Atari Says Key to Forthcoming IoT Products: Keeping It Simple

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Fred Chesnais, the company's CEO, tells IOT Journal how the brand best known for its seminal home video gaming systems is working with LPWAN network provider Sigfox to roll out Internet of Things products.

Last week, Atari—the company that launched the home video gaming industry in the 1970s and owns many iconic titles, including Asteroids, Centipede and Pong—announced that it is collaborating with Sigfox on a range of new products outside of its current gaming offerings. While the firms did not reveal many details in a Sigfox-issued press release, IOT Journal spoke with Fred Chesnais, Atari's CEO, to learn more about his company's plans.

Atari was one of the first companies to enter the personal computer market, offering a range of home computer systems from 1979 until 1993. After undergoing several changes in ownership, Atari fell onto hard times, then emerged from bankruptcy in 2013. Since then, the company has been developing products outside of gaming, often through licensing arrangements. Atari plans to use the IoT products it will introduce in the coming months to expand its non-gaming presence.

Atari's Fred Chesnais

Many of Atari's current gaming products are made for mobile devices, which gives the firm an existing touch point with consumers, aside from its widely recognized name. "If you look at what we do for mobile, we use a network and provide apps," Chesnais says, noting that Atari will bring its brand and community to the new products it introduces with Sigfox. "We'll draw eyeballs," he says, adding that its customers have an affinity for the Atari brand, harkening back to their youth, but that they now have significantly more buying power.

"It's true that Atari is known for games," Chesnais says. "But at the end of day, it's about bringing technology to the mass market, like we did in 1972 [with the original Atari console]."

Sigfox is quickly installing infrastructure for its low-power wide-area network (LPWAN), which uses a proprietary ultra-narrow-band radio frequency protocol—meaning it relies on very narrow slices of the unlicensed Industrial Scientific Medical (ISM) frequency band—across Europe and in a handful of U.S. cities. The company frames the technology, which sends small data packets over long distances, as a low-cost alternative to cellular-based IoT networks.

According to the release, Atari plans to sell products that fall under the "home, pets, lifestyle and safety" categories. Chesnais provides additional detail, explaining that initial products will likely enable consumers to geolocate their pets or luggage. This likely means that Atari plans to sell pet collars and luggage—or perhaps luggage tags—with embedded Sigfox radios. Consumers would need some type of interface, perhaps a smartphone application, to look for and receive location information regarding lost baggage or pets.

Simplicity will be key to the new products' success, Chesnais stresses. Instead of enabling a long list of features, the Sigfox connectivity is likely to support applications that rely on location and perhaps, by marrying the radios with sensors, temperature or humidity data. For personal safety products, location services might be paired with an audible alert.

Rather than having consumers pay a recurring subscription fee for access to the Sigfox-based network, Chesnais says, Atari expects to incorporate those costs into the retail prices. He adds that his company may integrate Sigfox technology into a consumer drone product that it is currently developing, or a cellphone made specifically for gamers—though that is in the very early stages of development.

Sigfox's system and similar LPWAN technologies do have limitations, insofar as they can only transmit small data packets, and nothing as compute-intensive as video or audio. But Chesnais does not see this as a limiting factor for the types of products and applications Atari is planning, again citing the simple nature of the planned applications. Plus, he adds, Atari's collaboration with Sigfox is designed to complement, not replace, the products and services it currently leverages over cellular networks.