Saturday October 24, 2020

IOT: Dynamic farming, flood warnings and remote elderly care

Exciting innovations will create great local cottage industries for every type of community, says top designer

29th May, 2017
Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Founder of Good Night Lamp & designswarm

What's your name?

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino.

What position do you hold?

Founder of Good Night Lamp & designswarm.

How long have you held the position?

Since 2011.

Can you describe your daily work routine?

I don’t really have a daily routine as such as I do a lot of international travel to speak about the internet of things at various conferences around the world. I’m on my way to Paris, Berlin, New Zealand in the next month for example. Last year I took 75 airplanes, so I’m really happy when I get a day of ‘routine’. When I’m not travelling, I work from my home in South London. I’m currently writing a book about smart homes for Apress so my Mondays to Wednesdays involve sitting at the computer in my office, researching and writing. I only get about four hours of writing done a day though so the rest of the day is catching up with email and events I’m organising for the internet of things meetup or consultancy clients I write reports for. Thursdays are my day of meetings at the lovely IET (Institute of Engineers and Technologists) where I’m a member. That’s back-to-back meetings or calls between 10 and 6pm. On Fridays, I have a catch-up call with Laura who supports our Good Night Lamp customers from southern Italy and Zoe my coordinator comes in from 11am-6pm to work through all our administrative obligations, travel planning and event planning. I’ve had a part time coordinator working with me for 4 years now and it really helps to dedicate one day to those kinds of tasks and have someone to work with on them. We have a US and Estonian business too so there’s lots of small tasks to keep on top of. I know what I’m good at and Zoe basically saves my life. I hate working on evenings and weekends as it burned me out in my first business, so after 6, I’ll catch a play, or meet a friend for dinner, or even better go home and cook. I get to bed at 11pm so I can get a solid eight hours of sleep.

What is your professional background?

I studied industrial design in Montréal and interaction design in Italy so I had a very broad set of skills when I graduated at 25. I started my first business at 26, Tinker which was the first UK distributor of the Arduino, an open source electronics education platform. We sold the platform, ran workshops, offered design services and ran our own internal projects. Two are now part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. We closed Tinker in late 2010 and I became a consultant working with companies who want to understand how the internet of things affects them or how they could be building better services and products that take advantage of what can be done now. In 2012, I decided to go one step further and develop my own product, the Good Night Lamp which was a student project I came up with in 2005. We make the Good Night Lamp to help global families sync up and connect in a more ambient way. It’s made in the UK which I’m very proud of and we’re looking to make it in the US soon too.

Tell me about yourself away from work?

I’m a big fan of cooking, to the extent I’ve often wondered if I shouldn’t open a lunch place if the apocalypse comes and the internet goes down. I’ve taken up Ashtanga yoga in the last year and dance Rockabilly, a 1950s partner dance. I’m also learning Japanese which is great fun. I went on holiday there last year and want to go back next year.

Tell us something very few people know about you?

I used to be a lifeguard.

You are speaking at the forthcoming National IoT Summit in Dublin. What is the focus of your talk?

I’d like to talk about why it’s important to focus on the internet of things as part of a national strategy around entrepreneurship and innovation. Away from the security headlines and automation scares there are some fundamental opportunities we shouldn’t ignore when we’re able to connect objects, building and infrastructure to an open internet. The upcoming GDPR has some major repercussions in how we think about the internet of things too, digital ethics should extend to all the things we’re connecting. I’ll discuss how to foster an ecosystem that will help a local economy grow and how to put that ecosystem in place whether you’re a large enterprise or a smaller business.

What do you see as the main challenges ahead for the IoT?

The biggest challenge these days is an image one. Not unlike electricity, radio and television, the worst is constantly expected. We’re in this phase of seeing the worse in the internet of things before we’ve let the dust settle. I believe we still haven’t developed the best ideas to use cheap ubiquitous connectivity so entrepreneurs must be persistent and take a long-term view. We shouldn’t be too rash in dismissing it and moving on to VR/AR and the likes. I wish there was more investment available for these kinds of ideas in the UK. Most start-ups can’t find seed funding in this space, so it limits what a company can do and how quickly it can learn and grow.

What innovations do you envisage will be developed over the next 10 years in the IoT space?

I suspect we’ll be able to develop much more accurate wearable devices for remote elderly care by then, most of the consumer applications are pretty inaccurate so far. I also expect we’ll start taking an active interest in environmental and agricultural monitoring in ways we didn’t need to before climate change. Dynamic farming and logistics will become a big opportunity. Being able to predict flooding or communicate real time granular air pollution levels are some of the exciting areas I hope are developed at scale. Generally, we’ll see lots of small interesting niche applications catering to niche markets which I believe is healthier than mass market solutions, it’ll create some great local cottage industries for every type of community.

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Founder of Good Night Lamp & Designswarm, is appearing at the IOT Summit 2017 at The AVIVA Stadium on June 22. For more information visit IOTsummit.ie

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