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Collective intelligence supporting urban air quality

4 March 2016 - All-round performance - The Netherlands

In the Dutch city of Eindhoven, Axians (VINCI Energies) is taking part in the collaborative AirEAS project, which gives citizens access to real time information on air quality in their neighbourhoods. The next step will be to introduce dynamic traffic control based on this data.

A number of urban areas have been able to bounce back from a decline in their traditional industries and become creative cities that attract innovators. When the two largest employers in the southern Dutch city of Eindhoven – electronics giant Philips and truck manufacturer DAF – undertook major restructuring operations in the 1990s, the city turned to the high-tech and design sectors and then gradually to the network economy. Eindhoven now ranks in third place on the list of Europe’s most attractive cities for foreign direct investment and accounts for one-half of the country’s research activity.

An approach to innovation based on sharing and cooperation is taking shape there. Eindhoven offers fertile terrain for experiments in a wide range of initiatives involving the local population, city authorities, research institutions and businesses, with a special focus on innovative projects based on behavioural change. One example is the AirEAS project, in which Axians, the VINCI Energies brand specialising in ICT (information and communication technology) solutions and services, is involved. The AirEAS system measures air quality in real time at some 30 points around the city. “This is a citizens’ initiative,” says Jean-Paul Close, who launched the Eindhoven project with the civic organisation he set up, the STIR Foundation, which fosters local responses to global issues.“The ultimate goal of all the participants – citizens, civil servants, researchers, developers and managers alike – is to improve public health in the city.”

“Eindhoven lends itself to a project like this one,” says Genio Van Hoof, Sales and Operations Manager at Axians in the Netherlands. “The city has a University of Technology and 8,000 people work at the High Tech Campus, the Philips research centre. In addition, Eindhoven is very open to new behaviours and to the smart city model that focuses on the citizen and offers unprecedented citizen services.”

The AirEAS system

The AirEAS system, rolled out in 2013, enables individual citizens to check the main pollution indicators (ozone, fine dust, temperature). A grid of sensors set up across the city provides accurate information about a given neighbourhood via the web or a smartphone app in one click. “Anyone can access the air quality measurement,” says Genio Van Hoof, “and then, based on the data, decide to go out jogging or take a walk with the children, or to refrain from doing so. Incidentally, the system registered the impact of barbecues on fine dust emissions during the summer and the many fireworks displays on New Year’s Eve.” It also records a history of the indicators by zone, which urban planners and urban pollution and air quality specialists can use in their work, for example to choose locations for facilities used by children and frail people.

AirEAS, developed and tested in Eindhoven, has also been implemented in the neighbouring city of Helmond and in Breda, a city lying northeast of Antwerp. Like other such projects, it receives funding from the city and the province of North Brabant, but it differs its collaborative structure. All participants are contributors. Philips, ECN, the Dutch Energy Research Institute that supplies the sensors, and Axians, which developed the sensor interface and the comprehensive system software, all invest in and are invested in this programme, which is focused less on commercial objectives than on the concept of open, shared innovation as a springboard for future developments.

“In this first phase,” says JeanPaul Close, “we have sought to make the invisible – air quality – visible. The next step will, as might be expected, consist in taking action to regulate traffic in order to improve public health in the city.” The goal is to roll out a dynamic traffic control system connected to the grid of sensors that will regulate traffic flows according to air quality. Initial discussions with the City of Eindhoven could lead to the installation of a demonstrator.

For Axians, and more broadly for VINCI Energies as a whole, AirEAS and its future extensions are a new project reference that expands the division’s smart city solutions and services offering. The city of the future will, by definition, be smart and healthy.

On the video below, Mary-Ann Schreurs, deputy mayor of the city of Eindhoven in charge of Design, Innovation, Culture and Sustainability, delivers an enthusiastic speech on the potential of digital and design-based methods to transform urban policy-making. The future of cities lies in bottom-up solutions co-created within an open ecosystem of stakeholders, with citizens at its core. As “end-users” of urban services, they actively take part in reinventing their city.

This was filmed during La Fabrique de la Cité’s international seminar on “Understanding behavioural changes to keep transforming cities”, on July 2015.

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