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Behind the scenes of research: “digital twins” in industry


“Research focuses on producing things that can be applied and used within a short timeframe.”


Every year, the Orange Research Exhibition showcases anticipated and innovative projects being led by the Research teams. This is an opportunity to promote and shed light on the work of these trailblazers, which focuses on strategic areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT).

Research at Orange is organised around nine priority areas, one of which concentrates on the IoT. Each area is divided into different research programmes and each programme is subdivided into several projects. With the approaches and the overall visions driven by the managers of each area, it is up to the teams to explore all the possible paths within their research scope for themselves.

Multidisciplinary teams

Sylvie Derrien is the research project manager for the IoT area of the Web of Things Platform. Her teams are responsible for creating the Thing’in collaborative research platform in the Rennes labs and they are involved with developing services based on this platform. Formerly a project manager for the production rollout of applications and services, Sylvie joined the Research labs in 2015 to be at the centre of Orange’s innovation chain. She now coordinates a multidisciplinary research team comprising researchers, PhD and post-doctoral students, developers, architects and trainees. The team does not work alone; rather, it interacts with a number of innovative third parties and ecosystems. These could be internal or external and in the field of academia or industry. It is by these means that the team contributes in particular to the European BIM2TWIN project, which aims to develop a digital building twin platform for the construction industry.

Ideas inspired by competition

The health crisis has disrupted working habits over the last 12 months. Although remote working is now the norm, methods and organisation as a whole have seen little to no change. “Generally speaking, we start each day with a stand-up meeting to maintain dynamic and essential competition and thus help with inspiration”, explains Sylvie Derrien. “We have taken an Agile approach to our work for several years, with methods describing, sprint by sprint, the developments to be carried out on the Thing’in platform to meet its users’ needs and to inspire new ideas from research. Another major challenge along the same lines is to build a platform that is both generic and capable of adapting to diverse use cases in the fields of health, Industry 4.0 etc. Effectively, the platform is designed with the aim of opening up IoT domains, which often operate according to a silo mentality.”

By exploring the main lines of research, exchanging ideas, challenging one another and studying existing research through technological monitoring, Sylvie and her teams are developing fresh ideas to enhance the platform. “Much of our day-to-day work involves being curious, identifying potential technological barriers and finding ways to break them down.”

The continuous quest for relevance

While research is sometimes preparatory, with a focus on the distant future (there is already talk of 6G), there are usually deadlines to be prioritised. “The aim is to produce things that can be applied and used quickly. Our research projects have a pragmatic side to them and the solutions that we develop always have a purpose — an objective to fulfil, whether it is for industry or academia. We always keep users’ needs in mind. Once we have a service ready to deliver, we rely on the expertise of operators — that of Orange Group entities whose job is to sell and maintain these services: from Dev to Ops.”

This quest for cohesion between research projects and actual use cases or needs is evident in the Thing in Industry solution, which was developed by Sylvie Derrien’s team and presented at the 2021 Research Exhibition.

Thing in Industry: an example of “useful” research

The project was launched following a request from the company Prolann, an authority in engineering specialist mechanical parts. Prolann turned to Orange with a wish to evolve towards an Industry 4.0 model and the research teams got down to business. The end result was a solution for tracking the production of objects in space and time by combining the capabilities of the Thing’in platform and the geolocation sensors that are installed in the factory. Its implementation paves the way for increased performance of manufacturers’ production lines in terms of productivity and traceability.

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