Northern Ireland Leads the Charge on Smart Cities

DSP Valley member Invest NI showcases the progress and projects making Northern Ireland’s cities smart.

There’s no denying that the events of 2020 sparked a frank discussion on the pros and cons of city-living. But long before COVID19, most of us recognised that our urban environments needed change and fresh life breathed into them, and technology could potentially hold the key. ‘Smart’ solutions, as they have become known, are now being implemented in communities across the world with the goal of improving quality of life.

This smart revolution is already well underway in Northern Ireland, where digital infrastructure has long been a priority. Cities like Belfast are tapping into the nation’s expertise in sectors spanning technology, cyber security, data analytics and advanced manufacturing to unlock a diverse range of technology-based initiatives to deliver economic, social, and environmental benefits for citizens.

The city was one of the first in the UK to be selected for BT’s 5G network roll-out and, as part of its ambition to become a Smart Port, Belfast Harbour has partnered with BT to trial 5G maritime innovations.

Supporting the pioneers

Over the past decade, Northern Ireland has carved out a niche for itself as a fast-growing and vibrant technology hub.

With more than 1,200 technology companies and 28,000 people employed in Northern Ireland’s ICT sector alone, we are a hotbed for talent across technology and data science industries. This, combined with our academic leadership in cyber security research, makes Northern Ireland ideally placed to lead the charge as the world looks toward smart cities opportunities.

Cutting-edge smart solutions are being developed and implemented across Northern Ireland today, bolstered by initiatives like the Northern Ireland Internet of Things Network (NI-IoT). Led by Ulster University, a free-to-use network that helps businesses develop IoT solutions with wide geographic ranges while using minimal energy and which is now supporting the nation’s many burgeoning smart city opportunities.

One business to benefit from the IoT infrastructure in Northern Ireland is See.Sense. The team develops smart cycling solutions that are revolutionising the experiences of cyclists in Northern Ireland today.

See.Sense uses intelligent bike lights and GPS bike trackers, powered by sensor technology and AI, to improve the safety and experience of cyclists, while also providing cities with data insights to help inform their planning.

Beyond cycling, the electric vehicles (EVs) market is also being rebooted with smart solutions to help make cities more accessible and ultimately, more sustainable. Just last month, the contractor Triex EV installed the first ‘pay-as-you-charge’ electric vehicle charging point for residential apartments in Coleraine.

The business case for smart cities

Smart technology is not only transforming life for Northern Ireland’s city dwellers, it has also opened an exciting and fast-growing market for smart city solutions, with boundless opportunities for collaboration between industry and academia.

Two of our world-renowned universities, Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, offer access to eight clusters of world-class AI research in core data science, cyber security, hardware, internet of things, medicine, robotics, economy, and multimedia analytics.

The access Northern Ireland offers to some of the brightest minds in R&D has encouraged a diverse cluster of smart city companies to set up operations here.

ANGOKA is one business that was attracted by Northern Ireland’s R&D credentials. The team at ANGOKA protects the machine-to-machine communication that enables smart city initiatives to run. ANGOKA works behind the scenes to safeguard everything from the personal data stored in smart home devices to the communication channels between drones.

Within Belfast’s technology cluster, you can also find Anaeko, a hybrid cloud integrator that helps organisations adopt cloud computing. Founded in 2004, the company is going from strength-to-strength and has helped integrate data and analytics solutions in a diverse range of sectors including utilities.

Another technology innovator focused on improving efficiency is Kinsetsu, which provides organisations with intelligent tracking solutions that automate and optimise their tasks and services. For instance, its product HomeHug helps elderly people live independently at home for longer by providing their loved ones with data about the home environment including temperature and movement.

Looking ahead

It’s an exciting time for Northern Ireland. The nation has carved out a niche for itself as an incubator for smart city companies and we’re committed to staying at the top of our game. And as the world prepares for a number of significant changes that lie on the horizon, from the green economy to the widespread adoption of 5G and the advent of autonomous vehicles, Northern Ireland is well-equipped to drive positive change.

There are plenty of opportunities for the DSP Valley ecosystem to get involved in the exciting developments happening in Northern Ireland.

