Today, half of the world’s population lives in cities, a number that is expected to increase to 75% by 2050. But as urban populations grow, so do urban challenges – such as mobility, safety, environmental concerns, or urban planning issues. Luckily, we can resort to new technologies – like the Internet of Things (IoT) – to help us work things out: as the IoT continues to grow and mature, the foundation is laid for ‘smart cities’ in which tens of thousands of sensors and connected devices optimize the way in which we live and work.
Smart cities are appearing all over the world. In Asia and the Middle East, for instance, there are examples of smart cities that have been built from the ground up, thereby putting technology center stage. In other cities, such as San Francisco, initiatives are driven by commercial companies such as Uber or Airbnb, in an effort to push and implement their smart services platforms.
At imec, however, we believe that a smart city is not just a prefab machine designed by architects or engineers, and crammed with the latest technologies. Instead, building a smart city is about leveraging technology to strengthen the socio-economic backbone of the city; it is about meeting the actual needs of all smart city stakeholders (citizens, local governments, companies and academia) and improving quality of life.
Smart city research at imec
Technological advances give us the tools to optimize the way in which we work and live in our cities. From developing and optimizing microchips and sensors to testing new wireless communication technologies, at imec we have the in-house expertise to create technological solutions tailored to the city of tomorrow:
1. IoT sensor network solutions
The Internet of Things is a massive, heterogeneous sensor network combining very diverse devices and appliances. To ensure that it can continue to mature, a number of challenges need to be solved. Therefore, at imec, we are designing ultra-low power electronics and algorithms to further enable the Internet of Things, while also making sure that the network and its devices can be made secure.
2. 5G and wireless IoT communication
Fast and efficient wireless communication is essential to smart city innovation. Imec has extensive experience in this field. Our portfolio includes millimeter wave phased array transceivers, record-breaking analog-to-digital convertors, reconfigurable low-noise frequency synthesizers, tunable duplexers, and more. Our solutions cover the entire spectrum of wireless communication, encompassing Wi-Fi, LTE and 5G.
3. Low–cost, low-power radar sensing systems
At imec, we are developing compact, high-resolution, low-cost and low-power 79GHz and 140GHz CMOS radars. In addition, we also focus on designing multi-radar, multi-sensor data fusion platforms that enable autonomous driving, smart homes and robotics.
4. Smart Flanders
On January 1, 2017 Flemish Minister for Internal Affairs Liesbeth Homans kicked off the “Smart Flanders-program”, a 3-year research program executed by imec researchers. The Flemish government supports the 13 leading Flemish cities and the Flemish community in Brussels in their transition to becoming smart cities. Smart Flanders realizes this through its focus on real-time open data and shared reference models and by stimulating collaborations between cities and between stakeholders in the quadruple helix.
5. Building a smart city: Antwerp City of Things
To put our vision on smart city innovation into practice, we joined forces with the City of Antwerp and the Flemish Region to launch the City of Things initiative. The aim of this program is to turn Antwerp into a large-scale living lab where businesses, researchers, citizens and city officials can experiment with smart technologies that make urban life more enjoyable and sustainable.
Hundreds of smart sensors and wireless gateways positioned at carefully selected locations will transform the city into a live - and real-life - testbed for Internet of Things applications. The aim is to become a European reference in smart city research, demonstrating what tomorrow’s smart cities could look like.