AT&T Aims to Apply Foundry Model to Health IT in Houston

Xconomy Texas — 

Plano, TX — Innovation in health IT can be as simple as a connected first-aid kit.

The kit would sense when an item, say, Band-Aids, are low and wirelessly connect to the Internet to place an order and have it delivered. The idea of a medicine cabinet staple, souped up for the information age, is the sort of request received by executives at the AT&T Foundry in Plano, TX, says Mobeen Khan, assistant vice president of industrial IoT Solutions at AT&T.

“Many customers, when it comes to mobile apps or IoT [Internet of Things], don’t have the expertise,” he says. “We can help them.”

Founded six years ago, the Foundry program seeks to leverage AT&T’s expertise in network, virtualization, and security beyond Internet service or phone calls to tackle problems across industries. So, the telecom giant works with existing customers in a variety of sectors—anything from waste management to agriculture to healthcare—to develop new products. “In four to six weeks, we’re able to either prove something out or it fails,” Khan says.

The mission is to not only help customers be more innovative, but to encourage that behavior within AT&T as well, Khan says. This spring, AT&T plans to open a Foundry in Houston, one that will focus on health IT. To find out more about the program, I recently traveled to the original Foundry located in Plano, just north of Dallas. That campus is home to two programs, one focused on Internet of Things innovation and another facility that embraces innovation from a pan-technology point of view.

At the IoT lab, director Craig Lee gave me a tour. The space has the typical techie open-plan design, with a few conference rooms—named for ’80s video games—along the exterior and a network of tables and chairs off to the side for group gatherings. The first stop for teams is the “ideation room,” where a stand-up desk topped with Play-Doh and multi-colored Legos is the scene for brainstorms and crude prototypes.

The rest of the floor is a playhouse for grown-ups. These are expensive toys: souped up 3-D printers, circuit board makers, a full machine workshop outfitted with drills, presses, and saws. There’s a “copper shield room” enclosed by copper mesh to help isolate radio waves for radio frequency, or RF, testing.

While the workshop is supposed to encourage creativity, Lee says the whimsy needs to be grounded in innovation that’s useful and will result in a viable product. “We’re not talking about doing $2,000 connected dog collars,” he says.

A partner company typically lends their employees for a time to work at the Foundry and its eight AT&T employees dedicated to working on the projects.

Unlike some other innovation-centered programs, the Foundry isn’t an accelerator that brings … Next Page »

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