Named #2 in the Top 100 Internet of Things Thought Leaders, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino brings a wealth of experience in building consumer-facing internet of things products, such as the Good Night Lamp and helping clients such as BBC R&D, Nokia, British Gas, EDF and British Telecom. She’s altogether an interaction & product designer, entrepreneur, speaker & curator focused on the limitless potential of IoT.
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What makes you a ‘data native’?
Well I manage 21 Twitter accounts, so that’s got to count for something :)
Can you describe the journey that led to where you are today, and how your interest in IoT developed?
I’m an unlikely data native I think as I studied industrial design a pretty data-free field in the early 2000s. I went on to do a masters degree in interaction design where my peers were developers, computer scientists and UX people. That’s when my understanding and approach to the web developed. I understood through learning HMTL, CSS and PHP what my peers needed to hear when I wanted to make a web-enabled physical product. I started Tinker (tinkerlondon.com) (the first UK distributor of the Arduino) in London in 2007 and that was the beginning of getting involved in growing a maker movement in the UK around that tool. We worked with some fantastic clients who were also interested in understanding how those types of tools could help them experiment inside their business.
When I closed the studio in late 2010 I went back to consulting and work now more on a strategic basis with clients. I started curating the London Internet of Things meetup in 2011 for Pachube and it’s now the largest global community dedicated to the topic (6K+ members now). Over the last 3 years, I have developed the Good Night Lamp (goodnightlamp.com) a connected product for global families. This is an idea I came up with in 2005 during my masters degree. I work with a wood fabrication studio in London (Tom Cecil studio) and an M2M company outside of London (Eseye) to deliver the product to people all over the world.
What major technology milestones have stood out to you during your time in the industry?
I don’t think there have been any radically new technologies that have evolved recently (although LoRaWAN networks sound interesting but still tricky) but the audience for existing technologies have changed and the application space has changed too. Mobile phones have a lot to answer for when it comes to the development of the internet of things and you could argue that it’s slowed down the pace of development of some ideas because it’s easier to make an app than to develop a product. But product still have a big role in the lives of consumers otherwise we’d all be living in empty white boxes. The price of hardware components has dropped and there is enough information online to allow pretty much anyone to experiment with a on off prototype of a physical device that does something interesting to them.
Crowd-funding means that you also don’t have to be subject to a very conservative investment landscape but can find and sell to a market more easily. These are all subtle changes in who has had access to particular technologies, not new in themselves.
What are you waiting (or hoping) for to happen next in terms of technology development for IoT?
I think I’d like to see more stable connectivity offerings from the M2M sector as they learn how to collaborate with whitespace offerings. We’ve struggled a lot with the Good Night Lamp to find global coverage. In Canada for example, I can’t send my parents a set of lamps because the 2G coverage is poor there. Connecting things is still quite tricky when you don’t have local wifi to rely on.
Of the projects you’ve worked on at Designswarm so far, of which are you most proud?
I still love Homesense – a bottom-up smart home project we ran at Tinker in 2009. We gave 6 households across Europe a toolkit that was Arduino based and matched them with a local developer. Each home developed their own application based on their own needs and the report is still online. The kit ended up in the New York Museum of Modern Art as part of their permanent collection. The whole project was built under creative commons as we wanted to treat is as open research. I still think the level of discourse around smart homes needs more reality and appreciation of the granularity of everyone’s home.
Are there any industries or sectors you see as ripe for IoT applications, or projects you would particularly love to tackle?
I’m currently working with Wintec Innovate, a research institute in New Zealand and they’re interested in technology-led rural innovation. I think there’s a lot to do away from cities in helping people connect to jobs, healthcare services and the source of their food, i.e. agriculture.
What connected devices do you use on a day-to-day basis, and why?
I have a Hive Home, a connected thermostat. It’s great as I can turn the heating on in my apartment 20 minutes before I get there and come home to a warm house!
Which companies individuals inspire you, and keep you motivated to achieve great things?
Even if they are now closed, the work of my friends at Berg was sensational. They really explored what physical interactions within a digital landscape meant and their work continues to inspire me.