check if its owners are sleeping well, then the mattress seller becomes a sleep seller and will have to be able to give advice on this as well.
Other reading material: Big Mother’s watching: should we trust a connected device to manage our lives?
A ‘Motion Cookie’ attached to a pack of medicine means that the time the patient takes their treatment can be recorded. In this way, anything can become connected. © Sen.Se
What developments should we expect in terms of connected objects?
That they can be forgotten… Today, the approach taken is still too vertical – every connected object meets just one or a small number of very focused needs. If a new need arises, a new object has to be designed. But people shouldn’t have to relearn everything for every new product! When they’re all around us, we won’t call them ‘connected objects’ but simply ‘objects’. It’s the same development that smartphones went through: it’s the user who determines the role the object should fulfil. That’s how history has happened.
Programmable sensors to create automation
‘Motion Cookies’ each have three sensors: temperature, movement, and proximity to the Mother, which they are connected to by a radio link. The measurements they take are constantly transmitted, and the data is analysed not in the sensor nor the Mother but in the cloud. This analysis is programmable and determines how Mother is used: measuring the temperature and triggering an alert above a certain threshold, counting the number of people moving by, sending alerts when people enter – or leave – the house, etc. Actions can be triggered via the Web, such as sending emails or turning on connected electrical devices.
These sensors can be attached to any day-to-day object, from your coffee machine or mattress to a pack of medicine.
Do we need to wait for future standards?
The standard is already here! It uses the Web – and that’s all there is to it. You just have to use what already exists. For Mother, an API [a standardised programming interface allowing exchanges between software – Ed.] enables new features to be added as well as allowing new devices to be added to the ecosystem. For example, the Nest thermostat has become compatible and controllable in this way, and no modifications have to be made to equipment. The same applies to Hue connected lamps from Philips. Using existing Web standards, it is now possible to interconnect a number of objects and to move the processing and analysis of data from sensors to the cloud. This is how the Sen.se platform works.
The data collected is processed in the cloud and can be viewed on any device – a PC, tablet or smartphone. © Sen.Se
What uses do Mother’s inventors have in mind?
It’s really interesting to see how users make use of the network of sensors. To find out when the cat eats from its bowl… To find out if there’s any post in the mailbox… We imagined some things people might use it for (measuring sleep, detecting intrusion or when medicine is taken, etc.) but people go beyond them and invent their own. Our customer base, which was mainly technophiles at the beginning, is becoming wider and wider. In particular, there’s real demand for using Mother with elderly people, whose children want to give them as much independence as possible, which is made a reality by these connected sensors that fit into daily life.
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