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Walloon innovation shines at world's largest high-tech trade show

01:00 10/06/2017

Seven Walloon start-ups presented their innovative creations earlier this year at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the world’s most prestigious trade show for developers of electronics and digital devices.

Getting a place at the show – which brings together 165,000 visitors and 3,800 exhibitors – is a big achievement in itself, because candidates are chosen on the basis of a dossier that must demonstrate their product’s innovative potential. Not only did the Walloon businesses take part in the show, some of them even brought home awards.

Four of the local exhibitors came from the Liège-based business incubator The Faktory: Altostratus, Kanopy Technologies, P-Heal and Riiot Labs. According to Simon Alexandre, general manager of The Faktory, the CES isn’t just a unique opportunity for start-ups to gain attention on the global stage. “It’s also a
perfect place to exchange ideas, develop new partnerships and get to know the needs of the international market,” he says.

Riiot Labs impressed visitors with Blue, its smart pool analyser which constantly analyses a pool’s water quality – temperature, pH, salinity and chlorine level – and sends this essential data to an app, so the person maintaining the pool can monitor water quality via their phone. The company is targeting pool owners around the world and provides professional solutions to pool dealers and maintenance companies.

The Las Vegas event was a success for Riiot Labs, as the company won an Innovation Award in the ‘smart home’ category. “The CES helped us to position our product in the world press and spread the word,” says CEO Benjamin Stévens. While already attracting interest in Europe, Riiot Labs now plans to target markets on other continents, and is also working on new products.

Altostratus presented Pioupiou, a connected weather station that doesn’t require electricity or internet access. The compact and lightweight device measures wind speed and direction as well as the intensity of gusts. “All the sensors and the solar panels are integrated,” says founder Nicolas Baldeck. “Even if you’re on top of a mountain, all you have to do to make it work is to set it up.” The data can be easily consulted through an app.

Altostratus targets two kinds of clients. The first is associations of sports activities that depend on the wind, such as kitesurfing and paragliding. The second market is event organisers and those in charge of industrial sites. “If you set up a tent for events, you need to monitor the wind, in case extreme conditions make an evacuation necessary,” explains Baldeck.

“And data on the wind is also essential when working with a crane on an industrial site.” A second version of Pioupiou, with even higher-quality technology, should be available by the summer.

Plant lovers at CES will have stopped in their tracks at the stand of Kanopy Technologies, which has developed an intelligent dish – to be placed under a plant pot – to optimise the watering of potted plants. Kanopy25 has integrated sensors which, based on the plant’s weight, send data about changes in the soil humidity to the owner’s smartphone, allowing them to adapt the watering and monitor the plant’s health. The system includes a pump that ensures optimal watering, even during absences.

“It helps people understand the plant’s needs by recording its water consumption and guarantees that it will always be watered perfectly,” explains Jonathan Gross, founder of Kanopy Technologies. He says the experience at CES was very fruitful. “Everybody felt Kanopy25 solved a problem that they or someone in their family has,” he says. “We made contacts with a lot of distributors from around the world, including from the US, Canada, Japan, China and Latin America.”

The start-up is already developing a new, smaller version of Kanopy: the Kanopy15, with a diameter of 15cm.

P-Heal, the fourth initiative from The Faktory, is still in the project phase and should be officially launched by the summer: a connected pillbox that reminds people to take their medicine. Equipped with scales that detect changes in weight, P-Heal will constantly monitor changes in the quantity of pills and determine whether users have taken their medication. A light indicator will serve as a reminder, and if people still forget to take their medicine, P-Heal will warn them by text message.

Much attention in Las Vegas also went to the innovative 3D printing pen, called Lix, created by start-up Lix Pen, based in Braine-l’Alleud, south of Brussels. A functioning 3D printer, it is the shape and size of a regular pen, and allows users to produce 3D objects in just a few minutes, not with ink but with plastic. Heated to a temperature of about 230°C, the melted plastic solidifies when it cools. The pen is powered by standard USB ports or electrical mains. The main target group are professional users such as architects, designers and jewellery makers.

Charleroi-based company Calyos, a specialist in fan-free cooling systems for
high-performance computers, also made the most of the trip to Las Vegas. It won an Innovation Award in the ‘gaming’ category with its NSG-S0 Fanless PC concept. The product will be of interest to gamers who need a high-performing computer and regular users looking for a silent computer.

“But we also receive many requests from the music and design sector,” says marketing officer Elisa Wolf. Thanks to its innovative cooling solution, which doesn’t require fans and active pumping, its technology can provide high power and save energy. The version presented in Las Vegas was just a prototype. At the time of writing, Calyos is transforming it into a product and launching a campaign on Kickstarter to give people the chance to buy the technology for
between €500 and €600.

Bloom Technologies, co-founded by Liège-born Julien Penders, has a base in Flanders as well as in San Francisco. In Las Vegas, it won an award in the ‘wearable technologies’ category, with Bloomlife: a connected sensor that analyses the contractions of pregnant women in real time without communicating radio waves to the unborn child.

“Bloomlife gives pregnant women information which until now they could only get through their obstetrician,” say the Bloom Technologies team. “It also gives them peace of mind by showing them what they’re feeling and giving them a more concrete way to share information about their contractions with their partner and midwife.”

All pregnant women can benefit from the innovation but it can be particularly interesting for women who run an increased risk of preterm labour. In the long term, the enterprise wants to help create the most extensive dataset on maternal and prenatal health, so researchers and doctors can predict and manage pregnancy complications better.

Written by Andy Furniere