imec collaborates with Antwerp to establish smart-city living lab

Jan. 6, 2017

The Belgian nanoelectronics R&D center imec announced that it has joined forces with the city of Antwerp to transform the city into a living lab in which businesses, researchers, and local residents, will experiment with smart technologies that aim to make urban life more pleasant, enjoyable, and sustainable.

The collaborative project will run from 2017 to 2019 and is designed to grow into the largest living lab in Europe for IoT applications. imec will leverage its expertise in sensor, wireless, and microchip technologies to help Antwerp target mobility, security, sustainability, and digital interaction as strategic priorities.

A spokesperson said imec’s technology already at work in the living lab includes

  • wireless multi-parameter sensors equipped on two Bpost (the Belgian postal service) vans for C02 and NO2 measurements,
  • ion sensors installed at a water-pollution sampling plant at the Scheldt river
  • 60-GHz wireless backhaul to expand the available communication bandwidth quickly and seamlessly for major events or emergencies.

The spokesperson described these three technologies as constituting the first layer that forms only a part of the gateways that are in the process of being established in Antwerp.

“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, in a press release. “And imec, as a world-class research center, 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.”

City of Things is a collaborative project between Antwerp, Flanders, and imec. Through imec, Flanders will invest €4 million annually in the City of Things project, in addition to the required project resources.

The nerve center for this initiative is located at StartupVillage, the location from which imec also runs its Antwerp startup and incubation operations since its merger last year with iMinds. During the period from 2017 to 2019, the City of Antwerp intends to invest €650,000 in the project. According to City Councilor 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, imec reported. This network will connect the citizens with a 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

imec said 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 centers 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.”

In addition to the sensor equipped Bpost vans, water-pollution monitoring sensors, and 60-GHz backhaul, the Antwerp living lab has a number of other projects already up and running. These include one involving the company Restore, measuring energy consumption in real time and smoothing out usage spikes with the aim to ensure more efficient, cheaper energy production. Network operator Orange is helping 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—for example, concerning mobility—is underway.

Ideal city

Caroline Bastiaens, City Councilor for the Economy, 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 euros in capital, as well as nine incubators and accelerators, the StartupVillage, corporations 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.”

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