Meet SARA, the almost-autonomous nursing robot

A Dutch startup BrightCape has developed a robot called SARA. SARA’s purpose is to support the nursing staff in taking care of the elderly. SARA can, for example, help the elderly doing their exercises, tell them stories or warn the nurses if something goes wrong.

To read as well: Innovation project becomes start-up: Robot Sara reduces the workload of healthcare employees

While robots are not a new phenomenon in healthcare, SARA is to a large extent autonomous. With SARA Home, the nursing staff can add profiles of individual inhabitants of nursing homes. Currently, SARA is tested as a pilot in two Dutch nursing homes for the elderly. With the feedback they receive from both the nurses and clients SARA gets improved over time. As of right now, the main focus in on helping the elderly. But the aim is to make the robot also available for hospitals.

Start-up of the Day: Vialytics quickly registers road conditions

How do self-driving cars handle potholes on the road? As just stay driving ahead or spontaneously around them aren’t an option. You have to take the bull by the horns, that’s what the founders of vialytics were thinking. They designed a system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to map out road conditions. This is how the road authorities can deal with the problems as quickly as possible. Danilo Jovicic, who founded the start-up together with Achim Hoth and Patrick Glaser, explains how the system works.

The founders of vialytics GmbH, (from left to right) Achim Hoth, Patrick Glaser, Danilo Jovicic ©vialytics

How did you come up with the idea of setting up vialytics?

We wanted to do business as an independent company and set up our own start-up. We got to know each other through the Activatr and Pioniergeist start-up programs. It was by coincidence that we then got together in a small group. That’s where the idea of doing something with road management took shape. We came up with a lot of wild ideas for a couple of weeks. We also had a lot of contact with municipalities who told us about problems concerning road management. The overarching issue there was autonomous traffic. We thought carefully about what you need to do in order to be able to drive safely autonomously. That invariably comes down to good roads.

What does your product look like?

Municipalities can continuously monitor their streets with our system. This is done with the help of a modified smartphone mounted on the windscreen of a municipal service vehicle. On a sweeper, for instance. These are at any rate always out and about in the city. The smartphone records the road every 4 meters.

This data is subsequently sent to us. It is then analyzed using an algorithm. Any damage to the road is automatically detected this way. The municipalities get the data back again in the form of a dynamic map. As they are better informed about the condition of the roads, they can react more quickly to any damage. This leads to a more sustainable and efficient way of road management. After all, plenty of municipalities don’t address the maintenance of their streets until it is far too late. Which means that the costs are also much higher. Current systems do not offer a proper solution. Those recordings are actually made with too great a time frame between each other. Nor are they carried out systematically.

Was there a problem you had to resolve first?

It was particularly difficult in the beginning to gain the trust of municipalities. This was mainly due to the fact that municipalities rarely cooperate with start-ups here. We set up 5 pilot projects where our system was tested. Thanks to the positive reactions we received, we have now managed to build up a customer base of 50 municipalities throughout Germany. Currently, we are also in contact with cities in other countries who are interested in our product.

What are you especially proud of?

We are especially proud of our first customers who have dispelled any preconceptions that local councils are a bit stuffy. Some of them were so enthusiastic about our solution that they bought the system before it had even been fully developed. Of course, we are also very proud of our team, which has expanded considerably over the last 6 months. Our employees are busy developing the product on a daily basis.

©vialytics

What does the future of vialytics look like?

Our goal is that of internationalization. We want road authorities all over the world to be able to maintain their road networks in an efficient and sustainable manner. Apart from that, we will continue to work on improving things so that we can keep on responding to the requests of our customers.

What tips do you have for other starters?

Do you have a good idea? Jump into the deep end and dare to make your dreams come true. And for those who have already set up a company: at some stage, take each employee along with you to a client. That’s what you’ll learn the most from.

More articles on start-ups can be found here.

 

Start-up of the Week: The magical veggie garden of tomorrow

.”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

 

Vienna Textile Lab – Colorful microbial microfibres

Giving clothes a bit of color has been done for thousands of years. Dyes from nature has been used for this ever since prehistoric times. Yet these had their limitations and that meant that certain colours were very difficult to come by. Purple is a good example. Have you ever noticed that this colour can’t be found on any country’s national flag? That”s because purple dyes used to be very expensive. Synthetic dyes came on the market in the 19th century and solved that problem.

Vienna Textile Lab is really going to where it originally all started – back to nature. Another discovery was made in the 19th century: the existence of bacteria. These microorganisms can be an organic and sustainable method for dyeing textiles. The disadvantage of synthetic substances is that they are bad for your health and the environment. And the beauty of this Austrian textile dye is that it is based on an entirely organic process.

Energy Floor – Streets made of solar cells

This Rotterdam team came up with a groundbreaking innovation in 2010. A sustainable dance floor that could generate its own energy using the kinetic energy of dancing partygoers. They collaborated with artist Daan Roosengaarde and this resulted in a luminescent interactive floor. This was world news at the time and the floor was actually in place.

The principles behind this dance floor are still very much alive ten years later; it’ s just morphed into a street tile now. The kinetic energy has been replaced by solar energy, so that anywhere where there are streets, small power stations can be installed. Which means charging stations for electric cars might no longer be necessary. The Energy Floor also monitors traffic flow so that everyone can see exactly where there is available parking space. Any other advantages? A lot of street lighting is switched on when nobody is around. Such a waste! Lastly, it just looks really cool.