Interested in learning more or becoming part of the solutions?

Contact Emilien Thorin and check out Invest NI’s website.

Smart Cities Vlaanderen: More powerful than ever

Smart Cities Vlaanderen logo

In July, Citylab fully integrated its work for the Innovative Business Network (IBN) Smart Cities Vlaanderen with partner DSP Valley. “After more than a year and a half of successful collaboration with DSP Valley, it is time for this step,” says Citylab director Marc Schepers. “By bringing our business cluster fully under one roof, we will become more effective and create room for further development of Smart Cities Vlaanderen!”   

DSP Valley and Citylab are the driving forces behind the IBN Smart Cities Vlaanderen, which was started more than a year and a half ago with the support of various big names in the tech world. Although still at an early stage as an organization, the cluster has had a promising start, successfully bridging the gap between business and government. Their strength has been converting Smart Cities issues into concrete business cases for companies.

Dieter Therssen (left), CEO of DSP Valley, and Marc Schepers (right), director of Citylab, signing the merger official agreement regarding Smart Cities Vlaanderen.
Dieter Therssen (left), CEO of DSP Valley, and Marc Schepers (right), director of Citylab, signing the official merger agreement.

The two organizations are convinced that they are coming together at the right moment. Schepers declared, “It is now time to connect even more and to continue our cooperation with DSP Valley. That is why we decided to fully shift our co- promotorship to DSP Valley.” 

From his perspective as CEO of DSP Valley, Dieter Therssen emphasizes the need for an encompassing structure. “In Flanders, several initiatives have emerged in the field of smart cities in recent years , but there is not yet an overarching approach across the region. At the same time, the demand from local governments for smart city solutions is increasing exponentially,” he states. 

CEO of Living Tomorrow and president of Smart Cities Vlaanderen, Joachim De Vos agrees that the time for joining forces is ripe as the movement for smart cities gains momentum. This merger between DSP Valley and City Labs is the first step toward an even stronger Smart Cities Vlaanderen consortium.

Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship (VLAIO), which financially supports the consortium through its subsidies for IBNs, is also on board. Asked for comment, a spokesperson confirmed, “This evolution makes the position of Smart Cities Vlaanderen more powerful and stable and allows them to support companies even better in the smart cities domain. It will enable the cluster to actively contribute to developing Flanders into a smart region.”

 The integration between Citylab and DSP Valley “enables us to accelerate our role as a matchmaker between companies and local authorities, building business consortia and creating a digital platform in the quadruple helix,” says Peter Vandeurzen, Cluster Manager for Smart Cities Vlaanderen. DSP Valley will further expand and strengthen the cluster from its office at the Corda Campus in Hasselt.

A bundled structure can also be the starting point for jumping from Flanders to Europe in the context of digitization. By coordinating smart cities initiatives, the desired critical mass and strength can be achieved to make Flanders a leading smart region in Europe.

All information about the Smart Cities Vlaanderen community and how to participate can be found on their website.


Smart Cities Vlaanderen Cluster
The cluster was founded by a number of steering group members and co-financed by VLAIO. The founding steering committee members are: Living Tomorrow with Joachim De Vos, chairman of the steering group, Nokia, Cronos Group, MyCsN, Tractebel Engie, Mediahuis, Hydroscan, Niko, and AllThingsTalk.

Together for strong, ambitious innovation
More starters, more stayers, more growers: that’s what we aim for! The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Agency and the Innovative Business Networks want to facilitate cooperation between companies, knowledge institutions and governments. Smart Cities Vlaanderen is one of these innovative business networks. Discover the others at the website. #growingstrong #sterkgroeien   

Results from imec Smart City Meter 2019

by imec City of Things

The most important conclusion from the imec Smart City Meter 2019: the government can and must take the lead.

For the past three years, imec has been surveying the attitudes of people in Flanders and Brussels in relation to smart cities and the latest developments surrounding the topic. In doing so, we not only gauge people’s knowledge about the technology and the opportunities that the Smart City has to offer, but also its aims and shortcomings, such as people’s willingness to take part in research into the smart city or to provide data for smart city solutions. The most important conclusion from the imec Smart City Meter 2019: the government can and must take the lead. We listened to a conversation between Jan Adriaenssens, director City of Things at imec, and Pieter Ballon, director imec-SMIT and professor at VUB.

