Telstra’s new chief technology officer, Hakan Eriksson, has wasted no time in his new role.
After just a couple of months on the job, he has brought together the company’s start-up incubator muru-D and the GSMA IoT Innovation Lab within the newly launched Telstra Labs.
Eriksson’s team brings together about 150 internal staff.
“muru-D is an accelerator for start-ups, when they come a little bit on their way, to see how they can take the next step,” Eriksson said at an event staged in Melbourne yesterday. “They can get coaching, help with moving their innovation to the next step.”
The accelerator has been running in Sydney for about three years with branches in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Silicon Valley and Singapore. The Melbourne branch was launched yesterday by Eriksson.
The GSMA Open Internet of Things (IoT) Lab is the first of its type in Australia and gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to test new products on a cellular network where they can mimic real world conditions in a controlled environment.
“The Open IoT Lab is about all the things you can do on top of the network,” said Eriksson.
Eriksson says this is one of several similarly equipped labs operating across the world. When a product is tested in the lab operated by Telstra, developers can be reasonably assured, he said, that their product will work anywhere else across the world.
Eriksson discussed Telstra’s strategy when it comes to the IoT. By working closely with developers, the company is planning to be the foundation for many different IoT solutions, the CTO said.
“We are the experts in the network, not all the applications that can run. If it’s an agriculture application, or power distribution, or logistics we have to work together with the developers of those things. They are not experts in networks. So, we need a meeting place. This is that meeting place,” explained Eriksson.
The IoT Lab allows developers to simulate what will happen with the devices they create when they operate in various real-world scenarios. Eriksson said it will allow creators to see what will happen in locations where connectivity is suboptimal or how things differ when indoors and outdoors. They will be able to measure the impact on battery life and other operational metrics under different network conditions.
Access to the labs will be via a booking system. Costs will vary said Eriksson. For example, large commercial organisations will be charged whereas smaller entrepreneurs or Telstra’s network of partners can expect lower cost or free access. The time available to users will depend on the nature of their project.
During a tour of the IoT Innovation lab, Eriksson showed and discussed many of the products being worked on. One area of IoT that receives plenty of attention is drones. But it’s also a market segment that suffers from significant regulatory constraints that can get in the way of innovation.
For example, drone operators must be able to see the device they are operating at all times. This places constraints on where a drone can be used. On a farm, a drone can be equipped with thermal imaging in order to track livestock locations and even their health as the cameras can detect when an animal has a fever. Or it can tell the difference between weed and crops so pesticides and herbicides are used wisely.
The application of this technology is broad. It can be used to detect lost people during search and rescue operations, as Telstra’s mobile network operates 20km or more offshore. One search-and-rescue drone Eriksson showed could drop a buoyancy device to someone in the sea or sound an alarm if it detects a shark.
Eriksson and his colleagues noted Telstra is working with CASA (Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority) on guidelines that allow drone operators to take advantage of new capabilities without compromising safety.
This is where Telstra’s scale and resources can be valuable to start-ups as they have mechanisms to engage with outside agencies that might be opaque to smaller entities.
Among the other technologies on show at the IoT lab were 3D scanners and printers. This allows developers to manufacture bespoke parts on the fly, during development and testing.
Another area that Telstra is working on is the use of augmented reality. A practical example of how this technology could be used is with helping customers setting up new devices.
Eriksson showed a video demonstration of how someone could point the camera on their smartphone at a new device and set up information, such as what cables to plug in, was displayed on the phone’s display.
Other applications, using headsets such as the Microsoft Hololens or Google Glass were also shown.
An important element of the lab environment was the amount of collaborative space. In addition to workbench environments for specific testing there were meeting rooms for conducting hackathons – such as an upcoming event focussed on agtech – and common areas where people working in the labs and entrepreneurs in the muru-D incubator could meet and share ideas informally.