Inria promotes scientific excellence, technological development and innovation. In keeping with these core aims, the Inria Bordeaux - Sud-Ouest research centre launched a support initiative, backed by Nouvelle-Aquitaine Regional Council. The latter’s aim, meanwhile, is to help new start-ups in the region emerge and to help existing tech start-ups to become even more competitive, giving them flexible and tailored access to project teams and their expertise and technology.
It was through this initiative that the Bordeaux-based start-ups Akiani and Winespace were given the opportunity to partner up with Inria research teams and engineers.
Greater performance through the use of sensors
Sami Lini is associate director of Akiani, a company specialising in ergonomics and design. Having studied for a PhD in cognitics, he crossed paths with Inria on a number of occasions, in particular with Fabien Lotte, director of research within the POTIOC project team at the Inria Bordeaux - Sud-Ouest research centre.
The Inria Bordeaux - Sud-Ouest research centre’s start-up support initiative was a good framework for working together, and gave us the ideal opportunity to launch this partnership explains Fabien Lotte.
The company was seeking to combine different types of physiological signals so as to be able to recognise the mental state of high-level E-sports ‘athletes’ and to devise ways for them to improve performance levels. For this, they were able to call upon Fabien Lotte and Dan Dutartre, an engineer from the centre who deals specifically with this initiative. After months spent analysing physiological signals and conducting research into machine learning using data from students at Bordeaux’s Education Gaming School, Akiani and Inria were able to develop a tool capable of recognising mental states.
Unfortunately, start-ups can’t restrict themselves to creating knowledge. You have to end up with a usable tool in order to open up new markets or to do things slightly differently from what you’re used to doing, explains Sami.
Mission accomplished - thanks to this partnership, the company were presented with two opportunities:
- They will be able to use physiological measurements of mental states in order to measure the performance of high-level operators
- From an ergonomic perspective, which is very much Akiani’s core business, new avenues are opening up linked to analysing user needs
Discover the video Improving the performance of esport players (with the EGS)
One of the companies to have already benefited from this expertise in user design is Winespace
Winespace and the automatic processing of ALMAnaCH languages
Winespace, set up by the three friends Julien Laithier, Sylvain Thibaud and Paul Machurey, is a Bordeaux-based start-up. They wants to make life easier for wine consumers, while accompanying wine sellers in their digital transition. Bordeaux Technowest, which has been supporting the start-up, helped to put Winespace in touch with the Inria Bordeaux - Sud-Ouest research centre. Seeking to develop their expertise, it wasn’t long before the people behind Winespace confronted Inria with a genuine technological obstacle.
At Winespace, we are developing a digital consultant who mimics the expertise of wine professionals (wine merchant, sommelier, oenologist, etc.). Through this advisor, we were already able to precisely understand the needs of each consumer, but we were limited in our recommendations by a limited knowledge of the taste of wines in shop. As it was impossible for us to taste all the wines available on the market, we had to find an alternative..., explains Sylvain.
In order to be able to analyse and compare wines without the company having to go through the tasting stage, the team is interested in the tasting comments of professionals, which contain all the information they need. However, in order to be exploited, these textual comments need to be transformed in depth. An agreement with the wine critic Gilbert & Gaillard®, attracted by the R&D project, was then signed, giving them access to tens of thousands of oenologists' comments.
But advanced automatic language processing is needed in order to analyse so many comments efficiently, and so the entrepreneurs turned to ALMAnaCH, a project team at the Inria Paris research centre managed by Benoit Sagot that is a reference in this field.
The Bordeaux centre’s support initiative is really practical in that you can assign engineers to a project or just to a certain part of it, and there’s no need to go through the recruitment phase because they're already at the centre!” explains Benoit.
There are two main stages to the comment analysis process. The first step is “lemmatisation”, which involves each word in the comments being converted into a simple grammatical root in order to facilitate the understanding of the oenologists' stories by a computer.
“ALMAnaCH had already developed their own lemmatiser, which made this stage easier”, explains Antoine Gérard, the Inria engineer for the initiative who worked with both the team and the company.
The second stage involves transforming each comment into a vector that the computer is able to interpret, allowing it to make recommendations of similar tastes wines. “With Benoit’s help and advice, my role involved developing an algorithm for identifying concepts within “cleaned-up” comments, concepts which had previously been defined by Winespace”, adds Antoine.
Using this tool, the company can now link certain concepts to certain wines based on comments made by wine experts, and offer other wines with similar or identical concepts.
As the cherry on the cake (or should that be the piece of Comté with your glass of wine?), Antoine, the Inria engineer who supported the project, was recruited by Winespace for the end of the year. When it comes to boosting technological innovation, what better way to incorporate Inria’s research aptitude and expertise long-term than to recruit an engineer or a PhD from the institute? We would like to wish them all the best moving forward - who knows, perhaps we’ll see them collaborating with Inria again in the future!