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

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in a class of startups, invests in them, and connects them to mentors as the entrepreneurs revise their products and business plans. What AT&T gets in exchange for taking on its partners’ projects is the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the deployment of these new technologies. And, as a new product is commercialized, AT&T is in place to provide the communications networks for those devices.

Smart BinThe Plano workshop has about half a dozen projects in progress, including some that digitize everyday household objects. Consider the digitized trash can. (Uh, digitized what? you say.)

This “Smart Bin” project came to AT&T from one of its clients, a waste disposal company. The issue was that the company’s trucks, driving their routes, would frequently find bins that weren’t full and not ready for pickup. (Think of a law firm, which is disposing of lots and lots of paperwork daily.) The disposal company wanted to know if there was a way to configure the cans so they could tell the trucks when they were ready to be emptied, and, therefore, save time and gas lost in making unnecessary rounds.

“They have thousands and thousands of these [bins] throughout the city, and they have drivers going out on fixed routes, and [if] they have an empty bin, they could’ve skipped out on those stops,” Lee says.

Using a 3-D printer, Foundry collaborators recreated the plastic top flap of a bin to serve as more of a dashboard of the bin’s contents. Sensors are placed inside of the can, and ultrasonic waves are beamed down into the can. The sensors detect when the contents reach a certain level, and a lock is installed and connected to the sensors. Each of these is connected wirelessly to a display monitored by the waste disposal company.

Over time, Lee says, the company can track which cans are full and when, which ones require more frequent pickup, and, perhaps, which are more vulnerable to tampering.

“They are connected in real-time with the trucks that are out and about,” Lee says. If a bin is filled earlier than usual, say, a truck can add the stop to its rounds.

For businesses like our hypothetical law firm, the lock on the bin could help prevent unauthorized access to documents that contain confidential information. “If someone tries to pry it open or even shake it around, an alarm will sound,” Lee explains.

In Houston, AT&T plans to bring similar capabilities in connectivity, sensors, and communication to health IT projects. The technology projects will still be built in Plano; Houston is where the prototypes will be tested.

“We’re going to be at the … Next Page »

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