Revibe – Electricity out of thin air

On railways, construction sites and in heavy industry, colossuses of machines are in constant motion. These movements cause friction and friction equals energy. However, this energy is still being completely wasted at the moment, even though it could also be used to generate electricity. This is the main starting point underlying the Swedish start-up Revibe. They have developed a compact module that serves as a kind of mini-generator for where there is a lot of kinetic energy present.

The advantages are obvious. Equipment that uses this start-up’s technology no longer need a battery or a power cable! And on top of that, it might be the cleanest form of electricity generation ever. The patented battery is very easy to mount on a vibrating surface and then goes ahead and does the job all by itself. And not insignificantly, the electricity can even be stored so that you can use it to do things like make coffee or something similar.

Spaceflow – The e-VVE and landlord

Homeowners’ associations usually have a rather old-fashioned baby-boomer image. Tenants’ contact with their neighbours or with the manager of an apartment complex tends to happen on an inefficient and decentralised basis. This ought to change; that’s what they thought at the Czech start-up Spaceflow. They developed an app specifically for tenants of residential complexes that was designed to take over all communication concerning residential and communal areas. Think of it as a kind of Facebook, but only meant for people who are part of your building complex.

Through the app you can get in touch with neighbours, request repairs, read service announcements and give feedback. There is no need either for separate keys for the communal areas. The app can also be configured for specific situations in a modular way for property managers.

In theory, the app could even replace your house key. So if you lose your phone, you’ll immediately lose your house key as well. Want to make it even more disastrous? In the event you pay for everything via Apple Pay, you would strike out three times in a row then.

Grow X – Vertically grown top quality vegetables

Human beings have been growing crops horizontally for some 7,000 years now. And as this past century has seen us all of a sudden doing just about EVERYTHING differently, we’re also now seeing a trend with vertical gardens and fields. Why vertical? It’s a bit of the same principle behind skyscrapers; they take up less space and are efficient. Vertical gardens have been around for some time already, but now there are also vertical vegetable gardens. Grow X is an example: they grow high-end vegetables for the more luxurious segment of the market.

Fresh vegetables that are grown in their own region are of great importance to the best restaurants. This is what distinguishes them from the hospitality industry where imported or canned vegetables are on the menu. Entrepreneurs can choose from around fifty organically grown mini vegetables offered by Grow X. The advantage of these mini varieties is that their taste is more concentrated than conventional varieties. Grow X is nowadays a regular supplier to the leading Dutch restaurants.

The fact that the Netherlands is internationally known as a major innovator in the horticultural sector has been confirmed once again by this start-up. It is even not commonly known in The Netherlands that our small country is the second largest food producer in the whole world. And this is not per square metre or per capita. No, this is in absolute numbers. Innovation and efficiency are the magic words here and Grow X is an excellent example of this. It is such an excellent example that we have crowned this ambitious start-up from Zeeland Start-up of the Week!

Tomorrow is Good: The Professor and the Politician

The professor and the politician sat at the table of a lunchroom in The Hague with cups of fresh mint tea. The politician had invited the professor to talk about the transparency of algorithms. He wanted to set strict rules for the use of algorithms by the government, with emphasis on the word “strict,” he added.

The politician said, “I want a watchdog who will check all the government algorithms,” words which he clearly found unsavory. The professor noticed that the politician had a preference for the words “rules” and “watchdog”, and for the expression “with an emphasis on…”.

The usefulness of a watchdog

By the time they had finished their first cup of tea, they had found that there are roughly two types of algorithms: simple and complex. Simple algorithms, they thought, translate rules into a kind of decision tree. On a napkin the politician drew blocks and lines to represent this and as an example she cited the application for a rent allowance. She noted that there are already thousands of simple algorithms in use by the government.

The professor suggested that such algorithms could be made transparent relatively easily, but that this transparency would actually bring you back to the regulations on which the algorithm is based. Sipping his tea, he added: “So you could rightfully ask what the use of an algorithm watchdog would be in this case.”

At this point, the conversation stopped for a moment, but then they decided they agreed on this after all.

“B-uu-uu-t,” said the politician, looking ominous again, “then there are the complex algorithms. Neural networks and all that.'”

The professor looked thoughtfully out the window since that seemed like the right thing to do, then replied that neural networks are as transparent as the human brain. If you could make neural networks transparent, you wouldn’t be able to derive anything from them.

The politician nodded slowly. She knew that, too.

Training the network

You can train such a network, you can test the outcome and you can also make it work better, but transparency, or the use of an algorithm watchdog, wouldn’t add any value here either, the professor concluded.

Once again, the conversation came to a standstill.

The politician had spoken and the professor couldn’t disagree with her. “That’s precisely why I want a ban on the use of far-reaching algorithms by the government,” added the politician, “emphasis on the word ban.”

“The effect would then be counterproductive,” the professor said, “by prohibiting the use of algorithms by the government, you create undesirable American conditions in which commercial parties develop ever-smarter algorithms, become more powerful as a result, and in which the democratically elected government becomes marginalized.

The professor felt that the last part of his sentence had turned out to be softer than he would have liked. He considered repeating it, but instead asked “Why do you always use the word ‘watchdog’?”

