Three FIWARE-based solutions for Smart Cities are joining forces to develop a modular and open platform, leveraging “complementary vertical experiences” in the fields of IoT, data management and citizen engagement. The all-Italian line-up is brought together by a common passion for ethical citizenship. Gregory Eve and Kevin Borras introduce you to Magenta, greenApes and TeamDev
FIWARE, Future Internetware if you prefer the full description, is a middleware platform, driven by the European Union, for the development and global deployment of applications for Future Internet. The API specification of FIWARE is open and royalty-free, where the involvement of users and developers is critical for this platform to become a standard and reusable solution. The objective of FIWARE is to facilitate a cost-effective creation and delivery of Future Internet applications and services in a variety of areas, including smart cities, sustainable transport, logistics, renewable energy, and environmental sustainability. FIWARE provides an enhanced OpenStack-based cloud environment plus a rich set of open standard APIs that make it easier to connect to the Internet of Things, process and analyse big data and real-time media or incorporate advanced features for user interaction.
In September 2014 the European Commission launched the FIWARE Accelerator programme whereby SMEs, start-ups and web entrepreneurs can get a funding support of up to €150,000 for the development of innovative services and applications using FIWARE technology. It calls for SMEs and web entrepreneurs to develop highly innovative services and applications.
One of the ways in which applicants can do this is through the frontierCities2 – Another Level of Impact Accelerator (fC2) builds on the powerful basis of the first edition of the frontierCities Accelerator (2014-2016), which created an exceptional geographical reach including 28 SMEs and start-ups developing and trialling 28 smart mobility solutions in 45+ city environments across Europe. frontierCities disbursed €3.92 million in grant funding to address mobility issues in cities, through a streamlined two-step application process which attracted 594 Step 1 and 207 Step 2 applications respectively, and in addition provided technical and business support to the selected solutions. frontierCities2 represents a quantum leap in the scope, ambition and service of the Acceleration & Incubation process of FIWARE SMEs and Start-ups. It provides €1.6 million in grant funding across two Open Call strands (Market Acceleration Grants, Development & Acceleration Grants), further developing the range of available FIWARE-enabled smart mobility solutions, while broadening into other Smart Cities areas. One of the success stories of the original frontierCities project was greenApes, an Italian-based sustainable, digital social network.
greenApes is a digital platform that promotes sustainable living by combining social networking, gamification and real-life rewarding elements. An enjoyable and completely free environment for citizens, it delivers valuable services to municipalities and partnering brands. Since late 2015 and throughout 2016 greenApes successfully tested in the aforementioned two pilot cities with a thriving community of citizens that is constantly growing. Some 72% per cent of engaged users declared they adopted new sustainable behaviours while engaging with the app. After approximately 10,000 app installs, 100 commercial partners, advanced contacts with new cities and campaigns with national brands, the company is ready to expand its operations.
How does greenApes work? Citizens can create a profile and earn points for inspiring the community with ideas and stories around sustainability, and for certifying their green actions. These points, called BankoNuts, give them access to rewards offered by commercial partners. By being part of the greenApes platform, green companies gain visibility and access loyalty services to address a target audience of responsible consumers.
Certification of green behaviours is performed via the digital integration with third-party apps (e.g. public transport, car-sharing, energy providers) but also in connection with offline initiatives (recycling stations, NGOs). greenApes positions itself as a tool that strengthens synergies among existing and future initiatives of Smart Cities.
VIRTUE IS A VIRTUE
The platform brings together virtuous behaviours of citizens, who get to build a sustainable profile over time, being acknowledged and rewarded for their positive impact. Cities can thus benefit of an incentivizing scheme, engaging citizens and promoting local green economy, while displaying their commitment to sustainable development. The user experience can be readily customised city by city, allowing a complete alignment with local strategies and priorities.
Overall the platform aims at developing a sustainability-oriented culture, reinforcing social norms around sustainable lifestyles and giving visibility to best practices. This public-private scheme successfully introduced individual incentives for actions of collective interest.
The greenApes platform is composed by the frontend applications, which are available for mobile devices (iOS and Android) and web browsers, plus the backend services, which are a set of distributed software components deployed on different cloud services, to ensure scalability and redundancy.
