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New FIWARE iHub in Cologne: Innovative Services for Smart Cities

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At the initiative of Detecon, numerous Smart City experts met to discuss ways, instruments and practical examples for smart innovations in the cities of the future.

More than 50 guests attended the Detecon FIWARE iHub Forum on March 21st at the Detecon headquarters in Cologne, Germany, to jointly discuss the topic of Smart Cities as an intelligent ecosystem aimed at providing the highest quality of life to its citizens. The meeting served as an exchange forum to inspire the cooperation of citizens, companies, research centers and city administrations regarding smart citizen solutions and to examine the possible role and impact of the open source catalogue and standards of the FIWARE technology.

After Claus Essmann welcomed the guests with a call for smart cities with open initiatives and standards, Caroline Corneau, project manager of the European Commission, introduced the CEF (Connecting Europe Facility) Digital programme. With the aim of creating a Digital Single Market, the EU is supporting key digital initiatives and projects for the benefit of citizens, businesses and public administrations. In concrete terms, CEF offers the use of so-called Building Blocks, which, based on open standards, enable seamless cross-border (digital) public services. These could be standards for cross-organisational data exchange, electronic invoicing or providing big data test infrastructure. The "Context Broker" is one such Building Block. It is a platform based on the FIWARE NGSI standard that is able to process context information on a large scale via standard APIs and also enables EU Member States to collect, manage, use and share real-time data.

Caroline Corneau speaks in front of numerous Smart City experts the Detecon FIWARE iHub Forum in Cologne

"The advantage of the CEF Building Blocks is that they are mature digital solutions which, through their open standards, prevent the dangers of a vendor lock-in," explained Caroline Corneau. "They bundle basic capabilities that can be reused in any project to deliver digital public services across borders and sectors. Currently, circa 120 projects in Europe are successfully deploying the various building blocks. The CEF Digital website presents concrete success stories. On the website, Member States can find the standards and specifications behind each Building Block, reference implementations as well as supporting services such as trainings and webinars, testing environments and a helpdesk. Caroline Corneau also explained CEF's role as a financial support programme: "In addition to using the Building Blocks, public administrations and companies have the opportunity to apply for grants and subsidies for projects that want to implement sustainable, digital and networked citizen services and the associated platforms.”

Helpful citizen services need context information

Why does the open source ecosystem FIWARE offer a great benefit for smart cities and administrations in particular? Ulrich Ahle, CEO of the FIWARE Foundation, responded: "FIWARE arranges and directs contextual information. For example, what data is generated when, where and why in a city on parks, streets and squares, in waste management or for lighting, and how it can be made accessible and usable - across organizational silos - for intelligent, citizen-friendly services in the sense of a higher quality of life.

Ulrich Ahle, CEO of the FIWARE Foundation: "FIWARE arranges and directs contextual information"

From a technical point of view, the FIWARE framework provides a set of various proven open source platform components to bring heterogeneous data together in a targeted manner. This is done via the open API interface "Next Generation Services Interface (NGSI)".  The core component of every FIWARE-based Smart Solution is the FIWARE Context Broker, which has been an officially ratified component of the EU's CEF program since 2018. These and many other solutions are freely available for the development of pilots and testbeds in the so-called FIWARE Lab, a global network of knowledge centres using a wide range of experimental infrastructures.

Germany is still lagging behind

Already 125 cities from 25 countries are using FIWARE to set up smart city platforms. "Unfortunately, Germany is still years behind other European countries such as Estonia, Denmark or the Netherlands in terms of digitising public administration processes - in contrast to areas such as industry 4.0," warned Ulrich Ahle. Ahle sketched a practical example of how smart city solutions reduce costs and generate a high level of acceptance among the general public using Montevideo's activities in Uruguay: "450 crossroads and traffic lights have now been recorded on a smart city platform based on FIWARE. Sensors measure traffic flows and an electronic bus ticket system is used to determine the real-time traffic load.  If a full bus is now delayed, it is given a green light at intersections and can thus make up for lost time."