“Because a watchdog conveys decisiveness,” the politician replied. “We want to make the public feel safe with the government, and a watchdog is a good representation of that.”

Curious bees

The professor was starting to feel miserable. The government as a strict watchdog? The image reminded him of countries like China. Or America.

“I don’t like that metaphor,” he said, “it has such an indiscriminate character. It’s powerful, but also a bit stupid and simplistic.

“Then why don’t you come up with a better analogy!” the politician challenged him cheerfully.

The professor was reminded of an article he had recently read and replied: “I think the image of a bee population would fit better.” It was a somewhat frivolous answer, but in a bee colony, curious bees are sent out to look for opportunities that are of value to the entire colony.

The politician laughed a lame laugh.

“Nice image, professor, but an algorithm bee wouldn’t work in the political arena!”

The professor suspected that the politician had a good point there.

They had one final cup of tea together and then once again went their separate ways.

bout this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

Start-up of the day: Energy Floors is making smart parking spaces in Rotterdam

Over the coming year, Rotterdam’s Energy Floors wants to sell smart surfaces for public outdoor spaces that generate data, measuring how many cars, pedestrians and cyclists are passing by. These can be used to regulate traffic flows and lighting, for instance. These Smart Energy Floors also generate energy via the solar cells that are integrated in them. At the moment, the Rotterdam municipality is on the lookout for a suitable location for the application of this kind of energy surface in a city parking lot, says Michel Smit, CEO of Energy Floors. A trial of this is planned for 2020 in cooperation with the Engie energy company.

What motivated you to set up Energy Floors and what problem has this resolved?

“Our first idea was to create a Sustainable Dance Floor on which people can dance to generate energy, something that you can actually see because the tiles light up. (By converting the vertical movement of the dancer on the floor into rotational movement through a mechanism underneath the flexible floor tiles so as to generate energy, ed.) That idea originally came from two companies: Enviu and Döll. In 2017, they brought me in as a hands-on expert from the club scene. I had been running a large nightclub in Rotterdam for four years, called Off-Corso. They wanted to bring sustainability to the attention of young people and thought that the Sustainable Dance Floor could help with that.

Unlike today, it was difficult to get young people interested in sustainable energy at that time. It had a bit of a stuffy image. We initially tried out that first version of that dance floor at the Rotterdam pop stage Watt (which went bankrupt in 2010, ed.) – that made it the first sustainable club in the world. We started building our business around that first Sustainable Dance Floor.”

What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

“That we had customers for the Sustainable Dance Floor before we had the actual product. At first, we only had a drawing of the floor, an artist’s impression. We worked out the concept and technology with TU Delft and TU/e in Eindhoven. And together with Daan Roosegaarde, we were able to further develop the interaction between the public and the technology. This is where our Sustainable Dance Floor is unique: the interaction between people and sustainably-generated energy. When they dance harder, they generate more energy.

This is what we want to offer people when it comes to our business proposition. That they themselves have an influence on improving the sustainability of energy. We want commitment. This is what we are specifically focusing on. The second obstacle was how we could go about expanding the scale for things that this product can be used for. So that it has a real impact. That’s why we wanted a surface that was suitable for large permanent fixtures in outdoor areas. We had to drop our initial unique selling point – as in ‘human energy’ – for this type of surface. Instead, we came up with our Smart Energy Floor. We use solar energy rather than kinetic energy. Otherwise, the project would be impossible to complete. The system has to be cost-effective, robust and resistant to wear and tear.”

What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

“That we sold 25 of those Smart Energy Floors to schools last year. Three of them in Germany and the rest in The Netherlands. As a company, we have three business propositions: the Dancer for clubs and discotheques, for example, the Gamer for schoolyards and the Walker for large outdoor facilities. The first Walker in the Netherlands is located near Croeselaan in Utrecht on a crossing opposite Rabobank’s head office. Rabo has partly financed this floor. There is also one in the palace garden of the President of Malta. He found us via Google. It is a public garden with a Gamer and a Walker. A Gamer costs 13,000 euros including the installation. While a Walker is available from 25,000 euros.

The fact that we appeal to people all over the world doesn’t surprise us at all. Our first signed contract was with the producer of Absolute Vodka. He wanted to make a road show around New York with our dance floor in 2009. So, that’s what we did. We get two to three requests a day. Our challenge is to be able to deal with these properly. Because we want to keep on innovating too. As an example, you could also use the Smart Energy Floor on motorways if you developed the software for that.”

 What can we expect from Energy Floors over the coming year?

“We want to start selling more Walkers. This is a new market for us that has a lot of potential. Smart city projects that you can use it in are much larger projects than what we have done so far. You could equip bike paths with our technology so that you can turn them into walkways. We are going to do a smart parking trial next year together with Engie and the municipality of Rotterdam. We will be installing  a Walker for that reason. The energy generated by the solar cells in the surface goes to the electricity grid and can subsequently be used to charge cars. Currently, we’re looking around for a suitable location.

We are also planning to enter the German market. This fits in well with our product and company. There is plenty of capital there and focus on sustainability. And the German way of doing business isn’t that different from the Dutch way of doing business.”

What is your ultimate goal?

