Telecom provider changes stripes to be a tech innovator?

Published: September 15th, 2011

Palo Alto, Calif. – The building that houses AT&T Inc’s (NYSE:T) new Foundry Collaboration Center in Silicon Valley was once the site for the largest French Laundry facility in the area. The French Laundry, as you can imagine, provided laundry services to the community. It was also a godsend to a community ravaged by the depression as it provided much needed jobs to many unskilled people.

But the French Laundry was also used as a code for preventing the Chinese and Japanese people of that region from ever obtaining employment at the facility. By the time the French Laundry closed in the late eighties it became a symbol of discrimination.

Today, AT&T has converted the old French Laundry into its third Foundry collaboration center and the only code that will be used inside the facility will be computer code as the telecom giant in an unprecedented move will be opening up its entire network and development teams to anyone with a new idea.

The AT&T Foundry in Palo Alto joins two others (Plano, Tex. & Ra’anana, Israel) and will provide high tech entrepreneurs with new tools and services along with a collaborative infrastructure, dedicated project teams, and access to AT&T decision markers and 1,200 researchers.

The AT&T Foundry centers represent an $80 million investment from AT&T.

The goal of this Foundry, according to its chief technology officer John Donovan, is speed to market. The two other Foundry facilities have been able to turn an idea into a proof-of-concept in a matter of 12 weeks, said Mark Nagel, AT&T’s executive director of marketing.

“The Foundry is also step one it AT&T’s transformation from telecom provider to a technology innovations company and we are changing the culture of collaboration at AT&T as well. No longer will you have to schedule a meeting and wait three-weeks. We now can meet for a coffee around the corner to discuss business,” Donovan said.

A big part of the AT&T strategy going forward will be to work with IT solution providers big and small, Nagel said. The AT&T Foundry will open up its entire development platform to channel partners to expose more technology to people in a collaborative fashion. The plan is to work with these partners to develop new products and services, test them at the facility, iron out all the bugs and then bring it to market.”We want to create proof-of-concepts and prototypes in real time, not a long time and this facility can provide the tools and the knowledge to make that happen,” Nagel said.

For those entrepreneurs who can afford to visit the Foundry, AT&T has developed a portal where they can participate virtually.

AT&T Foundry is part of the company’s innovation strategy, which will see the 135-year-old communications giant work with third party developers, venture capitalists and technology solution providers. Sometimes AT&T will take the lead on new projects and other times will just contribute its expertise, connections or resources, Donovan added.

AT&T has partnered with Sweden’s Ericsson as well as Sequoia Capital for the Palo Alto Foundry. Ericsson has agreed to be the Palo Alto centre’s main sponsor.

New IT projects at AT&T Foundry will be handled in several ways. For example, Fast Pitch will be similar to a speed date where companies or developers meet with key AT&T decision makers to evaluate projects or technologies. AT&T is currently on track to hold 400 of these Fast Pitch sessions across the globe this year.

Another approach is called the Innovation Pipeline or TIP. TIP will utilize AT&T’s crowd-sourcing idea-generating platform, where more than 100,000 employees gather to share ideas and collaborate on bringing new products and services to market.

Developing new products is one thing, but getting them to market is another challenge that AT&T Foundry will provide services for.

Called the AT&T’s Developer Monetization project, it will streamline the process of monetize newly created applications. Through the project, select app developers gain access to a network APIs such as messaging, advertising, payments and location technology that can be used to write new apps and have access to HTML5 software development kit that includes code samples and directions to make using the APIs over the Web easier, according to AT&T.

 

mHealth

There were many new projects on display at the grand opening the AT&T Foundry at Palo Alto. One of the more prominent projects is the mHealth platform, which aims to bring health and wellness information to a person’s mobile device. The objective of mHealth is to create an environment that will give patients the ability to aggregate data using a secure infrastructure. The hope is to have people share information with friends, family and health care professionals. AT&T’s mHealth platform is part of a planned open developer ecosystem and when that becomes available it will provide users a single access source to insurance companies, doctor’s offices, and other connected devices and applications. With this open platform, AT&T envisions developers and solution providers being able to build new mobile solutions.

Ringbow

AT&T demonstrated the future of touch technology at the Palo Alto Foundry with a prototype called Ringbow. Ringbow is a finger-worn Bluetooth device that adds gestural recognition that enables users to manipulate on-screen content without touching the screen.

Ringbow co-founder and CEO Efrat Barit said this product is suited for tablets and large format display units for gaming and in-app navigation. Ringbow also enhances multi-touch scenarios such as collaborating on a drawing and by adding hand gestures users will have more control.

U-Verse Enabled Apps

U-Verse enables any Wi-Fi connected or network-enabled device, such as a smartphone, tablets, or computers to communicate with a TV receiver. The idea behind U-Verse is to use the mobile devices as a server whereby it can share media and data with the TV interactivity.

Some prototypes under development are:

View photos or play music from your smartphone on your TV.

Info and photos from the TV show you’re watching are automatically loaded on your tablet.

Display your laptop screen over Wi-Fi on your TV.

Connect to your social networks to see what your friends are watching, then watch that show on your TV.

Augmented Reality

AT&T has developed something called ARCHIE and if you’re thinking it has anything to do with iconic character Archie Bunker from the popular 70’s TV show All in the Family you’re not far off.

ARCHIE stands for Augmented Reality Camera Human Interface Experience. It’s currently a prototype that hopes to make TV watchers part of the action on their TVs. The ARCHIE prototype camera combines the use of game engines, depth camera technology, and inverse kinematics to capture gestures and motion input. Today, ARCHIE can enable viewers to control a live remote pan-tilt-zoom camera using only gestures but the future they could be used for remote operation of equipment or robotic controls for medicine, remote presence or industrial applications.

If you ever shouted back at your TV during a football game or even after one of Archie Bunker’s stupid comments this technology may put you on-screen as an animated character through a virtual green screen.

AT&T warns that ARCHIE as a technology still needs to mature. The company is, however, committed to helping developers create new experiences and applications by opening up ARCHIE’s APIs at a future date.

Messaging in the cloud

Also available at AT&T Foundry in Palo Alto is the Encore platform for messaging.

The company hopes that third-party developers and solution providers will be able to create new ways for people to organize and access communications across mobile devices and desktop computers by opening up the Encore platform to them. Encore taps into the AT&T cloud and the Android operating system application messages, which is currently in beta. This has the potential to give users streamline texts, call history, voicemail, voice


More Articles