The City of Antwerp and the Flanders region in Belgium have joined forces with research organisation imec to turn Antwerp into a Living Lab to study how the Internet of Things can change the future of the average citizen.
The idea is that businesses, researchers, local residents and the city itself will experiment with smart technologies aimed at making urban life more pleasant, enjoyable and sustainable.
“Making life in cities more pleasant and sustainable, using everything that our technology has to offer, that is what Smart Cities is all about,” said Philippe Muyters, Flemish Minister for the Economy. “And imec, as a world-class research centre, is the right partner to make this happen.
“With imec’s expertise, we can build a smart city with an open, secure and scalable infrastructure. A smart city where everyone has the opportunity to develop ideas and work together to create the future of Antwerp and the Flanders region.”
Through imec, the region of Flanders will invest €4 million annually in the City of Things project, in addition to the required project resources. The nerve centre for the City of Things initiative is located at StartupVillage, the location from which imec also runs its Antwerp start-up and incubation operations.
During the period from 2017 to 2019, the City of Antwerp intends to invest €650,000 in the project. According to City Councillor for the Economy, Caroline Bastiaens: “The city is targeting four strategic priorities: mobility, security, sustainability and digital interaction with citizens.”
Network of sensors
The City of Things project will roll out a fine-grained network of smart sensors and wireless gateways located around Antwerp’s buildings, streets, squares and other city objects. This network will connect the citizens with a whole range of innovative applications. The ensuing digital innovation is expected to enforce the city’s economic clout.
And with the insights gained from the project, Antwerp and its businesses will learn how to collect the data they need to take well-informed decisions and develop innovative smart applications. Shortly, the seaport of Antwerp will also join the initiative, becoming an incubator for similar smart ideas.
“For the cities of tomorrow it’s all about the survival of the smartest,” said Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever. “Monitoring is the key to knowledge – so that’s exactly what we are going to do. Thanks to this unique collaboration, Antwerp is heading for a new golden age.
“In the coming years, the city will build a strong position in smart city technology, nationally and internationally. It is also the first step in putting Flanders firmly on the world map as a knowledge region: Smart Flanders, we call it.”
Europe’s biggest living lab
The Antwerp Living Lab is designed to grow into the largest living lab in Europe for Internet of Things applications. “Together with the City of Antwerp and Flanders, we have the ambition to become a leading player in the connected world,” said Luc Van den hove, CEO of imec.
“The City of Things project allows us to join the city residents, developers, entrepreneurs, the government, and research centres and universities around one common goal: developing innovative solutions for better cities. Antwerp will become a living technology lab in which everyone can make a contribution to a sustainable, forward-looking society.”
The Antwerp Living Lab already has a number of projects up and running. These include vans operated by Bpost, the Belgian postal service, which have sensors to measure the air quality throughout the city, sensors whose data can be used to improve the city’s air quality.
Another project involved the company Restore, measuring energy consumption in real-time and smoothing out usage spikes with the aim to ensure more efficient, cheaper energy production. With network operator Orange, we study how the project’s goals can be achieved using NarrowBand-IoT.
This new technology enables communication of small data volumes over extended periods at hard-to-reach places, at the same time ensuring that the batteries of the connected devices can keep going for up to 10 years. The preparatory work on a host of other projects, e.g. concerning mobility, is underway.
The overall aim of the smart city project is to make life, living and working more enjoyable for local residents, visitors and businesses alike. Privacy and security are, of course, of great importance, imec acknowledged.
Bastiaens said: “Antwerp is an ideal city to establish this Living Lab. The city is big enough to test applications properly, yet sufficiently small to keep the cost and time required for development under control. Antwerp also has an interesting mix of offices, industry and retail, meaning that various applications can be developed to cover all needs.”
In recent years, Antwerp has developed a blooming ecosystem of start-up businesses and growth companies involved in digital innovation. Currently, the city has more than 350 start-ups and ten growth companies that have newly raised more than half a million euro capital, as well as nine incubators and accelerators, the StartupVillage, exciting corporation such as Nokia, and an extensive international network.
“And last but not least,” concluded Mayor Bart De Wever, “our city council is very open to innovation.”