“Ultimately, we want our Smart Energy Floors to be used in all the world’ s major cities and have their data connected to each other. You can learn a lot from each other’s experiences. You could monitor and influence the behaviour of the users of our surfaces on city roads. For example, in order to regulate busy situations at certain locations. You can apply the technology in a smart way. If there are very few people driving or walking on the road, you could turn the lights off in the evening.”

Women for Women connects talent to Brainport region

“So much untapped talent that it drives you nuts,” says Ed Heerschap, LivingIn program coordinator at the Expat Center in Eindhoven. He and Kavitha Varathan, co-founder of the Expat Spouses Initiative, set up the Women for Women program. Heerschap: “The Brainport region is attracting new talent by making it more attractive for more highly educated expatriate women”. The closing event will take place on Thursday at the TU/e Blue Hall.

A number of influential women who have an exemplary role in the company where they work are participating in the program. Role models for inclusion, Heerschap explains. “They are early adopters,” adds Varathan. “Women who are already committed to more cultural diversity or to more women in the workplace.”

Women for Women links these ambassadors to the internationals who left a good job in their own country for the career of their partner. But that’s not the most important thing, adds Heerschap. The ambassadors are ambassadors of Eindhoven as well. “They not only help the international community in this way, but they also show what inclusion means to the city.”

High potentials

Like Susan ten Haaf, lawyer and partner at HVG Law. “I am a buddy within our organization and a career watcher for female high potentials.” She also set up a network for women entrepreneurs, which meets four times a year. Her goal is for more women to remain active in the business world in the Eindhoven region. “I signed up for the program because I find it very bizarre that talented people especially with a high level of education will at some point vanish. Or stay hidden between four walls.”

Ten Haaf considers it important that she was able to do something for a talent, but that she also meets other women who are working on the same issues as she is. “That inspires me all over again.”

It is Varathans’ and Heerschap’s dream that any international talent will be able to join the business world, that it is considered “normal”. “It is rather strange that a spouse doesn’t have a seat at the table when it comes to discussing a possible future abroad,” Heerschap continues. “We want all internationals to feel welcome and participate in our ecosystem. It really is a huge loss if we let all that talent go to waste.”

Kavitha Varathan, CEO of Expat Spouses Initiative

Varathan knows from personal experience what it is like to build a new life here. In 2008 she left India for her husband’s career, as he was offered a job at Philips Research. She went with him, and quit her job as an architect. She found a job in the legal profession here in The Netherlands. Yet she also noticed that other spouses weren’t able to manage that. With this in mind, she started the Expat Spouses Initiative in 2014. A platform for highly educated internationals that can help them find a job.

The Community

The community, as Varathan calls it, counts about 1800 members after five years. Of these, 97 percent are highly educated and about 11 percent have a PhD, “all motivated and ambitious women.”

During this third edition of Women for Women there will be a total of four meetings where all the talents and ambassadors get to meet each other. This Thursday is the fourth and final meeting where everyone is welcome. Not only to meet the talents, but also to hear the ambassadors’ stories. Varathan: “Two Philips ambassadors reveal how they achieve more inclusion and diversity at Philips. Stories that make you take action too. We want everyone to leave with the idea that they themselves can do something for more inclusion. Right now.”

You can register for the closing event via this link.

IoT and 5G offer the manufacturing industry a way to upgrade services

The Internet of Things, where everything around us is being digitized, offers opportunities. Already you can turn on the thermostat remotely or see who’s at your door at any time – even if you’re far from home. Plants in greenhouses are automatically watered when they need it. Anchors with sensors hold our dikes together and warn if the water tension and pressure changes. No longer does the dike reeve have to visit all the dikes. Much more is possible thanks to the future 5G network and everything will become connected to everything.

Els van de Kar, associate professor of Business Service Innovation at Fontys University of Applied Sciences Venlo, and Etienne Scholl, Domain Sales Manager at Ericsson, explain in a microlecture what the Internet of Things (IoT) and the 5G network can do for e.g. the manufacturing industry. This is where the manufacturing industry is going to make a difference. Not because of the products, but because of the service that they will be able to provide, says Van de Kar.

Smart Servitization

“That’s what you call a difficult word: servitization.” The Business Service Innovation research group is exploring how new technologies such as IoT, Big Data and 5G can provide a competitive advantage so that manufacturing companies can remain profitable. Fontys is not alone in this: The Netherlands has set itself the goal of having the most flexible and best digitally connected production network in Europe by 2021. This can be read in the Implementation Agenda 2018-2021, drawn up by the Smart Industry platform, FME, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, the Koninklijke Metaalunie and TNO.

Smart Servitization © Fontys Hogescholen

Together with LIOF, Vodafone, Ericsson, Zuyd University of Applied Sciences and Regitel, the lectorate forms a project group that is examining how far Limburg’s small and medium-sized enterprises and the manufacturing industry have come in terms of IoT. Van de Kar: “In other words, what about their level of IoT maturity? That’s a slow process in Limburg.” Students came by for an interview after companies had responded to a digital survey. While a company had responded digitally that it was well on its way when it came to IoT, it became clear from the interviews that most companies are only in the early stages of their implementation of IoT. “These trajectories take time and I assume that this will take a few steps at a time.”

“Consumers are already wireless, but factories have only just started”, Scholl continues. “The industry still uses a lot of machines that are connected by cable, regardless of how wireless technologies make factories more flexible. This is also down to the fact that this technology is completely new. It is unclear how it is going to progress. You have to run production in industry, and if your factory is shut down as a result of a malfunction, it will just cost you money. It is important that the technology is stable. They know that cables are stable.”

