The purpose of the FinEst Twins project that is funded by Horizon 2020, is to build TalTech’s Smart City Center of Excellence over the next six years. This centre of excellence shall see the broad knowledge of researchers from TalTech and Aalto meeting the practical needs of cities, and the pilot projects will test smart solutions regarding the concerns of cities.
The concept of a smart city is closely linked to the processes and changes taking place in society. Before 2010, a smart city was primarily understood as being centred around technology, but since 2010, a more holistic approach has been emphasised, which not only takes effective technological solutions into account, but also user-friendliness and people’s right to privacy. This means that technology still has an important role in the development of a smart city, but an ethical level has been added to the concept - the objective is to use technology wisely and sensibly, without violating the rights of citizens.
The main objective of the research is to feel and reflect the processes taking place in society. To be able to better contribute to society, academic research must have more than one objective at a time and the opportunity to change the focus and direction of the research as needed. Therefore, the research of the Smart City Center of Excellence has focused not on one, but on three main topics in the context of a smart city. These are smart mobility, smart use of energy and smart living. All three main areas of focus are intertwined with two interdisciplinary areas: smart governance and smart data management.
Smart mobility helps to provide the most efficient and clean modes of transport. Existing technologies are used to collect and share information with users, planners and service providers. This allows them to change movement patterns and planning mechanisms, thereby increasing the coherence and coordination of the different modes of transport.
Smart use of energy is dependent on data about utilities, consumers, air, water and other urban resources to identify key areas for urban planning and to strive for a more efficient and sustainable urban environment, while also improving people’s quality of life.
Smart living means the smart management of institutions, the public space and services, setting a focus on accessibility and flexibility and the needs of citizens.
Smart governance employs existing technologies to keep abreast with new smart city initiatives and to find areas for collaboration (e.g. with other cities), find synergies with other actors in the ecosystem and to involve citizens for the improvement of public services and to increase trust in the public sector.
Compiling data intelligently in real time, analysing it and operatively managing it on the basis of this, and also planning future solutions, it is possible to contribute to the effective development of all the above-mentioned four areas.
The Smart City Center of Excellence sees research closely intertwining with the practical needs of cities; the aim of the centre is to create and implement the best models of co-operation between cities and research institutions. For this purpose, the most topical problems of cities are mapped out (these can be found here: taltech.ee/en/smartcity) and these tasks are then given to researchers to solve. Collaboration with cities allows researchers to focus on topics that are both relevant and vital.
On the one hand, the project helps to create long-term knowledge and provides valuable analytical results for the problems that have arisen in the area of the smart city. On the other hand, it provides resources that are needed to conduct and validate the necessary resources (e.g. project funding, access to data, knowledge sharing and dissemination). The early years of the Smart City Center of Excellence saw co-operation between researchers and the developers behind the smart city to work primarily through differently sized and focused pilot programmes of the Smart City. The best criterion for evaluating Smart City initiatives and projects would perhaps be the projects implemented and their long-term benefits.
Five lines of research, five leading researchers
The five lines of research of the Smart City Center of Excellence reflect the shift in focus for the concept of the smart city from being centred around technology to being centred on human beings. The choice in the research directions of the Center of Excellence is strongly influenced by the interests of TalTech and Aalto University and their research achievements thus far.
Smart mobility, smart energy use and smart living (smart living environment) are, on the one hand, very much centred on technology, but all of these areas are centred on human beings and on the biodigital perspective, such as inclusive planning, building energy communities, increasing the share of alternative modes of transportation, etc.
The research field of smart mobility is led by Claudio Roncoli, a professor at Aalto University, who is mainly interested in the real-time modelling and management of transport systems and the operation of transport and traffic systems, incl. the optimisation and management of traffic systems. He has additionally been active in modelling and simulating traffic flow in conditions where self-driving vehicles would also be involved in traffic.
The research area of smart energy use is headed by Sanna Syri from Aalto University. She is mainly interested in adapting energy systems to climate change.
The research area of smart living is headed by Professor Marketta Kyttä, a lecturer at Aalto University. She is mainly interested in ways of involving residents in urban planning. Marketta Kyttä has researched what an environment promoting well-being and a healthy active lifestyle, while also being child- and age-friendly, should be like, in order to also be socially sustainable.
The smart data management research area focuses primarily on the practical implementation of the Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and the introduction of new Internet of Things-based business models. This area of research is led by Kary Främling, a professor at Aalto University, whose main interests are data and information management in the BIM system, product lifecycle management, teaching artificial intelligence and decision support systems.
The smart governance area of research is seeking to create new models for public sector decision-making and the provision of services, and to contribute to transparency and involvement in the decision-making process. The smart governance area of research is led by Professor Erkki Karo, a lecturer at TalTech, who has dealt with analysis of research and innovation policy management and the topic of e-government.
The Smart City Center of Excellence finds it important to seek synergies between different fields of research; this is helped by practically fulfilling the objectives set out for the pilot projects and by conducting large-scale and small-scale pilot projects in different cities and municipalities. As the aim of the Smart City Center of Excellence is to become a leading centre of excellence, it is highly important for us to take an active part in both global and European Union-centred discussions and debates on the topic of a smart city.
These pilot projects are financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the Estonian Ministry of Research and Education.