In 2010, AT&T began rethinking its R&D process. "We started stepping back and saying, the world is a different place; things are moving at a pace that is just unprecedented," AT&T VP of Ecosystem & Innovation Abhi Ingle tells Fast Company.
To keep up, the company built three "foundry facilities" the next year to encourage new inventions sourced from inside and outside the companies—places where engineers could explore new ideas without first making their way through traditional gatekeepers. Now, two years later, it's building two more, and both plan to foster innovation around the Internet of Things.
The Internet of Things loosely refers to objects with sensors that can connect with the Internet, and it's an idea so potentially profitable that companies from Qualcom to McKinsey are trying to crack the right codes for bringing it further into reality.
AT&T's new foundry in Plano, Texas, the second in the city (it's located on the floor above the first), will focus on building working prototypes for sensors and other Internet-connected devices. Another in Atlanta will focus on lifestyle apps, including connected objects for home security and connected cars.
Three existing foundry facilities in Plano, Texas; Ra'anana, Israel; and Palo Alto, California, will continue to operate. In the last two years, they've produced inventions that improve call quality, help doctors monitor patients remotely, and monitor employee-owned devices using GPS (something that could come in handy, for instance, if you don't want drivers to text while their vehicles are moving).
"We did not want to fall into the trap of yet another big company going out and doing yet another innovation showcase," Ingle says. We wanted it to be a working lab. That’s why we called it foundry, a place where ideas are made."