Speed vs latency

Aside from stability, speed is also important. “If we look at 4G, that’s not fast enough for all industries. 5G will be 20 times faster.” 5G also has an advantage for robotics. As there is always a delay in data that you send via the network, Scholl explains. “We call that ‘latency’. The delay is twenty-five to thirty milliseconds with 4G, whereas 5G reduces it to one millisecond. Which is necessary for self-driving cars, for one thing.”

The level of accuracy of 5G is greater. Scholl: “This is good when it comes to aircraft maintenance, for instance. Lots of tools are needed for that. With a single push of a button, the system checks whether all the material and tools that have been used are back in the right place. It’s terrible to think that a screwdriver might have gotten stuck in one of the engines.”

Many companies are already using wifi on the path to 5G, says Scholl. “Wifi works when there are only a few users. Compare it to a space where more and more people are coming. You start talking louder and louder and at some point you have to talk so loudly that you can no longer hear each other.” Scholl cites an example from the Rotterdam port where automated cranes load and unload container ships from China. “That went well using wifi until boats passed by that also had wifi networks, then the system kept dropping out.”

Data

Plenty of options and advantages, yet the story behind the data is rooted in all these smart applications, Van de Kar goes on to say. Who owns the data, where is the data, what to do with all that data? When Van de Kar asks who would like to be connected to the rest of the world through their bicycle, house and car, one German student responds: “Not me! They’ ll be able to see into my brain in a second. And I enjoy taking care of my car and bike myself.”

There are more reservations. Afterwards, a Dutch fourth-year commercial economics student admits that he is skeptical. “I see it as a great gift, at least that’s also how companies present IoT and 5G. But there is no way back, I think. It seems as if companies will be able to offer cheaper services because of digitization, but I don’t see that happening quite yet. And you are missing out on the social aspect, I’m afraid that it will make society even more individualistic.”

Andreas Zosholl, a German international business student who is currently completing his studies at Groba, sees mostly opportunities. ” This introduction was very interesting for me personally. Not so much for my graduation thesis. With that, I’m mainly concerned with sensors and internet connections for the machines. 5G is still a step too far for Groba.”

Start-up of the week: a Dutch solution for a Dutch problem

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

EP Tender: a powerbank on wheels

It’s a strange sight, but the battery trailer from the French start-up EP Tender is definitely a very serious plan. You can regard the vehicle as a kind of extra battery for electric cars. This increases the range of the electric car by a maximum of 150 kilometers. Useful for holidays abroad where there are less charging stations than in The Netherlands. For the start-up it is to be hoped that battery nanotechnology is not set to overtake this wee trailer in the next decade.

Credimi – Fast financing for start-ups

Often an ambitious innovative business model needs money. Money that those involved don’t always have in their own pockets. Of course, you could go to a bank to finance your project, yet that frequently takes up an incredible amount of time. What makes Italian Credimi different from other lenders is that they are very fast. An applicant knows within 48 hours whether or not they will receive the loan. And this can be very welcome if you need to act quickly in a volatile market.

Skinive – Pocket-sized dermatologist

Almost everyone has discovered something on their skin that they were a little concerned about. A birthmark you didn’t know existed. Or a type of rash, an innocent spot. Or perhaps it would be a good idea to see your family doctor after all? By using the app from the Belarus start-up Skinive, you can find out directly by pointing your phone’s camera at your skin and taking a few pictures. The app then matches the images with data from a database that contains a multitude of nightmares for hypochondriacs.

The project initially began with the aim of discovering the first stages of skin cancer.However, the founders soon figured out that their smart app also worked for many other conditions. And because the app works on any smartphone, skin research is more accessible than ever. Skinive just offers advice on dermatological conditions, but unfortunately it doesn’t help against hypochondria.

Hydrogenious – All hail hydrogen

That hydrogen has the potential to be used as a fuel has been known for some time now. And how nice it would be if this would also be possible to roll it out en masse. Hydrogen is not a greenhouse gas. It produces about three times more energy than the same amount of petrol and there is more than enough of it on earth. So much for the advantages. Hydrogen is quite flammable at room temperature. Something that is obviously not very practical when you want to travel by car. In addition, the gas has the lowest density of the entire periodic table of elements, which makes it extremely difficult to work with. The gas evaporates just like that.

The German team behind Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies wants to address and overcome these two disadvantages with an innovative bit of chemistry. The ambitious start-up devised a process whereby hydrogen can be stored without any risk of explosion. And that’s not all. They have also discovered a way in which the gas can be transported to the end user with a tanker or a pipeline. How great would it be if we no longer needed to reduce the use of environmentally hazardous fuels, but simply had a clean alternative that we could burn which never runs out?

Fieldfactors – Avoid wet feet with green fields

Climate change is likely to have serious consequences for the Netherlands. Due to the fact that half of the country is actually below sea level, the risk of flooding is constantly looming over our tiny hinterland. And this is not the sole threat. Heavy rainfall will be more frequent as a result of a warmer kind of climate. Excess rainwater has to go somewhere if you don’t want the streets to be flooded. This is especially a problem in built-up areas. It can be very difficult to get rid of water when everything is packed in tight. However, the Dutch wouldn’t be Dutch if they didn’t have an innovative solution for this. One of these is Bluebloqs, a system from the start-up Fieldfactors, whereby 95% of rainwater can be stored underground in a basin.

