PARIS — Many of us, pleasantly surprised by the new French wave of companies (275, including 233 startups) at the last Consumer Electronics Show, are closely following the vibrant tech startup scene in France.
The grand opening of Station F in Paris in late June, attended by a newly elected French president, is testimony to how France today sees an emerging startup culture as critical to its long-term growth.
Certainly, this boom has exposed countless IoT and wearable startups, who are set up to innovate new software, apps, and services.
Not to be forgotten, though, is that France is a nation known for its hard science.
Military-grade imaging technologies
Over several decades, French researchers and engineers have accumulated a number of key technologies in the field of imaging. They range from X-ray and far infrared to visible image sensors, 3D imaging, and software.
The brain power of France’s military-grade imaging technologies is concentrated in the Grenoble/Lyon area.
Much of France’s knowledge in this area, deeply rooted in defense and military-grade technologies, has been fostered through R&D, technology development, and testing/manufacturing experiences in that region. The French call the Grenoble-Isère area “Imaging Valley.”
Jean-Luc Jaffard, an imaging expert and consultant now serving as Chronocam’s vice president for sensor engineering and operations, called the region “unique.” Within a 25-km radius, “you see concentrations of all the basic imaging technologies — everything from CCD, CMOS, X-ray, and infrared.”
Imaging Valley is as old as Silicon Valley, but lesser-known. The high-tech business in the Grenoble region is much smaller than its U.S. counterpart, its community decidedly insular. The region has spawned few giants such as Intel, Apple, or Google — at least for now.
This is not to say, however, that the region lacks expertise in deep technologies.
Grenoble is home to the renowned European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF). CEA, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, opened CEA-Leti in Grenoble 50 years ago. Its mission was focused on the development of microelectronics and information technology.
This is also the region where a lot of French government money has gone to fund scientific research.
As Pierre Cambou, activity leader, Imaging & Sensors at Yole Développement, explained, what started out 50 years ago as technology development for military and nuclear activities switched in the 1980s to semiconductor development. By the 2000s, the region became a center for leading-edge research, tech development, and production of imaging sensors.
The two pillars of Imaging Valley, according to Jaffard, are the military domain and a non-military sector that, together, have developed strains of technologies including CCD, infrared, and CMOS.
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