The Snuffelfiets: pedalling towards a better environment

There is only one means of transport more popular in the Netherlands than the car: our faithful steel steed with pedals. Together we cycle some 15 billion kilometers a year in The Netherlands. That’s more than 880 kilometres per person. If we are cycling these great distances, why not do something useful with all those trips? That’s what the inventors of the ‘Snuffelfiets’ (‘browsing cyclists’, ed.) must have been thinking.

The companies Civity and Sodaq set up the project together with the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the province of Utrecht. Civity specialises in data solutions and Sodaq is an expert in the field of sensors. Lastly, RIVM takes care of the validation of the data that is collected by the Snuffelfietsers.

And this data, well, that could be anything. “There are several sensors in the device, such as humidity and temperature sensors,” Claar Schouwenaar explains. Schouwenaar works for the province of Utrecht and is the project leader for the Snuffelfiets. “These sensors can tell us something about heat islands, for example.”

Heat island effect

A heat island effect is a phenomenon whereby the temperature in urban areas is relatively high compared to surrounding rural areas. “Measurements show that the city can be up to eight degrees warmer than the countryside”, meteorologist Gert-Jan Steenveld of Wageningen University recently explained in the university magazine Resource. “But even in a city this can vary considerably from one street to the next.” Measurements from the Snuffelfietsen could therefore identify local heat islands. These could be addressed with more vegetation, for instance.

But that’s not all. “An accelerometer and a vibration meter are also included. These collect data on road surface quality,” says Schouwenaar. “So if you hit potholes or tree roots, it detects that.” This could help municipalities and road authorities in future to analyze and maintain cycle paths and other roads used by bikes. “And last but not least, sensors that are used to measure air quality, of course.”

Units handed out to 500 Snuffelaars

Meanwhile ‘Snuffelaars’ (‘browsers’, ed.) are riding around in the municipalities of Zeist, Amersfoort, Utrecht, Nieuwegein and IJsselstein. “But North Holland, South Holland and Overijssel are also interested in the project,” says Schouwenaar. “And a pilot with 50 bicycles has just been launched in Gelderland too.”

Het meetkastje, bevestigd aan een van de Snuffelfietsen. Foto: Ronald van Liempdt

The remaining devices were distributed last month. There are 550 units in total, 500 in the province of Utrecht and 50 in Gelderland. The project started a year ago as a small pilot with 10 bicycles in Zeist. Pretty soon there was a lot of enthusiasm for expanding the project. ” We then said: we are going to scale that up to 500 participants,” Schouwenaar says. “Although we’ll spread it across the entire region.”

The ultimate goal is a two-fold one, according to Schouwenaar: “On the one hand, it’s an experiment to see what we can do with the collected data. You don’t want to immediately invest a lot of money into something that might not produce the best results. But at the same time you could say that it’s also an attempt to work towards the creation of big data, which does involve a lot of people who take measurements.” After all, the more Snuffelfietsen there are riding around, the more valuable the data becomes. “Because then you will be able to determine an average from it,” Schouwenaar states. And the more data input, the more accurate the output will be.

Cheap sensors, relevant data

Schouwenaar is therefore hoping that ultimately as many municipalities and provinces as possible will want to participate. “Anyone with their own specific question or method would also be fine,” she says. “It’s a way of demonstrating that very cheap sensors provide relevant data as well, as long as you have enough of them.”

The data platform developed by Civity makes it possible to monitor measurements from the project on a daily basis. Participants can also view their own measurement results via an app. The image below depicts the data from all Snuffelfietsen in the Utrecht area on November 20th. Aside from this grid map, all the specific routes of that day can also be viewed in detail.

Levels of fine particles

So it seems that there are a lot of fine particles in the air. However, there are often days when most of the routes on the map turned out to be relatively blue too. “Yes, that’s also disappointing for lots of participants”, Schouwenaar responds. “They thought: now I’m going to show you for once and all just how disgusting the air is in my neighbourhood”, she laughs. “But it’ s not so bad after all. That’s why it’s nice that the RIVM is on board with the project. They ‘clean’ the data by correcting any anomalies with the help of their measuring stations”, Schouwenaar explains. “The RIVM also says that levels of fine particles in The Netherlands are on the whole quite okay. Therefore you will see a lot of blue routes on a regular basis.”

