AT&T Smart Future Conference Highlights Forward-Thinking Somerset County Tech Companies


Photo: Attendees were treated to a discussion of advancements by ATT at the event and a tour of the Global Network Operations Center in Bedminster. Photo Credit: Hal Brown
Attendees were treated to a discussion of advancements by ATT at the event and a tour of the Global Network Operations Center in Bedminster. | Hal Brown

The Smart Future conference held at Bedminster's AT&T Labs Research facility on Oct. 17 outlined the ways in which Somerset County's tech companies are bringing about change.

Guests arrived around noon to network and view exhibits from local organizations like JuiceTank, a coworking space and incubator, Cozzoli Machine Company and NJ Advance Media.

In his keynote talk, Stephen Burger, area vice president of AT&T Mobility/Emerging Devices (Atlanta), discussed innovations such as the connected-car technology being developed by AT&T at the company's Drive Studio in Atlanta.

"We will soon hit the point where there are more cars with embedded connectivity than not," Burger said, predicting that this change will occur around 2017.

AT&T is working on data analytics tools for connected cars. These tools will have capabilities like "signaling other cars that there's rain in the area by monitoring the windshield wiper activity on the highway," he said, "or robust city planning and traffic management looking at all vehicle flows in real time across a city."

Discussing wearables, Burger said, "The wearables category is projected to be about a six-billion-dollar market by 2018.” But then he explained, “Battery life and design issues are a bit of a challenge. Not everybody wants to wear something around their wrist. Some people are looking for something a little less overt, perhaps embedded in the clothing. And there also needs to be some long-term value added, because there's a pretty high abandonment rate.”

Photo: Visitors crowded the booths at the Somerset County tech event. Photo Credit: Hal Brown
Visitors crowded the booths at the Somerset County tech event. | Hal Brown

He added that people tend to stop using such devices after about 30 days because they "pretty much know" what they need to do to reach their fitness and nutrition goals. However, Burger said, these products will probably become simpler and easier to use within about a year.

In health care, "There are four main areas" where mobile devices can be used, he said. These include independent living, remote patient monitoring, medication adherence, and wellness. Independent living is driven by devices like AT&T's EverThere, a personal emergency-response system that allows seniors to summon help with the push of a button.

For AT&T, patient monitoring involves "a hub device" that acts as a gateway to the cloud, Burger explained. This hub connects to peripheral devices like blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters, weight scales, and more via Bluetooth.

"Medication adherence is also a big opportunity in the market," Burger said. "There's a large percentage of the population that doesn't take their medicine, another large percentage that takes it incorrectly, so there's clearly a need for a solution, but consumers have yet to demonstrate that they are willing to buy such a device or buy such a service." Despite this, Burger said he also thought such products will become more commonplace in the next year.

Finally, the wellness and care-management category revolves around the integration of data. "One of the largest opportunities in the market" is the development of consolidated health platforms, which are being addressed by companies like Apple, Google and Samsung, Burger said. "We think over the next couple of years this is going to be one of the areas that really starts to grow" as the health-care industry adopts new technology, he added.

Following Burger’s talk, three speakers from local companies gave their presentations. Rom Reddy, president and CEO of Somerset-based Sita Corp, spoke about Sojourner, a new data-integration and mobile platform developed by his company. Sojourner, named after abolitionist Sojourner Truth, is designed to bring people's business, personal, financial, and other information together into one app. This would reduce the number of data silos individuals have to manage, making their lives more convenient.

Photo: Visitors at the Juniper Booth Photo Credit: Hal Brown
Visitors at the Juniper Booth | Hal Brown

Darryl Ramsey, senior business development strategist at Juniper Networks, detailed how his company's activities and technological developments affect New Jersey. Juniper's OpenLab facility in Bridgewater allows guests to design, develop and test their products in a network laboratory. OpenLab also runs academic mentorship programs and hosts events like hackathons for technology professionals. Ramsey said the laboratory was located in New Jersey for a reason: because the state is the "home of innovation."

In the third presentation, Matt Julian, principal of the global management consulting firm North Highland, discussed how the adoption of emerging technology can be sped up through branding. "You might be wondering how branding fits into a technology conversation like we're having today," he said. "One solution to poor user adoption is building a brand."

Congressman Leonard Lance gave the closing address, inviting technology professionals to reach out for his help. "My office stands as a resource to you as you continue to develop the kind of technology that will change industries, medicine and information," he said.

After the speeches, attendees were invited to view AT&T's Global Network Operations Center. This facility is often used as part of AT&T's Aspire program, strengthening the company's ties to New Jersey by hosting educational programs for local students.

Such programs are important because they help produce future workers for the rapidly changing tech field. "Industries like ours are growing fast," said AT&T spokesperson Ellen Webner, "but we also need a certain workforce to continue on to 2020 and beyond."

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