This storage technology not only keeps our feet dry, it also looks pretty green. The system is visible at street level in the form of a plant bed. This naturally enhances the appeal of the street scenes. A win-win situation. An underground system is currently being installed in Rotterdam and is also dealing with a third sore point. Climate change does not limit itself to heavier rainfall, but also to longer periods of drought. Thanks to the compact storage basin, rainwater can be stored for months and reused at any time.

The biggest job these ex-students from Delft University have done so far was to install a storm water drain near the Kasteel football stadium, the home of Sparta. The football field is being watered in a sustainable manner through this basin. The square in front of the station has become a lot greener. And the local residents are no longer inconvenienced by flooding.

That the Dutch are internationally known as experts in the field of water management has once again been by Fieldfactors. The initiators show that innovation does not necessarily have to involve high-tech gadgets. One can also look towards nature too. In fact, everyone benefits from this system at a time when a well thought-out irrigation policy is more important than ever. This is enough reason for us to reward Fieldfactors this week with the title of Start-up of the Week!

Tomorrow is good: 5 trends in consumer behavior that have a shadowy side

Consumers are the cornerstone of any organization’s existence. As an organization, you must work on devising solutions for issues that the consumers of tomorrow may run into in order to improve the lives of these future consumers. But what are these issues? I set off on a journey into the magical land of trend analysis and came across five trends in consumer behaviour that have a shadowy side. That shadowy side is something that we should shed a little light on. And when there is a shadowy side to something, then there’s something that needs to be polished up. As in, something can actually be done to make sure that tomorrow is good.

The addicted consumer

Whoa, we humans are slaves to addiction. Although some people are more susceptible to addiction than others, almost every person is sensitive to some form of addiction. For instance, we are sensitive to an addiction to media. Media outlets like Netflix are so quick in delivering the next episode, that it’s much more difficult for the average consumer to stop their media consumption than it is to maintain their media usage. You become addicted as a result.

Our social media consumption has often been associated with addiction in recent years. It has already been scientifically mapped out which personal characteristics fuel social media addiction. How social media addiction affects your satisfaction with your life. Or what the negative impact of social media addiction is on (school) performance. I could go on and on. Consequently, there are calls for us to regulate media consumption and to protect consumers from excessive media consumption.

The lonely consumer

Although our online world is characterized by words like ‘connection’ and ‘connectedness’, in reality we are gradually becoming more and more lonely. Instead of heading into town with your girlfriends to find a new dress, you simply browse through webshops on your own. You no longer venture out on a pub crawl anymore to find an exciting new love interest. You simply swipe through Tinder profiles. Loneliness caused by the impact of social media and the digital world is starting to surface to such an extent, that it is being referred to as a loneliness epidemic. There is an increasing need to ‘reconnect’ by seeking out actual physical and offline contact with each other again.

The minimalist consumer

Then there is one more trend that goes against our evolutionary roots as hunters and gatherers. While hunting and gathering may act as an impetus for more consumerism, we are now seeing more and more signs directed towards downsizing and minimalism. We build tiny houses, we reuse furniture and we hardly own any books, music albums or films. Minimalism has become a way of life for many.

Some minimalists not only filter their own consumer pattern in excessive ways, but also do that on behalf of others. And that’s where the shadowy side comes in. We are not talking about the minimalists who simply consider minimalism more aesthetically pleasing (e.g. fans of Scandinavian design). Nor the minimalists who for practical reasons aspire to a minimalist existence (e.g. which makes it easier for them to travel). But rather about the minimalists who aspire to nonconsumerism based on moral conviction with a focus on sustainability. Although, of course, there is nothing wrong with that moral conviction.

Many people share that conviction in principle. However, one may have some reservations about those minimalists who act as activists in their approach to others where flight shame, plastic shame or meat shame are concerned. There appears to be a razor-thin line between raising awareness or instilling feelings of shame on others. We should honestly ask ourselves whether we are making our society more appealing when we step over that line. Guilt and shame can certainly change behaviors. Nevertheless, the question remains whether there are not more charming roads to the Rome in question.

The nonmaterialistic consumer

A trend associated with that of minimalism is that of nonmaterialism. Nonmaterialistic consumers consume without any tangible consequence of that consumerism. On the one hand, nonmaterialism is the result of a changing pattern of consumerism. We prefer to spend our money on experiences and adventures rather than on products. On the other hand, we are replacing some products with subscriptions. We no longer buy a CD, but a subscription to Spotify instead.

Especially this second development is beginning to take on such significant proportions that we now speak of a ‘subscription economy’. Subscription models are penetrating markets, meaning that the relationship between provider and consumer is undergoing considerable change. Not only does this relationship become more long-term and stable, but is also characterized by a higher level of dependence. The more subscriptions, the less diversification in the consumer pattern and the greater the dependence on a number of behemoth corporations. From research carried out by McKinsey, it appears that consumers are indeed buying subscriptions en masse, yet only about 11% of them are fans of the subscription model.

