Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) and Aalto University, along with Forum Virium Helsinki and the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, have obtained €15 million of funding from the Horizon 2020 programme in addition to €17 million of co-financing from the Government of Estonia for the Finest Twins project.
The funding will be used to establish the Smart Cities Centre of Excellence in Tallinn. This will be the first global centre of excellence focusing on developing top-level research and innovative solutions for cross-border smart cities. The innovative concepts and solutions will be tested and implemented in Tallinn and Helsinki before being scaled globally.
Jaak Aaviksoo, Rector of TalTech, emphasises: ‘This is the largest ever competitive R&D grant in Estonia. The Estonian Research Council has compared the Teaming Grant to receiving a R&D Oscar Award. The funding recognises that TalTech and Aalto researchers can innovate modern cities towards more citizen-oriented and sustainable futures.’ The project will last 7 years and aims to create a centre with top-level international research expertise in smart cities while also strengthening research cooperation between the two universities.
The initiator of the project, Dr Ralf-Martin Soe from the Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance at TalTech, explains that Finest Twins is a broad and multidisciplinary project covering a number of research areas, including user-orientated built environment design; smart transport; digital services; data and cybersecurity; and renewable energy solutions.The concept of the Centre was developed as part of his PhD thesis at Nurkse Department.
“We are very happy that we can boost the collaboration between two leading tech universities of Finland and Estonia, Aalto and TalTech. It is a bit surprising how little joint projects and activities these two partners have, although they are just around 100 kilometers apart. The Finest Twins CoE aims to take over best practices and expertise of Aalto researchers working on fields connected to smart city and replicate best parts in TalTech with the help of Forum Virium Helsinki, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications of Estonia and also supported by cities of Tallinn and Helsinki,” said Dr Soe
‘Helsinki and Tallinn will start building together and researching smart city digital services which span borders and work together seamlessly,’ explains Aalto university Professor of Usability and User Interfaces, Marko Nieminen.
An Urban Open Platform and Lab for connecting Talsinki
The Urban Open Platform and Lab, to be co-designed by Forum Virium Helsinki, TalTech and Aalto, will build on the Centre’s research outputs to design and trial joint pilot-projects for the two smart cities. For example, robot cars are a typical example of smart transport, and smart street lighting seeks to improve not only energy-saving goals but aesthetic and safety considerations as well.
‘The platform can be used to try out ideas in real-life environments. For example, digital micro-payments enable whole new business models for the Internet of Things, but we don’t yet know what consumer behaviour will actually be like. Therefore, real-life testing environments will open up interesting research possibilities,’ Professor Nieminen continues.
Among other things, the project will also involve research of local renewable energy production and smart electricity distribution solutions. Also, because smart cities make use of a huge amount of data, the project will require data analysis and data security expertise as well.
The goal is to develop an open research and development ecosystem that combines research and services and product development both for public administration and commercial business activities. The Finest Twins project is coordinated by TalTech. The project partners are Aalto University, the City of Helsinki innovation company Forum Virium Helsinki, and the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication.
The article was first published by Aalto University. Image credit: Mikko Raskinen, Aalto University.