Nevertheless, this data is also valuable. And in any case, there are plenty of ideas to further innovate the project in the future. “We want to continue developing the device. If you really want to be able to say something about air quality in our country, it should also include a nitrogen sensor.”

New Snuffelfietser groups

And it could be made even smaller, so that the new version could be used by new groups of Snuffelfietsers. “Imagine, for example, cyclists who cycle other routes with a smaller device or perhaps a unit that’s even fully integrated into the bike frame. Or all the bicycle couriers in The Netherlands start using them”, Schouwenaar suggests. “Or – and this is really a very relevant option – working with shared bicycles, such as the OV-fiets (rental bike from the Dutch public transport provider).”

And that calls for improvements to be made to the measurement equipment. ” At present, the unit is linked to the user, who also looks after it,” says Schouwenaar. “Where shared bikes are concerned, the device should be vandal-proof.” Nevertheless, that type of an upgrade would immediately lead to a huge increase in data, which makes it an appealing option. “At the moment we are also working with the OV-fiets to see if this is feasible,” Schouwenaar concludes enthusiastically.

Millions of Snuffelaars who constantly analyze and improve the quality of our home environment with each bike ride to work or to the supermarket. In a few years’ time, that might just become a reality.

Photos: Ronald van Liempdt

Best read: Navigate a busy city? Make self-driving cars more aggressive’

Trams, cats, colliding cyclists – they can make it pretty difficult for self-driving cars. Especially in a city like Amsterdam. Carlo van de Weijer, director of the recently opened Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute (EAISI), thinks that it will never work. Let autonomous vehicles drive through our busy main city? “That can’t be done,” according to Van de Weijer. That’s what came out of our best read article this week.

Still, that all sounds rather set in stone. Ten years ago, nobody would have predicted that we could transform leftovers into decorative edible tidbits with a 3D printer. Is a self-driving car in a city like Amsterdam really so inconceivable?

Just this past summer, a TU Delft research team presented a milestone for self-driving cars in cities. The researchers designed a system that analyses and predicts pedestrian behaviour. “It is a system that covers the entire processing chain, from vehicle perception, situation analysis and planning to control,” said lead researcher Dariu Gavrilla at the time.

At least another 30 years

In other words: a self-steering car that is able to predict whether a pedestrian will stay waiting patiently at a curb, or choose to cross the street. “We are one small step closer to being able to roll out autonomous driving effectively in a busy, urban setting,”,said Gavrilla. Would that mean self-driving cars will be lining the Amsterdam canals? Things won’t go that fast, Gavrilla also believes: “A car that can drive through a city and be as adaptable as a human driver – that’s going to take at least another thirty years,” he told the Dutch broadcast service NOS in August.

So, things will still be a long time coming, although it certainly doesn’t seem inconceivable. That’s how trend-watcher and Tesla driver Vincent Everts views it too. “I already use the autopilot function on 95 % of my trips,” he says. “Especially on the highway, but also in the city if the road is suitable enough.” The only condition is that the roads have to be clear. “I hardly ever use it on inner city streets, but there are no lanes there and things jut out all over the place,” Everts says. “The car is not at all ready for that yet.” But will it be possible someday?

Read moreBest read: Navigate a busy city? Make self-driving cars more aggressive’

Start-ups in Zuid-Holland: Playground for innovation

If there is one category of companies that are responsible for innovation in the Netherlands, it would have to be the start-ups. Innovation Origins is always looking for relevant innovations, therefore there is every reason to really capture the complete Dutch start-up ecosystem. Armed with the data sets of  StartupDelta, we visited all Dutch provinces. In 14 episodes, published between December 24, 2018, and January 7, 2019, we’re giving an overview of the start-up ecosystem in the Netherlands. The series has been made by the journalists of cooperation PitchProducties, commissioned by Innovation Origins. Today: Zuid-Holland. Read the other episodes of the series here (as far as already published).

It’s obvious that Zuid-Holland is an important province for start-ups. Almost a quarter of all start-ups in the Netherlands (about 24%) is from this province, emulating her northern sister-province. Still, Noord-Holland remains the biggest start-up province of the Netherlands, but there’s one aspect in which Zuid-Holland seems to be undefeated: innovation.

