The intelligent factory floor simultaneously acts as a sensor, display, and charging station. Industrial robots and self-propelled material boxes, which recharge their batteries without contact, are controlled by light signals while sensors record the weight. And the ThingOS control software is installed under every tile: "We enable communications between all systems," explains Thomas Kubitza, co-director of the startup. "What is on display here is the implementation of the platform idea in its purest form."
The name “ThingOS” stands for "Operating System for Networkable Things". What this refers to is a platform-driven operating system for the Internet of Things that networks intelligent devices regardless of manufacturer and technology. It can be accessed directly via an on-site hub, downloaded as an app from the cloud, or embedded directly in the electronics as firmware. The so-called communicating floor, which the start-up presented at Hanover Messe 2019 together with their collaboration partner and customer Bosch Rexroth, illustrates how the new software could be used in the smart factory of the future. But the fledgling company is also already providing connectivity in the networked home, interconnecting everything from light bulbs and wall switches to voice assistants.
Core technology already developed in PhD
ThingOS sells their platform and services to corporate clients either via a licensing model or as a white label, i.e., in the form of a pre-configured product, which the buyer then markets as its own software or hardware product. In terms of the IoT and its technical challenges, Kubitza instinctively got it right ten years ago, at a time when the Internet of Things and its potential had not yet become widespread in the industrial sector. "Even at that time,” the software developer explains, “the central problem was fragmentation.” Rapidly establishing communication links and an efficient inter-operation between devices are still hampered by different technologies, standards, and protocols.
We enable communications between all systems.Dr. Thomas Kubitza
Ideal conditions at the ARENA2036 research campus
While ThingOS GmbH was not a "high flyer" with a market valuation in the billions, the technology-driven start-up needed no external funding from venture capitalists nor other investors and turned a profit right from the start. As Kubitza puts it: "We haven't grown rapidly, but our growth has been robust." ThingOS is "headquartered " in the University of Stuttgart's ARENA2036 research campus. As far as the young entrepreneur is concerned, the approximately 4,700-square-meter factory building on the Vaihingen campus is "a super environment for innovations.” It simultaneously provides space for co-working and serves as an area for experimentation and a laboratory for interdisciplinary development projects that research institutes, large companies, SMEs, and start-ups wish to advance in the automotive and industrial sectors.
"New ideas emerge here during chats at the coffee machine and then quickly become reality," says Kubitza. It is also where that ThingOS won the "Start-up Autobahn" competition for new entrepreneurs. The company currently employs 15 people, the majority of whom are software development specialists. Kubitza is convinced that "if you want good products, you need a good team.” He believes in agile working methods, flat hierarchies, personal responsibility, and a modern corporate culture: "Working from home was standard practice for us even before the pandemic." The young talents who touch down here have to fit into this environment.
To be precise, ThingOS has already accomplished its "exit plan" a short time ago, as the start-up has been part of the Häfele Group since spring 2022, a medium-sized provider of smart home solutions, a sector in which Kubitza sees an opportunity to expand into new areas. When asked about the recipe behind this success story, he doesn't have to think long: "A great team, total commitment to the idea and a lot of stamina."
Editor: Jutta Witte