AT&T center boosts region’s tech roster

Major announcements from Atlanta-based AT&T Mobility over past two years:

Connected Car: General Motors will equip its 2015 model cars with AT&T’s 4G LTE network, per an agreement announced in February.

Digital Life: AT&T launched its suite of applications and services to manage your home’s security system, lights temperature and entertainment systems in April.

The Foundry: AT&T announces it will add a fourth innovation center as part of a partnership with Georgia Tech and Cisco.

Continuing Coverage

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is committed to showing how technology affects our lives. From the “connected” car and “digital” home to today’s story on cyber security, the AJC is following trends that impact how we live.

The AJC first reported AT&T was eyeing Atlanta for a new high-tech research hub in November. Last week the newspaper reported that the deal had been done and an announcement would be made Tuesday.

The paper then sat down with AT&T Mobility Chief Executive Ralph de la Vega for an interview.

AT&T wants the next generation of wireless products to better monitor your home or help you drive safely to come from a new innovation center at Georgia Tech.

The research hub is the fourth set up by AT&T and its Atlanta-based wireless unit, AT&T Mobility. Called the Foundry, the center is the latest example of Atlanta’s growth as a hub for wireless and mobility operations.

“We wouldn’t be (in Atlanta) if we didn’t think Atlanta was a big hub,” Ralph de la Vega, chief executive of Atlanta-based AT&T Mobility, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

AT&T is expected to announce Tuesday that it will open the Foundry at Georgia Tech’s Technology Square campus in Midtown Atlanta by the end of the summer. The other three, in California, Texas and Israel, have worked on more than 60 ideas so far, the company said.

The Atlanta center adds to the region’s economic boost from technology, economic development experts say. General Motors, Panasonic and Elavon also have recently announced plans for research hubs in or around the city, connecting entrepreneurs with executives, software developers and engineers.

“It just gives Atlanta a strategic advantage,” said Larry Williams, the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s technology industry development vice president. “If we can commercialize innovation and move them from concept to market faster than other places, that’s what will help us.”

At the Foundry, entrepreneurs will work with AT&T employees to develop new products and apps for AT&T customers and quickly bring them to market. The hub could also spawn local startups.

Unlike AT&T Mobility’s Atlanta-based Emerging Devices division and its “Digital Life” unit, which have added hundreds of jobs, a small core of AT&T employees will work at the Foundry with the idea of partnering with hundreds of area entrepreneurs.

Employess from AT&T and the Foundry’s corporate partner, Cisco, will work with Atlanta-area university students, software developers and entrepreneurs in what AT&T calls a “learning lab.”

“To me, that is the future, going to where innovation is happening, enabling it to work faster and working with entrepreneurs,” de la Vega said.

AT&T and corporate partners, which include Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco and Ericsson, committed more than $100 million to the existing AT&T Foundry locations, the company said.

The money has helped fund the research and development at the three existing centers in Palo Alto, Calif.; Plano, Texas; and Ra’anana, Israel, all of which opened in 2011.

Atlanta’s Foundry will focus on consumer products and applications, he said. The main areas: home monitoring, the connected car and mobility in general.

“Those two areas – Digital Life and the connected car – you’re going to see some of the most innovative products come out of those two areas,” de la Vega said. “Developers can develop applications for a car as easy as they can do for your smart phone.”

Some work has already begun. AT&T is helping develop a product from Soneter, a startup that developed technology to monitor how water flows through pipes. AT&T hopes to turn that into a product that can detect water leaks, de la Vega said. The company is testing a prototype at its “Digital Life” test home.

“That’s why we love the location, they are a couple of floors up,” de la Vega said. “It’s one of those great examples where we just happened to walk into the place and we started talking and we found out that they are working on something that could have an application for Digital Life.”

One of the projects in Palo Alto evolved into software called AT&T Toggle. The application lets consumers have one Smartphone or tablet but switch between a profile with personal contacts, emails, games and photos and a “business” profile of work email, calendars and contacts.

The Foundry in Plano develops software and applications mostly for businesses using so-called machine-to-machine technology. One example is a temperature-based sensor to help airlines and associated companies track high-end cargo as it travels in large containers.

The Israel operation is near other high-tech research-and-development centers, including ones operated by Apple, which has long worked with AT&T on products such as the iPhone.

AT&T already is working with auto manufacturers on new car designs and after-market features for the “connected car,” essentially an extension of your Smartphone with apps, sensors and beacons to help you drive more safely.

This could bring new opportunities for two auto manufacturers with a major presence in metro Atlanta: Porsche North America, which is building new facilities near the Atlanta airport, and General Motors, which selected a former UPS site in Roswell for a technology development center that could bring as many as 1,000 jobs to the area.

“One of the reasons we chose to stay in Atlanta was for things like (the Foundry): the technology, the people, the vibrancy,” Porsche spokesman Steve Janisse said. “Telematics is a huge area, and having some expertise in our own backyard would be helpful.”

GM doesn’t have a formal relationship with AT&T’s Foundry, but a company executive touted the potential of applications that allow drivers to customize cars just like they do with smartphones.

“Cars are just another connected device,” said Greg Ross, director of business development and alliances for General Motors’ Global Connected Consumer department. “Frankly, that’s why led us to the partnership (with AT&T); we had a similar view of the potential for connected vehicles.”

AT&T Mobility’s archrival, is the nation’s No. 2 wireless carrier. Its chief competitor, Verizon, has two innovation centers. One is in Waltham, Mass., near Boston. The other is in San Francisco.