Antwerp is building a Capital of Things

Smart cities, smart logistics and other smart applications… These concepts are everywhere nowadays... Driven by the digital revolution, the world around us is changing and developing rapidly. Applications that seemed impossible only yesterday are very likely to become a reality tomorrow. So, instead of standing on the sidelines, the City of Antwerp has set itself the goal of becoming a European benchmark for the Internet of Things. The first step along this road is to establish an interuniversity Internet of Things postgraduate, which will start in the fall.

European benchmark for the Internet of Things

The City of Antwerp, the Port of Antwerp, the University of Antwerp and imec, the research and innovation hub for nanoelectronics and digital technology, have set up a unique collaborative project together. After the launch of the City of Things program at the beginning of this year, Capital of Things aims to go a step further and develop an ambitious and unique ecosystem based on the Internet of Things (IoT). In addition to the smart city, IoT solutions for e-health, a smart port, industry 4.0 and the circular economy will also be developed. This type of ecosystem is a fine-grained innovation network in which value is created through close interaction between education, research, living labs, incubation/acceleration, digital and industrial growth companies, people and institutions that provide risk capital, corporates and international brands.

“We aim to make maximum use of Antwerp’s diversity and economies of scale to strengthen our competitive position internationally,” says city mayor Bart De Wever.  “We are doing this by using a single vision and single joint strategy to develop an innovation network based on the Internet of Things. By doing so, Antwerp aims to become the leading example for IoT in Europe: a genuine Capital of Things. Our aspiration is that Antwerp will be exactly the right breeding ground to nurture full-blown ‘unicorns’. A unicorn is a tech start-up that goes on to reach a market value of 1 billion dollars. That’s the scale of things we are looking at. We also want to link major international brands to Capital of Things. Therefore, I am calling on companies and entrepreneurial organizations to connect with Capital of Things.”

Five key objectives in the Capital of Things

Focus is required if we are to bring accomplish these goals. Capital of Things, or the innovation network based on IoT, will focus on 5 major objectives designed to strengthen the structure of the city and region:

  1. Smart city
  2. E-health
  3. Smart port
  4. Industry 4.0.
  5. Circular economy 

“The smart city builds on IoT innovations to make the city safer, more mobile and more livable, while also digitally interacting with the people who live and work there,” says Caroline Bastiaens, alderman for the innovative economy. “In the fall of 2017 we will be rolling out a smart zone, a multifunctional ‘living lab’ for new digital and technological applications, located between Groenplaats and Antwerp South. This smart zone is the result of an existing collaboration between the City of Antwerp and imec.”

“The e-Health objective is part of the worldwide digital innovation the world of healthcare,” continues Bastiaens. “E-Health builds on the open innovation system formed around the Blue Health Innovation Center. The main aim is to enable health tech companies to grow and internationalize.”
The smart port objective will see a traditional, analog port transformed into a digital, connected port.

Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO of the Port of Anterp: “The introduction of digital technology means that the way containers are dealt with – traditionally a task that has been paperwork-heavy – is on the brink of a revolution. The Antwerp start-up, T-Mining, has developed a digital platform for transferring containers at the port terminal safely and efficiently. This platform is based on blockchain technology. The aim is to offer a more secure and efficient solution to the parties at our port who are involved in the pilot project. And this is just one example. Coupled with the smart management of goods flows, there are innovations in the pipeline in the area of managing infrastructure, logistics handling and mobility flows.”

“The industry is also about to undergo a major transition. The industry 4.0. objective refers to an industry that uses new technology, especially for digitization, artificial intelligence and robotics,” adds Vandermeiren. “In this instance, the Internet connects everything and we create value by processing big data quickly.”

As far as the objective for the circular economy is concerned, the focus is on IoT-applications designed to make the city and the port more sustainable: with energy-efficient materials and good water and air quality, recycling and recovering waste flows, as well as sustainable, environmentally friendly energy transition.