The consumer robot

When it comes to consumers, we mean people. It’s almost time to change that mindset. As the consumer robot is gaining ground. For example, a study by Ericsson shows that 70% of consumers think that within three years virtual assistants will be making purchasing decisions for them. Some researchers have even gone a step further and claim that in a few years’ time, 85% of shopping behaviour will take place without human interaction. It is impossible to pin an exact number on this in the future, but the trend is very clear.

Personally I find this the one of most cool trends. I am a huge fan of a society where artificial intelligence provides human intelligence with support wherever possible. Of course, there is also a shadowy side to this trend. How do we integrate ethics into the purchasing decisions of a consumer robot? And how do we ensure that consumers are happy to entrust their wallets to a robot? Together with my research group, I’m working hard on designing solutions to these questions.

Tomorrow is good for our customers if we work on the shadowy side of these developments. When we brighten up something that is shadowy, turn negatives into positives and turn anything that’s a grey area into something that shines!

 

Realistic Routes to Paris (2): heavy-duty transport

Pixabay

As a celebration of its 10th anniversary, Automotive Campus Helmond, together with TNO, is organising the mobility debate “Realistic Routes to Paris”. In this debate, on 3 December, prominent guests from politics, science and the mobility industry will discuss a realistic way to achieve the Paris agreements, without bringing society to a full stop. The themes in the debate are passenger transport and Heavy-Duty. In two episodes, we look ahead to the discussion. Today: Jan Ebbing on the challenges of heavy-duty transport.

Electrification, fuel cells, hybrid: even in heavy-duty transport such as long-distance trucks and buses, all options are still open. Electricity seems a logical choice for urban distribution, but when can we also drive electrically across the continent, or will sustainable alternative fuels bring the solution? Diesel seems untouchable for the time being, but below the surface, there is already a lot of thinking about new infrastructure and production capacity.

For Jan Ebbing, programme manager at TNO, one thing is clear: “We have to reduce CO2 emissions, that’s a given and so our debate on 3 December will not deal with that question. What matters is whether, within that debate, there is sufficient attention for heavy-duty and how we can do something about it. The government has plenty of ideas about passenger transport, but does this also apply to bus and freight transport? That’s where it’s really different.”

In the case of passenger transport, the focus is now to a large extent on electric vehicles, while in the case of heavy-duty the focus is more nuanced. Ebbing: “There are certainly also people promoting e-trucks, but across the industry, there is a lot of scepticism as well. The transport sector’s problem is that rates are dominating the debate: margins are small; a truck that has to stand still for more than 10 minutes to refuel immediately puts the business at risk because another transporter can do it faster. Even with fast charging, electric driving becomes difficult for certain applications for that reason alone.”

Could a hybrid solution then offer a solution? Electric would suffice for the cities but beyond the city limits, we could simply keep using the traditional combustion engine. “That would partly solve the problem,” says Ebbing. “Of course, long stretches on diesel are not optimal. In addition to becoming hybrid, we will also have to look at dual fuel, diesel mixed with a biofuel, for example.” But also hydrogen gas is not unthinkable, according to Ebbing. “Natural gas can achieve a 20% reduction in your CO2 emissions, which is a serious option in the transition.”

By the way, Ebbing nuances that the bad image of diesel is no longer always justified. “Certainly not when it comes to clean air in cities. If you drive through the ‘dirty’ city with the most modern diesels, you are in fact purifying the air, that’s how clean it is now. But that doesn’t solve the CO2 problem, of course. Hence the idea of using dual-fuel to make a relatively quick impact.”

And then there is hydrogen, of course: the fuel that seems to offer a more logical solution for heavy-duty – trucks and buses, but also shipping – than for passenger transport. “Indeed, hydrogen fuel cells can easily be imagined for trucks. But that does not happen by itself. How, for example, are we going to transport hydrogen to the filling stations? It is a substance that is stored under high pressure, which requires a lot of logistics. Not every pump will be able to produce its own sustainable hydrogen.”

In short, no clear route has yet been determined for 2030, let alone 2050. But for Ebbing this does not mean that we can’t do anything. “There are still many hurdles to be overcome before we have the final solution. You can sit on your hands, but you don’t want to, because then you won’t reach the targets. What’s more: every year that we don’t achieve the CO2 reduction, the challenge for the following years will become even greater!”

Ebbing says there are steps to be taken in the short and long term. In the short term, he is thinking about making engines more efficient and also using low carbon and sustainable fuels. “The development of the hydrogen engine could really get a big boost. This should be able to produce results in a few years’ time, and we could also make a contribution to this at TNO. Only then – in parallel with this development – new choices regarding the storage of hydrogen will also be needed.”

For the long term, Ebbing is thinking of completely new engines. “Unfortunately they are still in the process of being designed. The government will also have to play a role here in order to stimulate this development.” This is also an opportunity for the Netherlands as a country. All in all, it is a complex puzzle, but, as Ebbing warns, “that should not lead us into a stalemate. We don’t know the outcome in 25 years’ time, but we do know that we have to spend the time we have left as best we can.”

Look here at the participants in this part of the debate. Tickets are still available: subscribe here.

EU Commissioner Vestager to present new AI law at the start of 2020

Over the next three months, European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager will draft a new European law for AI. As of December, she will be responsible for the digitization of the European market. She plans to present her new AI law in March. After that, the European Parliament and the governments and parliaments of the Member States will have to approve her new AI law.

