Together, City of Antwerp, Flanders and imec are creating a smart city Living Lab

How will the Internet of Things change the future for the people of Flanders? The City of Antwerp, Flanders and imec have joined forces to create a Living Lab, a testing ground where companies, researchers, residents and the City can collaborate on experiments with smart technologies designed to help make urban life more enjoyable and sustainable.

“Smart Cities is all about making life in the cities more pleasant and more sustainable using everything technology has to offer. Imec, our world class research institute, is the right partner in this endeavour. With their expertise, we are building a smart city with an open, secure and scalable foundation where anyone has the opportunity to develop ideas and play a part in shaping the future, for Antwerp, but also for the whole of Flanders,” says Flanders Minister for Economy and Innovation Philippe Muyters. Every year, Flanders, through imec, invests four million euros in the City of Things project and its expansion to the province of Flanders, in addition to the necessary project resources.

A dense network of sensors

An intricate network of smart sensors and wireless gateways has been incorporated into buildings, streets, squares and objects in Antwerp under the City of Things project.  Residents and businesses will soon be connected to various innovative applications through this network. Digital innovation is giving the city greater economic clout. With the insights provided by the City of Things, the city and businesses are able to collect and use data to make effective decisions and build innovative smart applications. The port, too, will soon be a breeding ground for innovative smart applications.

The biggest Living Lab in Europe

Imec has great ambitions for the project: the Antwerp Living Lab must become Europe’s largest testing ground for Internet of Things applications. “In our collaboration with the City of Antwerp and Flanders, we aspire to become a top player in the connected world. The City of Things allows us to rally residents, developers, entrepreneurs, government agencies, research centres and universities together under the same objective, as we aim to develop innovative products for a better Flanders. Antwerp is becoming a Living Lab and technology lab where anyone can help shape a sustainable and forward-looking society,” says imec CEO Luc Van den hove.

The Living Lab is not wishful thinking and definitely not a pipe dream. Several projects are already operational today. The sensors fitted on Bpost vans measure the air quality, providing useful data to improve air quality for instance. Another project involving energy consumption is being implemented with the REstore company. As energy usage is measured in real time, efforts are made to reduce peaks in consumption. Ultimately, this should lead to more efficient and cheaper energy generation. The idea is to achieve this with the help of the latest technology, Narrowband-IoT, in a partnership with network operator Orange. The technology enables communication of small quantities of data over long periods of time and on hard-to-reach places and allows the battery of connected devices to last up to 10 years longer. Preparations for other projects, on mobility for example, are at an advanced stage.   

A smart city will make living and working more enjoyable for residents, visitors and businesses. Privacy and safety are obviously paramount in such a context.

The ideal city

In recent years, Antwerp has also developed a strong ecosystem around start-ups and growth companies in digital innovation. The city currently has more than 350 start-ups, more than ten growth companies which have raised over half a million euros in capital, nine incubators and accelerators, a StartupVillage facility, stimulating corporations like Nokia and an international network.