This summer, the Chamber of Commerce announced that, with 27 companies, Zuid-Holland is the best-represented province in the SMEs Innovation Top 100. The second place was for Noord-Holland with 23 companies. Zuid-Holland seems to want to maintain this number 1 position by investing in (future) innovative start-ups.

“As a province, we do invest a lot in innovation,” a spokesperson of the province of Zuid-Holland says. “Innovative entrepreneurs are of great importance for the economy of Zuid-Holland. They make sure that we can stay ahead as a region and that we can compete on a global level.”

Futuristic issues

One of these investments is the participation in the Startup in Residence program, a partnership between start-ups and the government which focuses on innovation. Several provinces and government agencies place ‘challenges’, or issues, to which start-ups or ambitious young entrepreneurs can respond. If a solution for an issue is picked, that start-up may start realizing that idea with the help of a grant that can go up to 50,000 euros.

The remarkable thing is the strong focus on innovation in the challenges of Zuid-Holland. Besides the well-known search for new energy technologies and more sustainable forms of waste processing, Zuid-Holland is looking for futuristic solutions for everyday problems.

“What does the bus stop of the future look like?” is one of the eleven challenges that the province has presented to the prospective start-ups, with the instruction to design and develop a futuristic bus stop concept. Other issues are about collecting data, along with citizens, about air quality and new ways to use the knowledge, ideas and solutions of the inhabitants of Zuid-Holland.

3D printed Bus Stop

One of the nine start-ups that started working on such a challenge is Studio RAP. They want to produce the bus stop of the future – with a 3D printer. “We’re an innovative architectural firm and 3D printing is a big part of it,” says Wessel van Beerendonk, co-founder of Studio RAP. Bus stops are often neglected and are no good invitation for public transport, and Beerendonk thinks that tailored bus stops can change that. “We’re now working to actually apply that to a bus stop at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam,” Beerendonk explains. “Eventually, three designing scenarios came out of it and one of them is 3D printing.”

UNIIQ – established by Erasmus MC, TU Delft, Leiden University and the regional development society InnovationQuarter – also offers opportunities to innovative start-ups in Zuid-Holland. This investment fund focuses on speeding up the process of bringing unique, innovative ideas from the province to the market, by means of seed capital with which the proof-of-concept phase can be bridged. “We saw that there was a huge need for funding in companies in that early phase,” says Rinke Zonneveld, director of InnovationQuarter. “We then discussed with the three universities in Zuid-Holland what had to happen about that and quite quickly, we came to the conclusion that a very specific fund needed to be established.”

That way, InnovationQuarter wanted to combine their knowledge of market and investment with the technological knowledge of the universities. This turned out to be a good plan, because UNIIQ now gets more than two hundred applications a year, all start-ups from Zuid-Holland.

“In Zuid-Holland, things are made that you can drop on your feet.”

“Zuid-Holland is strong in life sciences, strong in high tech, strong in aerospace, strong in maritime, and in addition there are big challenges in the area of energy intensity with the Rotterdam Harbour,” is Zonneveld’s reply to the question of why Zuid-Holland is so strong in the field of innovation. “I think it has to do with that.” Besides, the focus in Zuid-Holland is less on online platforms and apps, says Zonneveld: “In Zuid-Holland, things that you can drop on your feet are more often made.”

Start-ups experience the help of projects such as Startup in Residence and UNIIQ often as very useful, just like Studio RAP. “Programs like Startup in Residence are great,” is the enthusiastic conclusion of Beerendonk. “You receive guidance with start-up coaches and they’re also directly the client. That works really well.” And whether the 3D printed bus stops will eventually really come into existence? “That’s obviously what you’re doing it all for,” replies Beerendonk. “That is the ultimate goal.”

Gelderland: Hub for Medical Start-ups


If there is one category of companies that are responsible for innovation in the Netherlands, it would have to be the start-ups. Innovation Origins is always looking for relevant innovations, therefore there is every reason to really capture the complete Dutch start-up ecosystem. Armed with the data sets of  StartupDelta, we visited all Dutch provinces. In 14 episodes, published between December 24, 2018, and January 7, 2019, we’re giving an overview of the start-up ecosystem in the Netherlands. The series has been made by the journalists of cooperation PitchProducties, commissioned by Innovation Origins. Today: Gelderland. Read the other episodes of the series here (as far as already published).

