French Startup Companies Want to Make Your Home Smarter

Un tableau de bord numérique pour une maison CC BY-SA 3.0

A digital control panel for a house. CC BY-SA 3.0

The Internet of Things has given rise to new applications which improve the operation of buildings. It is a rapidly growing market, and, even better : French start-up companies are at the forefront of this sector. 

Connected objects are gradually making their entry into French homes. At a time when the mobile Internet is becoming democratized, French people seem enthusiastic about home-management applications, especially in their attempt to save money on their heating bills.

Jean-Luc Beylat, president of Paris-based telecom company Alcatel Lucent, explained the significance of the growth of the Internet of Things in an interview with IT news site Silicon :

Je pense que nous sommes en train de vivre la première révolution technologique du 21éme siècle. Quelque chose d’aussi important que l’arrivée du train, de la vapeur ou de l’électricité. Ce n’est pas un hasard si des philosophes comme Bernard Stiegler s’y intéressent. Mais il faut bien attention faire à ne pas créer de blocages

I think that we are now experiencing the first technological revolution of the 21st century. Something as important as the invention of locomotives, steam power, or electricity. It's not a coincidence that philosophers such as Bernard Stiegler have taken an interest in this. But we must be very careful not to create obstacles.

The concept of domotique (domestic automatization) — meaning to network and automate the operation of the electrical equipment of a house or building, to conserve energy, or to improve comfort — actually originated in the 1980s. Today, we speak of “smart buildings”. This term refers both to the idea of individual connected houses (“smart home”) and to net-positive-energy buildings (“smart building”).

A feeder for house cats controlled by internet in a home CC BY 3.0

A feeder for house cats, controlled by internet in a home CC BY 3.0

Energy-efficiency “home services”, thus far, have not really found a market. However, a demand for information and customer service already exists, and is expected to strengthen considerably in coming years. Also, in the context created by European directives, by the Grenelle Environnement and by their resulting decisions, the development of new applications, and the performance and intelligence of the equipment, will lead energy providers to strengthen their relationship with their clients.

With increased savings, improved comfort and environmental protection, and increasingly encouraged to manage demand via more dynamic pricing offers, the clients will want to be better-informed and assisted by technologies for more relevant and valuable uses of their devices. An Accenture study published in 2013 revealed that only 22 percent of respondents in Europe trust their energy supplier on this point. 

Eager to tap into this market, Qivivo, a start-up company in Nantes, sells an “intelligent thermostat” with associated web services for boilers and electric heaters.

For the system to work, the house needs only an ADSL box. Once installed, the thermostat connects to the box via a “gateway” module, with which it communicates. There is no need to make adjustments because a cloud-computing software solution controls the thermostat remotely through the Internet connection. So, the user does not have to do any manual work, and there are no wires to replace, because the solution is “plug and play”. If necessary, they can still take control via an application for computer, tablet or smartphone.

In addition, thanks to artificial intelligence algorithms, the thermostat optimizes the operation of the heating system by learning. The founder of Qivivo, Adrien Suire, explains how it works:

Durant la première semaine d’utilisation, le thermostat va se programmer pendant la nuit des cycles marche/arrêt pour déterminer le temps de montée en température. Par itération, le thermostat intègre dans son fonctionnement le comportement d système de chauffage, ainsi que la signature énergétique de la maison. De plus, en collectant les données météo, le système va être en mesure d’anticiper la demande de chauffage.

During the first week of use, the thermostat programs itself during a night of on/off cycles, to determine the time of the temperature rise. Through iteration, the thermostat integrates the behavior of the heating system and the energy signature of the house into its function. Additionally, by collecting weather information, the system will be able to anticipate the demand for heating.

Another French start-up company, Netatmo, also has a connected thermostat, with a “learning” version under development.

Its adjoining weather station measures the quality of outdoor air (humidity, temperature, atmospheric pressure); another measures the quality of indoor air (concentration of CO2 and moisture). Again, it can be put into use immediately. The modules communicate with each other and the Internet box in the home using WiFi: the users can just download the Netatmo application on the device of their choice – computer, phone, or tablet – and configure it with the module.

For the implementation of its networked-habitat application “B Domo”, Netatmo has formed a partnership with Bouygues Telecom. Considering the current importance of indoor air quality, other partnerships could be imagined, especially with providers of air circulation systems.

Fertile with new enterprises specializing in networked objects, France is like a Silicon Valley without knowing it. Digital technology has made its entry into buildings, and the market for Smart Homes will experience innovation, in an unprecedented boom. A step forward for a digital France which should not be missed.

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