An essential component of the backend services was developed with FIWARE solutions. Under the frontierCities acceleration programme greenApes developed the goApes functionalities that, among other things, allow the connection of third-party providers to the rewarding system of the platform and the automatic acquisition of sustainable mobility actions from trusted partners (e.g. car-sharing services, carpooling apps, public transport companies).
Gregory Eve, CEO and co-founder of greenApes, is very positive about the experience with the FIWARE technology and acceleration program: “Of course we were initially attracted to the programme, also for the funding opportunities attached, but as we deliver transparent solutions for citizen engagement, we felt that embracing FIWARE was the right thing to do, for the sake of openness and interoperability”. He continues: “I must say that the ICT team was a bit worried at first about this choice, there were rumours about the components being not fully reliable. But the enablers we picked gave us no problems and developers were absolutely satisfied with the experience. The mentorship and training delivered were also very good, just as the ones offered during the FIWARE INCENSe acceleration program that we were part of with our separate business line, which develops solutions for employee engagement in sustainability and CSR programs of large companies”
The next steps involve launch in new cities and countries, while the company is opening for a round of investment. But while evolving this citizen engagement app greenApes started looking into the opportunities offered by the Smart City platforms market.
“We never thought we should reinvent the wheel, but rather liked the idea of bringing our citizen engagement experience to join companies with complementary experiences,” Eve argues. “I had worked with Walter Nunziati from Magenta in previous projects and from the start I appreciated their approach and IoT solutions. We were looking forward to concrete cooperation opportunities. When we started discussing about the development of Smart City Platforms he brought along the name of TeamDev and their experience with WiseTown. At that point the team felt right and we rolled up our sleeves”
IN THE PINK
Magenta’s TrafficFlow initiative is another story that began in Florence, addressing a key problem of smart cities information systems, which is the acquisition of continuous traffic data.
The recent push towards Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) within modern day smart cities requires a large amount of high quality traffic flow data in real-time. In particular, data collected from fixed or temporary on-road stations are important for a variety of planning, operation, and public information tasks and services, including:
- Solving traffic congestion problems (demand management, based on understanding of the behaviour of traffic under normal and extreme conditions, to encourage drivers to change mode of transport, alter the time of day or day of travel, or not to travel at all);
- Promoting economically and environmentally sustainable modes of transport (improved public transport, safe walking and cycling);
- Mapping in real-time available parking spots in order to communicate information to users.
Traffic data is, therefore, vital for efficient traffic management. Various reports demonstrate the dimension of the challenge. Traffic congestion “costs the US US$121.2 billion per year.” The European Union estimates that traffic congestion costs “about 1 per cent of the total GDP every year and also causes heavy amounts of carbon and other unwelcome emissions”. The relation between air quality and traffic congestion has been also demonstrated.
However, there is a significant industrial and economic problem related to traffic monitoring. Despite the importance of traffic data, most cities have difficulty paying for infrastructure embedded with on-road traffic sensors, which support sufficient data collection. While traffic monitoring technologies (based on inductive loops, cameras, ultrasound, radio waves, to name but a few) have existed for some time, public and private organisations continue to rely largely on manual traffic counts. This is true for most European countries: some merge manual and automated tools, but nowhere is there a fully automated system across the whole country.
This is where TrafficFlow steps in: it is an innovative, flexible and low-cost platform for road-traffic data collection and analysis. It is based on sensors equipped with video analysis software, capable of collecting meaningful statistics on the number of vehicles passing through the observed lanes, their estimated speed, and their type. The sensor’s hardware is the Raspberry PI device equipped with the Raspicam camera. In typical installations, the sensor is attached to a window, or other existing vantage points, without requiring any dedicated infrastructure (see pictures below).
The entire platform has been extensively tested in the City of Florence in the context of projects CHEST, and FIWARE accelerator SOUL-FI. Currently, the system is in usage in various pilots around EU and beyond, including London as part of the Organicity experiment.
TrafficFlow is an example of a participatory approach to city monitoring, where citizens directly support the growth of agile and smart solutions using modern technologies. Magenta is currently experimenting the combination of traffic and air quality monitoring in an ongoing pilot in Florence.
