French software firm follows open-source strategy it believes sets itself apart from competing asset-location technologies
PARIS—Ubudu is “a very nice town in the heart of Bali, in Indonesia,” Thomas Saphir said, beginning to explain the name he and his friend of 33 years, François Kruta, chose for the firm they set up here seven years ago. “‘Ubudu’ is also a blink to Ubuntu, the famous open source operating system.”
The name is apropos of the pair’s “open ecosystem” philosophy.
“The manufacturing business has a lot of application needs requiring location technologies” like those Ubudu provides via offerings like asset tracking, “wayfinding” and flow analysis, said Saphir, who serves as COO. “Manufacturers cannot invest in 10 different technologies when they have 10 application requirements. They want application technologies for forklifts, parts, humans, tools, etc. So we provide the software and hardware backbone for locating the assets on the client’s side. We are open to third-party sensors and third-party IT systems, like MES or ERP—because at the end of the day, it all has to work together in a seamless fashion to obtain the productivity gains.”
Ubudu also provides “some bits of open source code in the form of libraries, and we have APIs” so that assets can be queried through programmatic language rather than UI web screens, he said.
Saphir and CEO Kruta, both 44, left behind consulting careers (Accenture and McKinsey, respectively) to brave the startup world. So they naturally promise 20% optimization “as a minimum bar we set for ourselves when we apply lean solutions to manufacturing plants.”
Ubudu, which is self-financed except for some angel money, now employs about 30 people—and expects to employ about 70 after 18 more months. There are a dozen people in the headquarters here in Paris, 14 people working on R&D in Warsaw and four individuals handling regional sales in Hong Kong.
Working with ultra-wideband (UWB) technology from the Irish fabless semiconductor firm DecaWave, as well as Bluetooth technology from the Norwegian chipset maker Nordic Semiconductors, Ubudu uses small tags or smart phones exchanging radio signals with fixed sensors, along with a location server that computes and processes the position of just about anything you want.
In addition to tracking assets in real time, Ubudu’s sensors and software can analyze the project at hand and, “using some advanced analytics, optimize routes, for instance,” Saphir said.
On top of that, Ubudu offers a tool that manufacturers can use to automate a process. Say a forklift arrives fully loaded in a zone where a robot is waiting to unload it. The Ubudu tool can itself trigger the robot to get off its duff.
Ubudu has helped an automaker slash to 15 minutes from 8 hours the time it takes to locate one car among thousands stored on one grassy field, Saphir said, declining to name the customer. “It should only be as long as it takes to walk or drive to where the car is parked, because you have instant location on a map.”
Ubudu has also helped a big fast-food restaurant chain it is not at liberty to name—with a project that is likely to at least inform future work in manufacturing, Saphir said. That project involves giving Bluetooth-enabled tokens to customers who order food via a digital kiosk so waiters can speedily deliver patrons’ orders by following signals the tokens. “By doing this, the chain saves 20 seconds per order,” he said.
He sees manufacturers in aerospace, in particular, benefitting from similar technology because a lot of assembly work is still done manually, he added.
“They use a lot of tools. You can have tens of thousands of tools within one hangar,” Saphir said. “So here you’d want to (speedily) locate those tools—and then you’d want to locate the engines.”
Ubudu is doing some R&D work with the French aircraft engine maker Safran: The pair is developing a product “specifically for supply chain operators that are using air transport,” he said.
Robert Bosch, the German engineering and electronics company, is working with Ubudu’s technology as it proves out an RTLS (for real-time locating systems) solution for outdoor assets. “This work follows the same principle of hanging small tags onto your assets,” Saphir said. “The asset can be a part, a pallet, a container or a vehicle. Then you have wireless gateways that are collecting the signal and have a GPS sensor, and they send this data to a server.”
Saphir sees the British firm Ubisense and the Chinese firm Tsingoal as Ubudu’s main competitors.
To take them on, the U.S. is key, Saphir said. “It’s a very large market. And it’s a very advanced market in terms of maturity of the business clients.”
Ubudu is participating in Business France’s first French accelerator “dedicated to the industry of the future in North America” to establish contact with potential clients, find some new partners “and transform those meetings into tangible projects,” he said.
The company is already working with SAP Canada and Accenture in the U.S.
To differentiate itself from Tsingoal and Ubisense, Ubudu tells prospective customers it is more agile and lends itself better to interoperability, Saphir said.
On the first point, Ubudu deploys an infrastructure that can use UWB or BLE (Bluetooth 4.0) tags or smartphones.
On the second point, Ubudu follows and drives, yes, open-source standards while Ubisense, for example, adopted a proprietary approach, he added.