About 10% of Dutch start-ups focus on the medical field, but in Gelderland, it’s twice as much. This is shown by data of StartupDelta. About 20% of the start-ups in this province is involved in health care, ranging from new methods of treatment to innovative medical equipment.

Remarkable, but not surprising. “Gelderland and Nijmegen are the basis of a lot of medically oriented activities,” says Pieter Lomans of the Radboud university medical centre. “Nijmegen is a hotspot of health and high tech. Something a lot of people don’t know is that there are three billion-dollar companies on the Novio Tech Campus: NXP, Nexperia and Ampleon.” According to Lomans, these and other companies – along with Radboud University and the Radboudumc – create a network of knowledge and facilities that make Gelderland a fertile province for medical start-ups.

250,000 euros

In addition, medical start-ups in Gelderland are strongly stimulated by the province and other initiatives. Every year, the Health Valley Event is organized. This is an event where developments in the field of ‘Life Sciences & Health’ are in the center and “where it’s about people who are making the difference for health care”, Radboud University Nijmegen states.

In March, during the last edition of this event, a new fund was announced by deputy Michiel Scheffer (D66) which offers support to start-ups in Life Sciences & Health in Gelderland: the RedMedTech Discovery Fund II. This fund should help these start-ups in bridging the development phase towards follow-up financing, “in order to bring risk-bearing start-ups in the medical sector,” says Theo Föllinger. He is Manager of Business Development at OostNL, one of the initiating companies behind the fund. This bridging is a bottleneck for many start-ups.

Last month, three new start-ups have been announced that will benefit from this fund: CitiusBioCardiacBooster and Binnovate Digital Health. A short description: CitiusBio focuses on detecting heart attacks faster and better, CardiacBooster on increasing the chances of survival and limiting organ damage after a heart attack, and Binnovate on simplifying self-management for chronic kidney patients. Each of them received a loan of 250 thousand euros.

Bridging to funding

A big support, says Chris Rosmalen of CitiusBio as well. “With this loan, we can finally find out whether it really works with the device we have,” something that usually takes a lot of time and money. The loan of RedMedTech considerably speeds up this process, says Rosmalen. The same goes for CardiacBooster. “The goal is to demonstrate proof-of-concept and then get funding with that data,” says Florian Ludwig, CEO of the start-up.

Besides the RedMedTech fund, the province of Gelderland also participates in the Startup in Residence program, a partnership between start-ups and the government which focuses on innovation. Provinces are creating a number of ‘challenges’, or issues, for which start-ups can submit solutions. If an idea gets picked, the creators may realize the idea. They receive help in this and in some cases also a subsidy of up to 50,000 euros.

The striking thing about the issues of Startup in Residence of the province of Gelderland is again the focus on health and health care. Half of the issues is concerned with health, such as the influence of nutrition on disease recovery, elderly care and the advancement of sports for people with a disability.

Tough for the rest?

However, that doesn’t mean that other start-ups in Gelderland get less attention, emphasizes Marijke Deegens, policy officer at the province of Gelderland. “The things that start-ups pour their heart and soul into, are the major issues of tomorrow – such as energy transition, climate, food security and security.” For these sectors, there’s also support. The StartLife fund focuses on start-ups in the food sector, and the Innovation and Energy fund supports new sustainable energy technologies. In addition, Briskr is an important player in Gelderland, a cooperation of organisations that helps start-ups, scale-ups and grownups from different kinds of sectors with the challenges they encounter in the growth process.

Besides the cluster Nijmegen/Arnhem, Wageningen also offers an important hub for start-ups in Gelderland. These include Starthub Wageningen and StartLife. StartLife focuses on innovation in the food and agricultural sectors: “The global challenges around food supply call for a radical approach to innovation in the food and agricultural sectors. StartLife believes that start-ups are and will remain the power behind the Food and Agri innovations needed to meet global food demand in the future. StartHub Wageningen calls itself the incubator for startups of current and recently graduated Wageningen students and PhDs. “We offer support to students who want to develop their entrepreneurial skills”.

Gelderland clearly has space for all sorts of initiatives. But the medical sector seems to have a special place in the start-up heart of the province. Not surprisingly so, finds Lomans. “There is, after all, a good ecosystem for health, in combination with high tech”, he concludes.

Photo NovioTechCampus