By Antoine Charon, co-founder of Sound To Sight and president of LE MANS TECH.
The Business of Mobility is an Urban Mobility Company series highlighting some of the most successful new businesses in the mobility sector. Featuring a closer look at the way in which companies stand out, CEOs, Directors and other c-level executives elaborate on what it takes to turn a great idea into a great company.
LE MANS TECH is a business organisation for new mobility and clean tech businesses based in Le Mans. Antoine Charon helped found LE MANS TECH in 2017 and has served as its President since 2019.
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Le Mans is a pleasant 2-hour drive south-east of Paris on the A10 highway. The town, home to about 140 000 people, is of course famous for the annual 24-hour motor-race. Even on Google Maps the ‘Circuit 24 Hours’ is given the same importance as our main hospital and the famous gothic Cathedral of Saint Julian of Le Mans. Visitors to Le Mans want to know about the race and the legends surrounding it: Steve McQueen’s 1972 movie, Porsche’s tradition of success, and Audi’s extraordinary R10 TDI, the first diesel car to win Le Mans (2006).
In 2017 a few of us small entrepreneurs had the idea of using the famous name of our town, with its world-famous race, to build a network of businesses (and other organisations) dedicated to clean tech and new mobility. And so LE MANS TECH was born.
LE MANS TECH has an annual XMOBILITY event that gathers clean tech mobility players to discuss trends and share innovations. X-Mobility is held near the 24-hour Circuit and this year’s event runs from 28 September. In the spirit of pioneering mobility, our X-Mobility Challenge will promote nine “ambitious, innovative and creative startups” for 2021. The nine winners are: Atmosgear, Ymade, La Ruche à Vélos, Scaramob, Masira, Light Cycle, Yuwway, Maplab, Suricar. And there are plenty interesting stories for new mobility here. AtmosGear is making the world-first electric rollerblades; Ymade manufactures e-motorbikes from wood and composite materials; Light cycle is developing a system of laser lights to keep ‘soft mobility’ users safe at night.
In keeping with the racing theme, we’ve called our planned shared factory and industrial incubator PROJECT PADDOCK . In racing terms, ‘the paddock’ is where cars stop for refuel and repair. Our PADDOCK, which is nestled between the 24-hour Circuit and the airport is a 5 000 m2 factory and warehousing centre which will include design incubators, shared manufacturing services, experience labs and a test track. It’s a big ‘working playground’ for those of us who are crazy about clean tech and new mobility and want to share space with others in the industry…and perhaps ideas too. The Paddock hasn’t been built yet, but we’re in an advanced stage of development. The beauty of a shared space like the PADDOCK is that we can save on capital costs by sharing equipment, e.g. lathes, milling machines, and 3D printers.
Local students can also come and do R&D there, as we introduce a new generation to the opportunities in clean tech and new mobility.
Sound To Sight
Here in Le Mans we are lucky to have an important acoustic research lab; Le Mans University (where I studied) is also strong on acoustic research. It was therefore an ideal place for us to setup a sound design company, called Sound To Sight. Why sound? We all know some of the reasons behind sustainable mobility: less pollution, less carbon, safer, better access, less congestion, etc. There’s also a simpler reason: in the last half century the sounds of nature have halved in volume in places where people live. New mobility and clean tech can help fix this.
Indeed we are already making big strides. EVs are so noiseless that they’re a safety concern, particularly for the sight-impaired. So authorities are insisting that makers add faux engine sounds. This is an opportunity for Sound To Sight, as we design sounds for electric cars. That’s just one aspect of sound design for mobility. There are many other things we’re working on, for example specific sounds for the new ADAS features that are now standard in many vehicles.
I was one of two startups to join LE MANS TECH in the beginning, but since then we’ve grown fast. Our members include: Wello, who develop urban vehicles of tomorrow, Zosh are making all-terrain e-scooters, Célérifère designs fun eco-friendly mobility products and accessories, and Furion has cool hybrid motorcycles … made right here in Le Mans! There’s also L’Agence Pigment (run by Thomas Leret), who are – like us – a design agency, but they are focused on the eye as opposed to the ear.
Brand and design
France is a world leader in design and has powerful brands across various industries, although more so in fashion and cosmetics than in vehicles. With new mobility there is an extraordinary opportunity for France to lead on design. Organisations like ours are important for establishing France on the map as leading innovators of clean tech and new mobility. More than that, we’re building a community of likeminded people. We’re creating a local business network that will help small companies plug into the global mobility ecosystem. And our moral foundation for doing this is ‘tech for good’. We are dedicated to new tech that is pro-nature and sustainable, that will dial up the volume on the sounds that reminds us who we are and where we come from.
Interested in joining Le Mans Tech as an Autonomy Industry Partner? Learn more about our 2022 event today!