French Start-Ups, Technology and Apps to Help Travellers: Dispatch from Mobile World Congress

French Start-Ups, Technology and Apps to Help Travellers: Dispatch from  Mobile World Congress

It’s not about the features on the phone any more, it’s about connectivity, and how smart apps can sense, map, share, solve, protect and entertain by using seamless connectivity throughout the world.

That’s the “creating a better future” espoused by the 2,300 companies showcasing the latest in mobile technology at Mobile World Congress (MWC) held February 26 – March 1 in Barcelona, Spain.

According to Mats Granryd, Director General of the company who puts on MWC, there are 5 billion unique mobile subscribers connecting two-thirds of the world’s population. And growing. Although the future vision of the “Internet of Things” at the show swayed toward connecting cities, products and autonomous cars seamlessly linked through 5G networks (very high speed with no delays in transferring information), there are lots of benefits for travellers today by using the power of smart mobile technology and networks.

French Tech booth at Mobile World Congress. Photo: Martha Sessums

On full display in one of the eight grand halls were a variety of French start-ups supported by La French Tech, the start-up support organization, and Business France, the government agency for international development of the French economy. Although the majority of the near 100 companies were focused on selling to telecom businesses, there were a variety of firms that demonstrated where the traveler experience is going.

Do you want your Internet searches to be totally private? Qwant is the first European browser that protects the privacy of its users by refusing all tracking and cookies. Xee will connect smart car dashboards to the driver’s smartphone. Artificial intelligence (AI) is coming to the smartphone, and Biggerpan will anticipate your needs in real time, eliminating search. That means when your phone recognizes you liked Colette, the pioneering concept store in Paris that closed last year, AI will provide information about other concept stores for you to explore.

Trade show hall at Mobile World Congress. Photo: Martha Sessums

Many travellers are teens and young adults who love playing video games. But that sometimes requires lugging extra hardware or consoles. Blacknut can solve the equipment issue with 200 online games that are available via a streaming service, and soon to be offered in hotel rooms and lobbies. Although it requires a subscription, there is a 15-day free trial period. 

“Our games are curated for enjoyment and atmosphere,” said Olivier Avaro, CEO of Blacknut. “They go back to the root of gaming and have quality values, with no violence.”

The French are back in the start-up industry in a big way. According to Maïa Thomine Desmazures, Head of International Promotion for La French Tech Team, the number of French startups is growing. Currently there are 9,400 French startups with an expected investment market of 3.4 billion euros for 2018.   

Qwant booth at La French Tech booth at MWC. Photo: Martha Sessums

The French government has been supportive since Nicolas Sarkozy reduced the red tape for small companies to start business. François Hollande launched BPI, a public investment fund, and Emmanuel Macron has pledged $11 billion to back disruptive technologies, along with proposed reforms that would lower investment costs and taxes. There are also French Tech visas which make it easy to obtain a residence permit for startup personnel, easier paths for venture capital firms to invest in France and a growing number of startup incubators.

“I want France to be a startup nation,” said Macron at VivaTech, an entrepreneurial conference in Paris in 2017. “A nation that thinks and moves like a startup.”

That enthusiasm has spread to San Francisco where Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, Counsel General of France in San Francisco, recently tweeted, “There’s been more than a hundred French Tech events in the Bay Area since last September.”

Beyond La French Tech, there were many new services, products and apps for travellers at the show. Xupo provides smart locators that can keep track of keys, luggage, purses, kids, cars or anything that can be lost or forgotten. With a small tracker that uses safe, over-the-counter purchased batteries, the app uses geo tagging to locate your goods. 

“This is the Internet of Your Things,” said Vincenz J. Klemt, Co-founder and COO of Xupo. “We spend an average of ten minutes a day looking for things, and this app keeps us connected to those things, while saving time and money.” 

Safety and security are key for today’s travellers, and Airbus has your back. The Defense and Space Division of the airplane manufacturer provides the communications network and equipment for many police, fire, security, first responders and armies of the world, especially in Europe. Up to 300 satellites provide a secure private network that maintains communications in all situations, even when other networks are down. The network is used to connect every plane in the sky, and most of the 911 services in the world. The walkie-talkie protruding from every security officer’s pocket is an Airbus, and the company is changing them out to smartphones. This will allow adding secure finger print and eye scan technologies. In addition, Airbus’ network is key in providing the new Wi-Fi connectivity for passengers on airplanes throughout the world. It will also play in security programs in airports where information will immediately be shared with all security personnel.

“When you need it, it has to work,” said Selim Bouri, Secure Land Communications Vice President of MENA and Asia Pacific. 

Olivier Avaro, CEO of Blacknut online games app. Photo: Martha Sessums

Smart cities and connected cars were a big part of MWC, both dependent on the 5G network that is just beginning to be tested in parts of the world. South Korea’s Olympics featured a 5G network trial that connected all venues, people and security in a fast, seamless way, but the rest of the world’s buildout has a long way to go. MWC participants claimed the network would be available widely between 2020 – 2025, but it requires equipment design and installation approval by many city governments and citizens which, especially in the U.S., will cause delays. 

But 5G will arrive, and it will connect cars, streetlight management and transportation movement, security and traffic services including drones, city services management, even air quality. Smart apps and fast internet searches too.

“Our role will change from being a driver to a passenger,” said Alistair Kemp, Intel Global Communications. “The car will be an extension of our home and office, so we will see a car dashboard full of screens with content that is quickly accessible for everything from video meetings to games.”

Vincenz J. Klemt, Co-Founder and COO of Xupo shows off the Xupo smart tracker. Photo: Martha Sessums

Connected cities and cars are definitely the future for travellers, but when you return home, cooking meat with perfect results is available now. Showing off its technology chef chops, MEATER offers a smart wireless meat thermometer that promises perfect results every time. The electronics measures the internal temperature of the meat or fish, along with the oven temperature, resulting in a more accurate measurement. Bluetooth technology sends the information to the app, which also follows the cooking process, letting the chef know when the desired temperature will be reached. When done, it sends an alert, so the chef can go about preparation business without having to worry about the cooking status of the main dish. 

Joseph Cruz (right), Co-Founder and President of MEATER, joins booth staff at Mobile World Congress to show off the smart wireless meat thermometer. A steak is cooking in the oven. Photo: Martha Sessums

“On average, every U.S. household has seven meat thermometers hidden in drawers and unused,” said Joseph Cruz, Co-Founder and President of MEATER. “Most of them are inaccurate. Here, we use smart technology to help the cook.”

There’s a lot of products and apps that use technology in creative ways, available both now and in the future. It’s not about smartly using hand wipes any more. It’s about our smart handsets and the helpful ways they assist us as travellers.

Connected car at Intel MWC booth. Photo: Martha Sessums

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Martha Sessums is the France Today Ambassador for San Francisco. Intrigued by France since her first stroll along the Seine, Martha and her husband often travel to Paris to explore the city and beyond. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, delighting in its strong Francophone and French culture community. She was a high-tech public relations executive and currently runs a non-profit continuing education organization.

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