July 16, 2018

Legrand bets on internet of things for future growth

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Legrand makes outlets and other products that allow people to plug in their internet-connected devices. The company is investing heavily to expand its footprint in the growing internet of things marketplace.
Photo | HBJ File
Legrand employs 650 people at its W. Hartford North/Central American headquarters.
Manny Linhares, Director of Strategy and IoT, Legrand

By the Numbers

14B
In 2014, there were just under 14 billion connected devices in the world.

50B
By 2020 there are likely to be 50 billion connected devices worldwide.

$350M
The amount of revenue Legrand made in 2015 from connected devices.

4%-5%
The percentage of annual sales that are derived from Legrand's R&D operations.

Steeped in history, Legrand has been looking to the future lately.

The power, light and data products maker was founded more than 100 years ago in Limoges, France, and has its North and Central American headquarters in West Hartford. Increasingly, the company is working to expand its footprint in the growing internet of things (IoT) marketplace.

"When I first started, it wasn't even part of our vocabulary," said Manny Linhares, who joined Legrand about five years ago and currently works as the company's director of strategy and IoT. "With each year that I've been here it started becoming a larger and larger and larger part of our DNA."

IoT refers to the ever-growing network of internet-connected devices that people use in their everyday lives. A home fitted with IoT appliances, for example, may have curtains connected to sensors that open and close depending on how bright it is, and a lighting system that gets brighter as natural light fades.

In 2016, Legrand launched its U.S. IoT program dubbed Eliot, Linhares said. Since then its North and Central American operation has been forging bonds with IoT partners, including Marriott International, Samsung and French auto manufacturer Renault.

Legrand produces the infrastructure IoT sensors and appliances plug into, largely inside homes and office buildings, allowing them to communicate with each other.

Linhares said the company is aiming to dedicate a significant amount of its North American staff resources to IoT. About 650 employees currently work out of its West Hartford headquarters.

Legrand manufactures electronic products the typical consumer may overlook, like electrical wiring devices for personal and commercial uses. Its products range from light switches to electrical systems used in stadium scoreboards.

But, with the rise of smart technology, Linhares said, what's in demand is electronic infrastructure that allows many different devices to plug in and connect.

For example, last year Legrand announced its radio frequency light-controlled systems could connect with Amazon's Alexa allowing users to shut off or dim lights via voice control.

"There's two main areas of true promise. The first one is interoperability, and that's being able to have many devices ... communicate and work together," Linhares said. "The second part of that true promise is that eventual move toward artificial intelligence, and machine learning."

IoT partnerships

One of the major projects Legrand is working on right now is helping create smart hotel rooms with Marriott and Samsung.

The three companies announced an IoT Guestroom Lab partnership in November that aims to integrate products like voice-activated controls and intuitive-lighting into guest experiences.

The goal of the new smart rooms, the companies said, is to provide guests with a more personalized experience. A virtual assistant can set alarms, put in a request for additional housekeeping and start the shower at a desired temperature.

As part of the partnership, Legrand is providing the system that allows for the different monitors, sensors and other devices to operate in the same room, Linhares said.

Last year, Legrand also partnered with French car manufacturer Renault to develop a framework to bring the "connected home" concept into cars, Linhares said.

The goal is to receive information and perform operations in the home through a car's dashboard screen, he said.

Legrand isn't the only Connecticut company focusing on IoT.

Hubbell Inc., a Shelton-based electronics manufacturer last year acquired iDevices, an Avon company that makes connected devices for the home.

Comcast and Samtech also established a joint IoT venture called machineQ, which is focused on building a business-to-business IoT platform.

Going forward, Linhares said, Legrand will continue pursuing partnerships and innovation in the IoT market. However, they will only go for ideas that serve a true purpose.

"To be clear, being able to turn on and off a light switch with an app is not that vision of true promise of IoT," Linhares said. "You shouldn't be adding technology and connectivity just because."

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