“We built the web platform using components from the FIWARE catalogue, and particularly we used the Orion context broker to acquire data from the sensors and the Cosmos Big Data enabler suite to store the data for efficient retrieval,” says Walter Nunziati.
Magenta seeks partnerships for the TrafficFlow product, and in particular would like to integrate their solution with systems and platform for smart cities, “to leverage existing and upcoming initiatives centred on projects focusing on digital social innovation. With this goal in mind, greenApes is a perfect match to our proposal and we are currently working toward the design of an integrated solution for sustainable mobility which includes our IoT monitoring technology and their citizen engagement platform”, says Nunziati.
WISE BEFORE THE EVENT
Some years ago the founders of TeamDev were working in several Public Administration IT projects and, after some experiences in middle size towns in Italy, the WiseTown concept was starting to play on their mind. Citizens and city management are mostly on two different sides of the “barricade” like in a perpetual undisclosed battle but this approach is not sustainable in the medium-long term.
So the idea was to create WiseTown as an ecosystem of applications and tools to improve citizens’ quality of life in a collaborative environment. Wise stands for Web Information Stream Enhancer and from this we can appreciate the main idea of the ecosystem: collecting information from different data sources to make them valuable to manage, organize and plan city development.
In the project we started building two different applications:
- Issue Manager: a tool, composed by web, app and API interface, capable of collecting information about city reports and managing them using an embedded set of workflows. WiseTown IssueManager can relay each reported issue to the right office or external suppliers and then follow the issue solution giving feedback to the citizens in real time. It uses open standards and Open311 as the main reference to store and manage citizens and not emergency reports;
- Crowd Planner: a tool that cities use to propose city improvements to the citizens. It’s based on a geographical interface that the citizens can use to navigate the proposals and to evaluate their impact on the cities and on their own neighbourhood. It uses, as does the IssueManager, geographical Open Data to empower cartographic visualization of the city.
Now we are releasing a new module, WiseTown Situation Room, an environment that cities can use to manage local emergencies and other city-level events that involves not just the management team but volunteers and operators external to the city management team.
All these vertical applications are supported by specific modules like the OpenDataManager that enable WiseTown to consume and generate new real-time updated Open Data sets, a valuable asset for the cities and the IoT Monitor that connects our solution to third parties IoT solution, such as in the case of Magenta’s TrafficFlow that provide key information about mobility in the ecosystem.
A key point of all the WiseTown civic technologies ecosystem is citizens’ involvement, so we discovered the importance of collaborating with greenApes that can support WiseTown to be correctly implemented among the citizens and that can provide useful information to improve right usage of the applications and future development of new features requested by the citizens.
WiseTown’s final goal is not only giving the right tools to the cities, but the heart of the whole project is the WiseTown Geo Analytics: a set of dashboards, maps and algorithms that can support city managers to analyse the actual situation, raising awareness on hot spots and providing forecasts on city issues and future evolution about security, mobility, infrastructures and other topics. All this information can be enriched with the pre-existing legacy datasets of the city and are crucial to improve city planning. For this reason we say that WiseTown is a “city quality enhancer”.
WiseTown applications are now in use in the city of Perugia and they have been presented, thanks to the FIWARE Mundus initiative, at several workshops in the US at the US Ignite GCTC (Global City Team Challenge) organized with the collaboration of NIST.
The initial kick-off of WiseTown has been accelerated by the FIWARE Finodex project, in which WiseTown has been awarded as one of the top-ranking projects, and thanks to that we have been showcased as one of the FIWARE Success Stories and one of the projects presented in several international events such as the Smart Cities World Expo 2016 in Barcelona, First FIWARE Summit in Malaga 2016 and now in the Second FIWARE Summit in Utrecht in May 2017.
Working in the Smart Cities civic technologies we are convinced that technology adoption is a focal point to improve the overall quality of life for the cities of tomorrow, we also think that.
“We like Smart Cities but we prefer WiseTowns!”
Gregory Eve is CEO and co-founder of greenApes
Walter Nunziati is CEO and co-founder of Magenta
Andrea Cruciani is CEO and co-founder of TeamDev
 European Commission (2014) The European Union explained, Connecting Europe’s citizens and businesses