First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Lauren Comiteau
Amsterdam: a leader in smart mobility
Imagine this: A delivery truck cruises slowly down the Prinsengracht, unmanned, its ‘driver’ walking alongside it, depositing parcels as they go, without constantly stopping and blocking traffic while searching for packages that need delivering. It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but as Amsterdam gears up to test its first autonomous vehicles within the next two years, it’s just one smart solution the city is experimenting with to keep things moving in an increasingly crowded urban landscape.
‘We want to be a leader in smart mobility,’ says Lizann Tjon, Programme Manager of Smart Mobility for the City of Amsterdam. ‘Some cities only focus on cars. For us, it’s a bigger ecosystem.’ That bigger ecosystem encompasses everything that moves, from cars, bicycles and public transport to commuters, tourists and concertgoers. ‘Smart mobility is connected to everything,’ says Tjon. ‘This is the future.’ The city has come up with a Smart Mobility Action Plan that seeks to ‘improve the safety, accessibility, air quality, quality of life, and attractiveness of Amsterdam.’ And it’s partnered with universities, colleges and businesses to meet those goals. Indeed as big data keeps getting bigger, the city is learning how to apply it in ways that weren’t even possible just a few years ago.
Take the Amsterdam Practical Trial (APT) – a joint initiative of municipal, provincial and national governments that has been conducting wide-scale pilots in Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Area to improve the flow of traffic. By using the latest technology both in cars and on the road, APT manages traffic while turning mobility into a custom-made affair. ‘For the first time, the different levels of government have standardised the data so companies like Google and TomTom can enrich it,’ says Walther Ploos van Amstel, lecturer of city logistics at University for Applied Sciences. ‘Based on this real-time data, you get predictive models, so we can advise people where to go and when.’
A new future for people in Amsterdam
The pilots have proven successful in the ArenAPoort area, where Ajax football matches and big name concerts at the Ziggo Dome and AFAS Live venues can see the area’s population more than double on any given weekend. The individual advice that drivers or public transportation users receive via their favourite phone apps – such as what train to take and how long the wait, where to park and how to pay – is not only unique, says Ploos van Amstel, but has reduced congestion around the ArenA by 75%. ‘Smart mobility is all about linking information in the mobility chain to make mobility more sustainable and cost-efficient,’ he says. ‘We’re testing it for crowd control, too, over the big holidays such as King’s Day and events like Gay Pride.’ Next up? Using the technology to help commuters in the Amsterdam Area. ‘It’s silly only to look at the city if we have 400,000 people commuting in the Amsterdam Area every day,’ says Ploos van Amstel.
But it’s not just on land where smart mobility is making waves. The Port of Amsterdam, Europe’s fourth busiest, is using and testing aquatic drones to inspect the area with the goal of making it ‘smarter, safer, cleaner and faster,’ says Joost Zuidema, Researcher Strategy and Innovation at Port of Amsterdam. ‘Autonomous vessels will play a huge role in the port of the future.’ And while autonomous ships are still in the development phase there, self-driving boats are already cruising along Amsterdam’s less congested canals: The AMS Institute’s Roboat can be used to ferry freight and people, test water quality, remove waste or even act as temporary floating structures such as bridges or stages.
Creating the airport of the future in Amsterdam
When it comes to the skies, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol ‘wants to be the e-commerce gateway of Europe,’ says Olav Steffers, Director of Foreign Investments at the Schiphol Area Development Company (SADC). The Schiphol area’s many logistics service providers want more control over the supply chain, and the Amsterdam Area offers a unique digital infrastructure with data centres to do it. ‘For us, smart mobility means optimising the supply chain in terms of logistics,’ says Steffers, ‘and the connectivity gives logistics companies the opportunity to build control towers to monitor the IT systems of everyone in their supply chain.’ Schiphol’s aim to become one of the most sustainable airports in the world includes an emphasis on electric transport, while Amsterdam has set itself the goal of becoming emissions-free by 2025. It will take longer than that to bring 21st-century smart technology to Amsterdam’s 17th-century streets as far as autonomous vehicles are concerned. But as the city expands over the next decade in places including IJburg 2, the Haven-Stad, and Overhoeks in Amsterdam Noord, Ploos van Amstel says it should make the new areas ‘future-ready’ for the autonomous vehicles that will follow sooner rather than later.