Thoroughly plan connectivity and data models

Host Gianluca Dianese, Managing Consultant at Detecon, then emphasized the importance of a structured approach: In order to network objects and generate data about them, the technological levels of the sensor networks had to be carefully planned and designed. "Do I rely on magnetic field sensors or do I use existing cameras to measure traffic flows at an intersection? Which data models and communication protocols are suitable for derived process rules," Gianluca asked. "A new LED lighting infrastructure could also use sensors to measure air humidity, which could then automatically regulate the luminosity of lanterns. Only by combining different data can new added value be created. "The integration of heterogeneous data from different sources is not easy. Nevertheless, there are proven processes in place to cope well with this high level of complexity," explained Gianluca Dianese and confirmed: "As a new FIWARE iHub, we want to provide effective support for such projects from Cologne and, of course, also act in close exchange with many other national and international FIWARE and Smart City communities.

Host and Moderator Gianluca Dianese of Detecon: "There are proven processes in place to cope well with this high level of complexity."

Example in practice: „Smart Society“ in Eindhoven

Rick Schager, ICT architect of the city of Eindhoven, then presented impressive examples of smart city solutions that have already been implemented. Together with the land registry office, he and his team set up a sensor register for the city and its citizens that offers both transparency and rules for the sensors installed in the city. If someone wants to install sensors in public spaces, the raw data collected must be openly available on the register platform," explained Schager. "Personal rights and security regulations must always be observed." From a technical perspective, the use of open protocols and standards was also defined.

Rick Schager, ICT architect of the City of Eindhoven: "It is not a question of reinventing the wheel, but rather of openly exchanging knowledge."

A particularly innovative example is the use of a smart city listener solution: up to 20,000 people visit the well-known Stratumseind street in Eindhoven in the evenings and on weekends. In order to maintain its attractiveness while minimizing violence and noise, the city council equipped it with intelligent sound cameras that monitor the street environment for noise levels and acoustic signals that may indicate aggression. With full privacy protection, the system only sends acute cases of aggression from a GPS location to the police based on Edge Processing, who can then respond within seconds and appear on the scene. In addition, intelligent LED light columns are able to influence the mood of the public in Stratumseind Street.

The team received the "Strategic Sourcing Award 2018" in the category "Most Inspirational Digital Business Ecosystem". Rick Schager attaches great importance to the fact that he and his team intensively exchange the collected experiences with other cities, communities and organisations at local, national and international level, e.g. within the framework of the European research framework programme Horizon 2020 or the initiative OASC (Open & Agile Smart Cities). His appeal to the audience: Those responsible should use the reusability of existing Smart Cities solutions! "Initiatives such as CEF, FIWARE, SynchroniCity (Horizon 2020) provide tried and tested solution modules, open interfaces and data models. It is not a question of reinventing the wheel, but rather of openly exchanging knowledge and consistently driving forward the implementation and optimisation of smart city projects," advises Rick Schager. 

FIWARE in the energy sector

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Antonello Monti, head of the Institute for Automation of Complex Power Systems and the E.ON Energy Research Center at RWTH Aachen University, explained FIWARE's role in the energy sector: "Currently, the energy sector is changing considerably, away from vertical structures and towards horizontally oriented networks. In order to be able to implement the demanding process of energy system transformation, it is not enough to just look at the infrastructures of the energy sector," explained Prof. Monti. In order to develop innovative processes and regulations for future electrical networks, the numerous interactions of the many local, decentralised energy markets, i.e. between the energy sector and many other sectors, must be considered. "Solutions such as the FIWARE Context Broker now allow the energy sector to be linked across silos with valuable data from sectors such as mobility, transport, industry or building management," emphasized Prof. Antonello Monti.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Antonello Monti: "The energy sector is changing considerably, away from vertical structures and towards horizontally oriented networks."