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Public space as a basic concept

Pieter: “Imec-SMIT has conducted the Smart City Meter for the past 3 years. This year, we surveyed some 2000 people from Flanders and Brussels. When I compare the results with three years ago, I am struck by the fact that many people’s knowledge of the subject has increased significantly. For example, they have become well aware that with a smart city, there is often a certain trade-off in terms of privacy. And they rightly view that with some suspicion. Many citizens are simply unable to come to terms with sharing details of their location, or having facial recognition cameras around the place. Yet they don’t totally slam the door closed against them. On the contrary, despite certain reservations or fears, more than 85% of the population believe that the smart city is a ‘positive to very positive’ development.”

Jan: “That’s right. What’s more, our report indicates that people are definitely prepared to make their personal data available in return for relevant functionalities, such as smart routes and a more livable city. By contrast, though, they are increasingly less willing to share their data for things as mundane as a discount voucher – and that can only be good news.”

Pieter: “The concept of ‘public space’ is also crucial here. Many people think it is all right for their actions in the public space to be picked up by smart technologies, such as having a street light to come on to illuminate the way for them when they pass by. A clear majority of those we surveyed are also okay about noise sensors in public areas, or with smart rubbish containers. But as soon as this intrudes into private space, their acceptance level diminishes. This also explains their reluctance to adopt technology such as smart assistants in the home, or smart meters.”

Jan: “So we also need to make sure that we keep an eye on maintaining privacy as much as possible in the public space. Which is where I see technology playing a major role. For instance, there are smart cameras that never actually pass on the images they film. These pictures are only processed and interpreted in the camera itself, which only sends messages such as ‘object deleted’ or ‘person fallen over’. That way, privacy is safeguarded to the maximum.”

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Invisible smart city

Pieter: “There’s another striking trend: the people in Flanders and Brussels believe far and away that mobility and livability are the most important areas in which smart cities should and must invest. These topics score much higher than areas such as safety and security, which is something the public debate about smart cities often involves.”

Jan: “This tends to confirm that we have made the right strategic choices by investing in research and solutions relating to air quality, traffic jams, smart routes and so on. People want cleaner public squares, healthier streets, districts where there is no noise pollution, etc. These are all virtually invisible solutions where the technology is not in the foreground, but still remains crucial for achieving our objectives. So, smart cities will not necessarily be ‘visibly smart’.”

Pieter: “Once again, the concept of ‘public space’ comes to the fore here. We expect more from our smart city than just getting smoothly from A to B. We also want it to address the whole context, because we have far less control over it.”

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Government as director, citizen as active participant

Jan: “This may also explain why the people we surveyed emphatically want the government to give direction to the whole thing. In s  mart cities it’s about capturing various types of behavior and solutions in the public space. And we’d rather have these issues managed by the government than by private organizations.”

Pieter: “The word ‘direction’ sums it up perfectly. That is the role that cities and local authorities – and by extension even whole regions – have to play. They are able to set the direction and the pace, depending on what their citizens want. But a film is not made by a director on his or her own: you also need actors and a large technical team behind you. And for us, this team is the companies and researchers, who can be driving forces with their input and insights.”

Jan: “So it is very important that we involve citizens as much as possible. Not only by surveying them, but also by telling them about what we are doing. For example, look at the way we all drive more slowly when the word SMOG is displayed underneath speed signs, simply because we understand why that particular warning is being shown. All of this becomes a little more difficult with AI and we have to stay vigilant for this.”

Pieter: “One final point worth noting is people’s high level of willingness to take part actively in experiments. 70 to 80% of respondents are prepared to participate in ‘citizen science’ initiatives, for example by installing a measuring station on the façade to take readings of air quality or other parameters. Half of them even say that they would like to tinker with a sensor themselves – which is an interesting thought!”

Read more about the results of the imec Smart City Meter 2019