AT&T Foundry pushes IoT concepts (like a wireless wheelchair)

Wireless wheelchair, luggage locator and a tool for developers are among the innovations

LAS VEGAS -- AT&T and Permobil announced a wirelessly connected wheelchair proof of concept this week that relies on work by AT&T Foundry innovation center engineers and designers.

The wheelchair includes wireless location technology so that family, friends and health care professionals can monitor where a wheelchair user is located. It includes an accelerometer to detect when the chair is turned on its side, AT&T executives said at the CTIA Super Mobility 2015 event here.

There are also sensors to tell about the pressure on the seat cushion and its positions and to monitor the battery level.

AT&T's prototypes and products in involving the Internet of Things (IoT) and other mobility areas have been helped along by the AT&T Foundry, which operates in five locations. The Foundry was started with a $100 million investment from AT&T and sponsors Ericsson, Alcatel Lucent, Amdocs, Cisco, Intel and Microsoft. Since 2011, it has started more than 200 projects and deployed dozens of new products and services.

AT&T also announced this week a collaboration with TUMI and Lugtrack to offer real-time wireless luggage location tracking. The TUMI Global Locator will be available in the fourth quarter and benefited from engineering oversight by Foundry engineers.

Foundry designers also created an IoT developer platform called Flow Designer that allows third-party developers to create IoT applications simply.

Igal Elbaz, vice president for ecosystem and innovation at AT&T, admitted that while there are many different types of innovation centers in the U.S. and elsewhere -- including those run by competitors -- AT&T has succeeded because it's kept its innovation approach tightly coupled with AT&T's business purposes.

"We drive innovation through rapid prototyping to build solutions," he said in an interview. "We have a concrete purpose. It's not coaching. We're not in the handshake or matchmaking business."

Nor is the Foundry a venture capital funding source for startups, he said. When the Foundry evaluates a project initially, "we know quickly if it makes sense."

Foundry has also learned to cut red tape in working with third parties, often very small startups. In one example, Elbaz said AT&T Foundry gave a small Israeli company a written contract for developing a trial project that went on for 128 pages. After the CEO politely complained about the contract's complexity, Elbaz and others worked to cut later Foundry contracts to just a few pages.

"We try to remove all the barriers" to innovation, he said.

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