Olaf-Gerd Gemein, Board Member of the FiWARE Foundation, provided further practical examples of FIWARE-based smart city solutions: For example, a data portal for the Urban Lakeside Aspern is currently being created in Vienna. It is a district under construction and one of the largest urban development projects in Europe. Over a period of 20 years, a new district is to be built in which more than 20,000 people will live and work. The FIWARE-based platform smartdata.wien will serve as a basis for a wide range of smart city projects in areas such as energy, buildings and mobility. This will create a cloud-based, urban infrastructure for data acquisition and data exchange between public and private partners, including visualization applications and calculation functions. The central element was again the FIWARE Context Broker, which sensibly combines context-based information from various use cases and enriches it with further publicly available data.

Olaf also pointed out that FIWARE and open standards are a counterweight to the increasing dominance of Chinese standards. "50 percent of all standards in ITU (International Telecommunication Union) now come from China," Gemein states. "Chinese standards, however, are not considered open standards by our standards.

In his function as City Council Coordinator of OASC, an international Smart City network of 140 cities, Olaf announced that Cologne will join OASC in the near future, next to the already existing members Dellbrück, Paderborn and Wolfsburg.

Olaf-Gerd Gemein provided practical examples of FIWARE-based smart city solutions

Goal: Secure interaction across industries and ecosystems

In the concluding panel discussion moderated by Gianluca Dianese, Caroline Corneau and Ulrich Ahle once again emphasized the benefits of open standards such as FIWARE, which offers proven interfaces and data models. "With such an implementation-driven approach, solutions can also be created in a relatively short time and in a cost-efficient manner," emphasized Ahle. "It simply makes sense to first ascertain which software solutions already exist for which requirements, and then, if necessary, to adapt them individually and use them yourself.

Ulrich Ahle, Caroline Corneau and Prof. Antonello Monti during the panel at FIWARE iHub Cologne

Dr. Ernö Kovacs, Head of IoT Research at NEC Labs Europe and one of the technical founding fathers of FIWARE, once again explained the possibilities of the further developed, new NGSI-LD standard as a central, open API interface. "The new data model in NGSI-LD is enriched with semantic elements and uses JSON-LD, which enables an automatic connection between own data structures and semantic ontologies. With these ontologies it is possible to define very precisely which type of data one wants to use or offer exactly. Knowledge databases, utilizing so-called knowledge graphs which can be searched with semantic queries, are also possible. "Intelligent AI-based algorithms can then be based on these," explains Ernö Kovacs. "For the future, I expect FIWARE and context information to play a growing role in the context of "digital twins", which as rule-based, virtual instances will control and regulate real physical systems.

In general, scenarios for practical use are growing everywhere: "The "Winter Package", a comprehensive set of regulations by the European Commission on energy efficiency, renewable energies and the electricity market, increases the incentives for the energy sector and its network operators to finally invest more in cloud and sensor technologies. Of course, standard solutions such as FIWARE are very suitable for steering and interacting in this digital revolution," added Prof. Antonello Monti. 

Benedikt Gäch (Detecon), Dr. Ernö Kovacs (Head of IoT Research NEC Labs Europe) and Host Gianluca Dianese

Benedikt Gäch, Head of the "Infrastructure & Platforms" division at Detecon, emphasized the important role of Open Source for innovations in the public sector. "Open Source is an important instrument for achieving interoperability between applications in different industries. It is usually a matter of creating a common database that several organizations can then use for different purposes. Later modifications of application scenarios can also be developed more easily, whereby above all the security aspect can also be taken into account, which is a very important prerequisite especially in the public sector".

At the end of the event, Prof. Antonello Monti gave all those present a very concrete goal: "The Americans won the race for the best business-to-customer solutions. Now, with the help of standards such as FIWARE, Europeans can win the race for the best platform concepts for business-to-business! 

Additional Information:
https://www.smart-cities-made-in.de/

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