Herman Van Goethem, rector of the University of Antwerp: “There are two principles that dovetail nicely here: ‘smart’ and ‘sustainable’.”

“At the beginning of this year we launched the City of Things project in Antwerp, designed to turn Antwerp into a smart city. Technology gives the city the means to improve livability for its residents in a numbers of areas, while at the same time supporting businesses in their innovation and growth,” says Luc Van den hove, president and CEO of imec. “Our aim with Capital of Things is to go one step further. Working with the City Council, the Port of Antwerp, and the University of Antwerp, we intend to apply Internet of Things technology to develop practical solutions in Antwerp for e-health, better logistics at the port, industry 4.0 and the circular economy. Imec will be contributing its expertise in IoT sensors and radio technology, wearable health monitoring, data processing, privacy, living labs and the incubation of start-ups in a whole range of new projects that will be set up in the context of Capital of Things.”

An interuniversity course on the Internet of Things

Through the development of Capital of Things, the four parties involved also aim to anticipate the next skills and the technology knowledge profiles that the society and economy of tomorrow will be looking for.

“The first step is to develop a unique, interuniversity course on the Internet of Things,” says Herman Van Goethem. “This is a new, modular postgraduate program created in partnership between the University of Antwerp, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Ghent University. In its initial phase, the course is intended for people who have already obtained a Master’s in IT, industrial sciences, or engineering. The course begins in the fall of 2017 and over time is designed to become a postgraduate master’s degree program. In the first semester, the students attend classes, while in the second semester, they obtain work experience as interns.”

This tech course is offered in close synergy with industry partners who also want to anticipate the IoT revolution. The City of Antwerp, the Port of Antwerp, and imec will carry out a joint promotion program.

“This year, the City will co-finance the course with 16,500 EUR. In return, three students will be required to develop a business case that fits into the smart zone or aligns with the city’s digital priorities,” says alderman Bastiaens.

Rombit and Cronos Group will also be making 50,000 EUR available for the next three years to support the course. In addition, other leading companies, such as Orange, Atlas Copco, Microsoft, Proximus, Telenet, Agfa-Gevaert and Nokia, have given the project their support.

Claude Marinower, alderman for education, is particularly excited: “This unique interuniversity Internet of Things course is the first concrete achievement of Capital of Things. Our universities aim to be frontrunners in digital and tech innovation. It is extremely important to think ahead ahead and to teach the next skills that our society needs if it is to meet the urgent needs of businesses. Through the Internet of Things course, we aim to stand out from the crowd to strengthen the economic structure of our city and region.”

From intention to collaborative agreement

The four lead parties are all looking in the same direction and want to translate these principles into a genuine collaborative agreement. Preparatory work will be carried out this year and next year, to result in a six-year agreement in 2019. In the meantime, Antwerp will be full developed as the Capital of Things.

The City of Antwerp will also continue to facilitate the development of the ecosystem for IoT innovation. They are currently investigating whether an IoT House – a facility where IoT start-ups, scale-ups, corporates and researchers can work together to support each other – is desirable and feasible. The city will also facilitate the internationalization of IoT businesses by supplying innovation vouchers, programming urban assignments and by providing connectivity with innovation hubs in other countries.

The Port of Antwerp is consulting with NxtPort and focuses on IoT start-ups that can generate innovation in marine logistics and industrial contexts. The aim is to  connect all important assets at the Port of Antwerp in real-time and to integrate them end-to-end in an open ecosystem with private port companies. The Port also wants to attract new businesses, driven by technological developments such as the circular economy, biochemistry and sustainable energy.

Imec will develop its existing technology and City of Things living lab in line with the objectives of Capital of Things: digital experiments for the smart city, smart port, e-health and industry 4.0, as well as IoT applications for the circular economy.

The University of Antwerp will focus its research on the priority areas. They will develop a specific approach to collaborate with the industry and to valorize their research. And the interuniversity Internet of Things study program (more information at is designed to anticipate the profiles that the industry will require in the near future. This will also be extended to other relevant study programs.

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