The Internet of Things: IT Challenge competition reached its grand finale at the Skolkovo innovation centre Friday, with prizes of 5 million rubles ($78,000) awarded to the winners in several categories.

Skolkovo resident THRONE Systems scooped first prize in the smart homes and smart cities categories for its innovative smart home control systems with a 3D interface, while the first place in the IoT for industry category was fellow IT cluster resident Signum, which makes platforms for the monitoring and diagnostics of equipment.

Mikhail Kulikov (centre), founder of THRONE Systems, accepting his prize from Alexander Anufrienko (left).

In the hardware solutions for IoT category, the winner was Novye Spintronnie Tekhnologii, which is working on spin diode technology based on magnetic tunnel contacts. Each of the three companies received 5 million rubles.

One second place – and prize of 4 million rubles – was awarded in the competition, which was organised by the Skolkovo Foundation and major IT companies including Cisco, Intel and Microsoft. That prize went to Bongo, a smart home app made by Skolkovo resident iRidium mobile, in the IoT for smart homes and cities category.

“This victory means a lot for us: now we have confirmation that our concept rocks not only for the end-user, but also for IT experts,” said Ivan Vasilenko, deputy CEO of THRONE. “Consumer demand for our solution has been already tested by the market, and now we have expert recognition. We hope this will help us reach a new level in our business.”

The company was also awarded a certificate by GS Venture, and is already discussing a project with the investment fund, he said.

Vasilenko said THRONE, which was founded in the central Russian city of Yaroslavl, believes that work on the user interface is one of the main challenges of the modern IoT market.

“The fragmentation and low intuitiveness of the interfaces are the main factors hampering the development of this market today,” he said. “Our goal is to establish market standard visualization, which allows people to quickly create effective and ergonomic user interfaces for Internet of Things systems of any complexity and scale.”

While most grants awarded by Skolkovo are dependent on the company matching the amount in co-financing, funds awarded as prizes in the competition are free of such obligations – though the company must spend the money on developing their projects and technology.

The competition's IoT for industry prize went to Signum. Photo:

Vasilenko said THRONE would focus on making its system easier to install.

“THRONE is a smart home control system with a 3D interface. This approach makes controlling the smart home really simple and intuitive for any user. But each particular project has its own interface, and now we want to make the creation of the interface and setting up the smart home easy for any user, so the installation and setup will require less time and skills,” he said.

A total of 132 projects submitted applications to the competition when it was launched back in November, said Alexander Anufrienko, head of IoT and electronics within Skolkovo’s IT cluster. Twenty-eight of them made it into the final to be judged by a jury made up of experts from major IT companies.

“We’re attracting good projects, and when they see interest from the innovation community, they’re ready to continue their work; it’s too expensive and difficult to be working in this area without an aim,” said Anufrienko.

Not all the categories produced a winner, however. In the IoT for medicine; electronic components and equipment solutions for IoT; and IoT for agro and biotechnologies, no projects were given enough points by the jury to get over the threshold needed for an award.

“A certain threshold has to be maintained in the competition to avoid it turning into a process of simply handing out money,” said Anufrienko, adding that the lack of winners in other categories is not a reason to despair, as many of the competing projects showed promise.

“I’m ready to see them [in the competition] next year, and I’ll start working with them this year, so it’s not like we’re abandoning the projects that weren’t quite good enough this year – especially the new ones. We’ll support them and stimulate them,” he said.

GS Venture, Microsoft and Ros Agro agricultural producer also deemed several projects to have potential and will talk to them about implementing joint pilot projects, Anufrienko added.

An estimated 50 billion devices are expected to be connected to the Internet of Things by 2020, and the market’s potential is estimated at $8.9 trillion, according to the International Data Corporation, a market research company.

The Russian government, in particular the Trade and Industry Ministry, is paying close attention to the development of the industrial internet, Anufrienko said. The Skolkovo Foundation, launched by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev when he was Russian president, has a working group devoted to the issue and is also the co-author of Russia’s IoT development roadmap.

Last year, Anufrienko was invited to represent Skolkovo as part of a study group devoted to IoT within the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T), part of the ITU, a UN specialised agency headquartered in Geneva that creates global standards in telecoms.

Within the working group, countries put forward their own plans for assessment by an expert commission. On the basis of those plans, official recommendations are devised that companies then adhere to, Anufrienko said.

“Skolkovo formally submitted its plan, which was supported by the experts, and now we’re carrying on working together with our startups to bring the recommendation into force. And when that happens, ready products can be made,” he said.