French start-ups and SMEs innovate

Given the French defence minister’s marked interest in innovation, it was only natural that the GICAT (Group of French Defence and Security Land and Air-Land Industries) should organise a two-day press briefing with 23 of the country’s most innovative start-ups, small and medium enterprises, and larger companies, which gathered together earlier this week to show off their wares near Versailles.



Possibly the most James-Bondish sort of thing that FOB saw there was the product of a nine-person start-up founded eight months ago called Uniris (a play on words in French: un = one and iris= well, iris!) which has already filed 11 patents. The young engineers have developed a universal biometric identification system which would not only put an end once and for all to all those tiresome passwords we have to remember but also allow you to secure all your communications, electronic payments, electronic voting, medical data. Despite the company name, the ID is actually established based on the unique map produced by the veins in your fingers rather than your eyes. But to ensure that nobody can usurp your identity by chopping your finger off and scanning it, the system

Your finger is scanned by passing it in front of the white “eye” on the lower section of the phone (image: Uniris)

also measures the blood pressure to ensure the finger is attached to a body! An unusually high blood pressure, indicating stress, will trip off a number of other procedures before the identification can be processed. In addition, for added security, the user can predesignate a finger which, if presented for scanning, will freeze the process. This is in order to avoid identification under duress. Once the person has been correctly identified the system will generate an encrypted key which changes every time the ID procedure is launched, even if it’s for the same person.


So, now your phone knows that you are indeed you but how can you ensure that you have permanent and secure access to a 4G high-speed network? Enter another French start-up, Air-Lynx, which offers the surprising solution of having your own, private network. This innovative, compact system, is simple to set up and operate. Users just slip an Air-Lynx SIM card into their android smartphones and then

The back-pack carries all the equipment necessary to set up a private, secure telecoms network (photo credit: GICAT)

simply use their device as normally to talk, send photos, videos and data to other users of the private, secured network. The idea is to ensure that security and rescue teams do not need to rely on a public telecommunications network which can quickly saturate during major events, but also that armed forces in remote areas not covered by a telecoms network, say at a Forward Operating Base in hostile environments, can set up their own, secure, encrypted private network.

Until now the heart of the system, including all the equipment and software necessary to set up communications, was the Air-Lynx ALB 11000. It looks like a large suitcase and weighs 30kg.

The novelty is that Air Lynx has managed to shrink most of the ALB 11000’s functions into the Ultra-compact Air-Lynx ALM 1700 which the company claims is the smallest and lightest private radio system on the market.

Weighing between 7-10kg, ALM 17000 is a back-pack, small enough that it could be pushed through a 70cm x 70cm window. It takes less than two minutes to set up, it can operate autonomously for up to six hours and can serve up to 50 users simultaneously.


But how do you recharge your encrypted phone if you’re in the field ? That’s where Nexter Electronics steps in with TEYA, a portable power generator whose sheer simplicity is genius. All you need is water (any type will do, from the tap, a nearby river, a puddle, or your own body) into which you pour silicon powder with a smattering of hydride from a packet the size of half a credit card and the chemical reaction makes a hydrogen fuel cell creating energy on demand. The container in which the water is contained is about the size of a thermos. The system is currently being evaluated by the French Special Forces.

The “thermos” on the left provides the power for the generator on the right which is charging the mobile phone in front (photo credit: Christina Mackenzie)