Agile experiments help create useful urban services

The Smart Tampere program is boosting smart city development with agile experiments, where companies can test their services or products using the city as a test bed and a living lab. Around twenty experiment projects arose in 2018.

The Smart Tampere agile experiments are mostly about guidance and city infrastructure, such as street maintenance, since the concept is used by the 6Aika projects Smart City Guidance and City IoT. In 2018 there have been four open calls for ideas to pilot in a city environment.

– Agile piloting enables the City of Tampere to find out what kind of new digital solutions would provide efficiency and cost-savings in the City activities, says Mika Heikkilä, Project Manager of City IoT.

– For companies this is an easy and quick way to open a dialogue with the City and be informed of the City needs, says Anni Joela, Project Manager of Smart City Guidance.

In agile experiments, companies can test their solutions in a real urban environment, and if successful, use it as a reference. Start-ups are offered various supporting services, such as service design or market research. The aim is to help the companies to market their piloted services or products with success.

– We need to keep in mind that agile experiments is a method for testing, not for the City’s procurement. But of course we want the services and products that have tested well in Tampere to reach as wide markets as possible, Heikkilä says.

– Agile experiments are also an excellent learning opportunity for all parties. They show in a very practical way how agile methods work in a public–private cooperation and, on the other hand, how each solution performs in a city environment, Joela says.

The fourth call for ideas in Tampere closed at the end of November and resulted in six new ideas that will be tested as soon as possible. That adds it up to around twenty ongoing agile experiments. New calls will be out later.

– We would like to encourage companies to propose their ideas, even if they are not an exact match to what the City is looking for in the call for ideas. Wider supply of ideas may provide answers to questions not yet asked, Joela says.

Agile experiments is inherently challenging. Everything will not go as planned or scheduled because the tested services and products are under development. Nevertheless, most of the planned experiments are running – and those that are not provided an opportunity to see that a new approach will be needed.

Within the guidance theme there is for example an agile experiment to test how information on tramway building sites should be shared. There are Bluetooth beacons at the construction sites and they send local updates to any passers-by that have their smartphones’ Nearby turned on.

– The beauty of agile experiments is the fact that we can test this solution easily, without complicated administrative processes, Joela says.

Guidance is a broad concept ranging from helping people find their destinations to providing various kinds of information. With agile experiments the project is looking for new solutions to, for example, guide people participating in major events in the Ratina area. In the Keskustori area the focus is on informing visitors about the historical development of the site.

The City IoT project is using agile experiments for example to examine the differences between diesel, electric and hybrid buses. Analysing and visualising the bus data shows clearly the movements and operating costs of each vehicle. In another experiment an outdoor ice rink is condition monitored. That could be a basis for an information service for potential ice rink users, maintenance purchasers and producers.

Imaging and machine learning are used to create better situation awareness of city’s street network. Cameras attached to cars provide images of the street environment; images are then processed to identify potential problems and humans can be alerted to consider further actions, like fixing a hole in a road sooner than was planned.

– All in all, we are testing ideas that would be beneficial for any city or commune. As such, of course, they won’t save expenses: a shift towards knowledge management is necessary as well, reminds Heikkilä.

Smart Tampere is the City's strategic development program, executed by Business Tampere and the City of Tampere.