How a Soviet-born engineer decided to create “the Android of IoT” - RUSSOFT

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How a Soviet-born engineer decided to create “the Android of IoT”

Rightech, a Moscow-based startup, is working on developing a platform for Internet of Things, which it hopes will become some kind of “Android of IoT”

Jan 13, 2018
Currently, Rightech provides IoT services, such as data storage, processing and transfer, as part of its IoT Cloud. This platform allows programmers to develop and modify IoT applications without even having any specific IoT skills or knowledge.

"Using the platform, companies can launch IoT projects in short terms and with a minimum number of employees, focusing exclusively on their idea," says Rightech founder and CEO Ilya Bykonya.

"Our goal is to open the gate to IoT to the highest possible number of companies."

From Soviet legacy to tech entrepreneurship

Although Bykonya was just one year old when the Soviet Union collapsed, he in some ways benefited from the Soviet tradition of technical excellence. He attended advanced extracurricular physics and math classes at secondary school and later studied at Orel State University under Vladimir Vargashkin, currently a member of London institute of Physics.

While still at university, Bykonya, who self-taught programming at age nine writing code in a notepad without even having access to a computer, started working at GK Navigator, one of the leading telematics providers in Russia at the time, doing projects for the likes of oil and gas major Rosneft and agricultural machinery manufacturer Rostselmash.

Bykonya had dreamt of becoming a scientist since childhood but he was soon faced with a choice between academia and business. In his graduation year, he was doing an internship at iconic Soviet factory Orleks’ special design bureau.

"Right in the middle of my internship, the bureau was shut down, which came as a shock to the entire city and to me personally," Bykonya recalls.

Choosing between a theoretical scientist’s low-paid job and an engineer’s career in business, Bykonya opted for the latter and stayed at GK Navigator. But as the company was cutting costs, providing little incentive for young and ambitious employees, Bykonya soon realized that he could develop his theories and bring his ideas to life only by becoming an entrepreneur.

The idea of an IoT platform came to him when he still worked at GK Navigator and found himself a supporter of "smart software" as opposed to "smart hardware" in the conflict of two engineering approaches.

"The ‘smart hardware’ approach created huge problems for software developers because each modification even minor requires them to modify the code and update it on each device," he says. "These modifications tend to happen very often and distract developers from improving the technology."

His idea was to develop smart and flexible software acting as a platform instead of an end-point solution, allowing developers to avoid massive routine work and to concentrate on developing and improving target user applications.

Bykonya and a few other GK Navigator graduates moved to Moscow, where Rightech was founded in 2016.

Currently, the company employs 14 people, but plans to dramatically grow to just under 100 as soon as investment comes through.

Rightech’s clients include two Russian car sharing services (Delimobil, the market leader, and Carenda, its young challenger), as well as EGGS TV, a provider of advert streaming in bars, restaurants and sport clubs. Pilot projects are under way for ALD Leasing and Sberbank Leasing (corporate car sharing) as well as with agricultural wholesale distribution center network RAM (objective control).

A seed investment of $300,000 came from Vincenzo Trani the founder of Delimobil.

The challenge of finding the right people

The main challenge Rightech faced was hiring. Although the core team was formed by Bykonya’s former colleagues at GK Navigator, finding new members was far from a cakewalk.

"Experienced professionals required for IoT are very rare and expensive," says Bykonya.

The current lineup came about as a result of hours of university presentations and online and personal communication.

Still, it is sometimes difficult for new member to adapt to the company’s management style, which is based on every member’s expertise rather than traditional boss vs. subordinate hierarchy.

"Newer employees have difficulties adapting as they are used to relying on their accumulated authority in knowing some technologies or processes better than other team members," Bykonya explains.

"That puts them in a slightly stressful state until they learn to earn real authority by solving problems and cooperating to achieve mutual goals."

In pursuit of ‘the Android of IoT’

The first version of Rightech IoT Cloud is "very close to mature product", according to Bykonya, but the plan is to go much further.

"Our strength lies in Rightech’s protocol-agnostic connectivity and its accessibility to all developers regardless of their IoT skills. Thus the entry barrier into IoT is being lowered as never before, still making it possible, nevertheless, to develop sophisticated IoT applications," Bykonya says.

"Our weaknesses are data visualisation and analytics tools," he admits.

Responding to the issue, Rightech plans to add various data analysis tools based on neural networks and flexible data visualisation capabilities with freely configurable dashboards that are in high demand for IoT projects.

Other prospective features of Rightech IoT Cloud include automatic analysis of incoming data and finding new parameters, actions and events without participation of a human user, as well as active data storage based on self-analysis tools.

"The platform is not going to become an ‘artificial intelligence’ and its capabilities will not be comparable to the human’s," concedes Bykonya. "But it will definitely be comparable to an insect such as an ant. And you will be able to just set a development vector for it and it’ll find the best way by itself.

In the future, Rightech expects to focus on making available its platform as an online service and a universal IoT framework. The company will also support solution development and integration, "essentially for marketing purposes."

"We’ll make special emphasis on promoting our technology among the programmers’ communities as we believe they have the most influence on decision making when it comes to fundamental technologies like frameworks," Bykonya concludes.