Philippe Muyters, Flemish Minister for the Economy and Innovation, explains: “The basic idea behind Smart Cities is to use all the capabilities of today’s technology to make life in urban areas more enjoyable and sustainable. Imec, our research organization, is a leader on the world stage. Which is why imec makes the ideal partner. Using their expertise, we are building a smarter city that has an open, secure and expandable substructure. This strong foundation gives everyone the opportunity to develop ideas and work together to build the future – for Antwerp itself, but also for the whole of Flanders.” Each year, the Flanders region is currently investing 4 million euro through imec in the City of Things project, taking smart ideas out to the whole of the region and providing the necessary project resources to make it all happen.
City of Things is a collaborative effort between the City of Antwerp, Flanders and imec. The beating heart of the project is located at StartupVillage in Antwerp, where imec has set up City of Things and accommodates its start-up operations for Antwerp. During the period from 2017 to 2019, the city will invest no less than 650,000 euro in the Living Lab. Alderman for the Economy, Caroline Bastiaens, explains: “The city has set itself four strategic priorities: mobility, security, sustainability and digital interaction with citizens.”
Network of sensors
As part of City of Things, a tightly meshed network of smart sensors and wireless gateways will be installed throughout Antwerp’s buildings, streets, public squares and other urban objects. The people who live in Antwerp and the businesses that operate there will soon be connected via this network with a whole range of innovative applications. Digital innovation definitely gives the city more economic clout. Using the insights provided by City of Things, the city and businesses can collect data and use it to take more effective decisions and build innovative and smart applications. The Port will also become a breeding ground shortly for smart, innovative applications.
“The cities of tomorrow will be all about the ‘survival of the smartest’,” says Antwerp mayor, Bart De Wever. “Knowledge is power – and that’s what we are going to making sure our city has plenty of. This unique collaboration will open the doors to a new golden era for Antwerp. During the years ahead, Antwerp will be positioning itself strongly in this area, both nationally and internationally. It is also the first step for putting Flanders on the world map as an innovative region of knowledge and expertise called Smart Flanders.”
Europe’s biggest living lab
Imec is thinking big. The Antwerp Living Lab is designed to grow into Europe’s biggest living lab for Internet of Things applications. “Together with the City of Antwerp and Flanders, our dream is to be a leading player in the connected world,” says Luc Van den hove, CEO of imec. “Through City of Things, we are bringing local residents, developers, businesspeople, the government, research centers and universities together to focus on the same goal: to develop innovative products for a better Flanders. Antwerp will become a Living Lab and technology melting pot in which everyone can help build toward a society that is both sustainable and focused on the future.”
The Living Lab is not just some sort of vague dream – and it’s certainly not a castle in the air. There are already a number of projects up and running. For instance, Bpost delivery vans are now using sensors to measure the air quality. This data can then be put to good use to improve the overall quality of the air we breathe. Another project is underway with the company Restore, measuring power consumption in real-time and ensuring that peaks in energy demand can be smoothed out. This in turn will lead to more efficient and cheaper energy production. Another example is the collaboration with telecoms network operator Orange: the latest technology, NarrowBand-IoT, will make it possible to communicate small quantities of data over an extended period to places that are difficult to reach – while at the same time ensuring that the battery of the connected devices can operate for up to 10 years longer. Other projects in areas such as mobility are also in the process of being set up and prepared.
A smart city will make life, living and working more pleasant generally for local residents, visitors and companies alike. And, of course, privacy and security are hugely important as part of this better – smarter – life.
Caroline Bastiaens, Alderman for the Economy, again: “Antwerp is an ideal city for setting up the Living Lab. Antwerp is big enough to test applications, yet small enough to keep the cost and time taken for development firmly under control. Antwerp also has an interesting mix of offices, manufacturing and retail, meaning that various different applications can be developed.”
In recent years, Antwerp has built up a sturdy business ecosystem based on start-ups and fast-growing companies in digital innovation. Today, the city has over 350 start-ups and more than ten growth companies that have put together more than half a million euro in capital. There are also nine incubators and accelerators – plus a location like StartupVillage, exciting corporates such as Nokia and a whole international network. Mayor Bart De Wever concludes: “And last but not least, the city council itself is very receptive to innovation.”