Many companies are pivoting their products to help fight the Coronavirus”. An interview with Swisscom Outpost’s IoT expert Jeffrey Gantner. 

Social distancing measures are having a significant impact on people’s lives everywhere in the world. With people confined to their homes, their daily habits have been affected in both their professional and private lives 

To find out about how startups in Silicon Valley are adapting to the changewe asked Jeffrey Gantner, IoT expert at the Swisscom Outpost in Silicon Valley, to share his perspectives with us. 

Jeffrey, you are located in the Silicon Valley focusing on research and developments in the IoT space. For you personally, how have your daily activities at work been affected by the measurements induced by the recent social distancing measures? 

First of all, I am grateful that we are affected as little as we are. Many people are having much harder timesVideo conferencing in itself isn’t new to us, and we had it well established especially with the teams in Switzerland that we work with. What’s new is that all the meetings with local people also happen online now, including some social coffee catch ups. This is also small thing that I miss personallyThe water cooler conversations”, when you spontaneously exchange ideas. As far as I can tell, technology cannot replicate this yet. Maybe we need a Zoom feature that decides at random times to suddenly start a call between two team members twice a day (laughs). 

Elderly people are considered a risk group. I assume that IoT systems such as remote health monitoring for elderly adults are experiencing a remarkable increase in demand. 

Yes, and unfortunately elderly care homes have even been among the first sources of virus outbreaks a few months ago. But from an IoT perspective, the elderly aren’t exactly known to be early adopters when it comes to new technologySome mainstream wearables come out of the box with features like fall detection, but there are many more specialized products on the market, too. 

Can you share some examples of such specialized products or technologies? 

CarePredict is a wearable that measures how often a person goes to the bathroom at night, can detect whether a person is eating and taking their medicine, and even how long the wearer is exposed to the sun. Then they predict risks of a person falling or being depressed before it happens, and someone, for example a family member, can check in with them.
Another companyTytocare, is more aimed at children but can just as well be used with elderly people. They offer a Bluetooth-enabled device with a stethoscope, thermometer and other sensors that connects to a telemedicine app on your smartphone. The doctor can then conduct a real-time exam remotely with live data. There are many such remote-monitoring and telehealth apps with different angles. Gyant also alleviates the burden on doctors by asking the most asked questions via chatbot before the patient is connected to a doctor.
For many health consultations, even non-medical-specific solutions such as Zoom are used. 

What strategic adaption or rise of startups in the IoT space have you observed over the last few months? 

What’s interesting to see is how many companies are pivoting their products to help fight the Coronavirus. Sometimes companies have to adapt more, other times less: Delivery startups such as Kiwi offer last-mile delivery. They were already contactless before, but now this feature has just become that much more relevant. Another example is Alchera, an AR visual anomaly detection company that used to analyze gas leakages with infrared cameras. They are now detecting fevers in people to find potentially infected people in airports. Then there’s in the construction industry. Their IoT trackers learn workers’ habits and workflows to then optimize a worksite’s layout. Now however, they also detect the position of workers to improve social distancing. 

What are some other developments in IoT, maybe not related to the Coronavirus? 

Companies realized that installing a sensor doesn’t yet provide a lot of value. Rather, large amounts of data need to be collected and analyzed. Then you start entering the promised value of IoT with e.g. predictive analytics. The fact remains that the relatively high CAPEX is a high barrier to entry for an SME if the long-term value is unclearThat’s why startups like Moeco turn towards a service model, making it easy to try out use-cases. It is one of our Outposts objectives to help Swiss SMEs by bringing such new and enterprise-ready solutions to them, enabling them to make use of the IoT as soon as they are ready. So, if you are a Swiss startup in IoT or a Swiss SME with a new idea using IoT, please absolutely get in touch with us! 

Do you have any last words for Swiss startups? 

Regarding Swiss startups raising money in – or expanding to – Silicon Valley, I assume that it will become easier again once you can do it in person. But don’t risk anyone’s health by hurrying over here just yet; even though Switzerland might be lifting some restrictions, Silicon Valley is still on lockdown. But once things start to normalize, the mantra “you don’t invest in an idea, but in the founder” will probably still standand it’s easier to get to know a person, well, in person. Additionally, it’s important not to forget that you make your own luck, meaning that your proactiveness in literally going the extra mile will show. And when you do, in all likelihood you will meet interesting people you hadn’t planned to meet and who can in turn introduce you to other relevant people. After all, networking is what defines Silicon Valley. 

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about the topics above or if you want more information about the startups we are looking at.
Jeffrey Gantner, Innovation Manager IoT @ Swisscom Outpost, Palo Alto, California, US, (LinkedIn)
Interviewed by Tina Werro, Head of Outpost Innovation Programs, Zurich, CH,  (LinkedIn)

May 20, 2020