The new AI law is to lay out the rules regarding the collection and sharing of data by, among others, the large American tech companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google whose internet platforms are being used on a massive scale by European citizens. At the moment there is only a guideline for e-privacy and one set of regulations for data protection (GDPR). The new law must include rules that make the collectors and distributors of data liable for any abuse use of this data.

Nightmare for the US

The greatest nightmare for the high profile big tech companies in the US is her intention to adopt new tax regulations following on from the new AI law. This should apply to internet platforms all over the world which make money from consumers in European countries. In recent years, Vestager has already taken Apple to court for tax evasion. She imposed a fine of 13 billion euros on them for this.

As far as she is concerned, the new tax regulations that she has in mind should be applicable worldwide. If she cannot do this because, for example, some countries do not want to cooperate, she said that the European Commission will continue to impose fines on non-European companies on an individual basis if they pay insufficient tax in the EU.

Breaking up Google and Facebook

She may also impose fines if American big tech companies abuse their dominant market position. She has done so in the past few years while she was European Commissioner for Competition. If these fines do not lead to an improvement in their behaviour on the European market, she wants to break up the American business conglomerates. That is what she said in response to questions from Paul Tang, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament. Tang is also member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats on behalf of this PvdA party (the Dutch Labor Party). Vestager then told Tang that she had the means to do this. She did not specify what kind of means she has at her disposal.

Member of the European Parliament Paul Tang wants Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to break open American ‘big tech’ companies.

Gaining citizen’s trust

With its new European AI law, Vestager said they want to allay the fears of European citizens. In particular those who currently lack faith in the digitization of society. She says this is necessary as she believes there are two types of companies. The type that is digital – and the type that will soon become digital. In other words, sooner or later all citizens will have to participate in the digitization of everyday life, so she wants to make sure that the Internet is not intimidating to them.

In the second place, she wants AI to be used to make the citizens’ lives easier rather than more difficult. She wants to prevent digital platforms from collecting data via AI in order to influence the choice of consumers and businesses so that they can earn money from them. It was precisely for this reason that during her previous term as European Commissioner for Competition, she imposed a fine of 4.3 billion euros on the search engine Google.

More rules, less innovation?

The question is whether the new rules for AI will not stand in the way of innovation. Nicola Beer, an MEP from the Renew Group in the European Parliament, wanted to know whether Vestager had thought about how she intended to preserve Europe’s leading role in AI innovation. Vestager replied that she was looking for a more balanced situation. According to her, European citizens should benefit from the innovations that AI brings. Yet at the same time also be protected against their eventual misuse.

Europarliamentarian Nicola Beer wants to know how Vestager will ensure that the EU will remain a leader in the AI field.

Meanwhile, the initial reactions from the AI group of professionals to Vestager’s plans for new legislation have been quite reserved. “I find it a bit vague that Vestager says that AI sometimes makes life more difficult.” That’s what Buster Franken says, AI entrepreneur and developer from TU/e. “It is true that AI influences your choices via Google. But that can also make your life a lot easier.”

‘Small-scale AI companies in the EU are the victims’

Franken believes that there is a danger that a new law will burden smaller AI companies with far too many rules. “We already have a hard time finding capital to invest in our innovations. If new rules are added now, that will adversely affect us. It also means that you have extra work in order to comply with them. Maybe we don’t have the money for this. While this new law is supposed to combat abuse by large companies such as Google and Facebook.”

Read also: ‘Europe must invest in a hub for collaborative robots in SMEs’

“The point is namely that companies like Google can abuse data because they have loads of money. If there is a new law, they will undoubtedly be able to comply with it. Then they will simply look for another route. They have enough money to hire an army of elite lawyers. Small AI companies don’t have that.”

Nabeelah Shabbir: Participation of the audience as a remedy for journalism

Shrinking editorial staffs, the number of subscribers on the decline and, above all, a growing distrust of journalism in times of fake news… altogether this means that many journalistic organisations are in dire straits. Nabeelah Shabbir, the conversation editor at De Correspondent’s English-language sister site and a researcher at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, thinks the solution is simple. Public participation is the cure.

The audience must be better involved in the entire news process; whether it concerns journalistic research, the creation and verification of content or the distribution of the news, that’s what Nabeelah Shabbir is certain about. Shabbir should know: she collaborated as a researcher in the recent Reuters report ‘What if the Scale Breaks? Rebooting Audience Engagement When Journalism is Under Fire‘, in which the involvement of the public in the news was extensively researched. In the study, Nabeelah explains that a solution to the lack of trust is not unthinkable. This requires innovation though. “Innovation and journalism have gone hand in hand for years. It is interesting to see that in recent years it has made a change towards sustainable public involvement.”

According to Shabbir, the solution to make the mistrust disappear is simple. “Involving the audience in creating the news is unavoidable. The public wants to be heard and to be part of the news process. This can be done in different ways. In the Reuters study, a number of media platforms have emerged in which public participation has been applied and where it works. The Rappler” and “The Quint” are examples of this. These outlets, respectively Filipino and Indian, are more than just a news website. They use social media to spread the news and have their publications fact-checked by their public on a recurring basis. This creates reciprocity, a news movement that flows in two directions. “This is a win-win-win situation: the public feels more involved, the news is better disseminated and confidence increases.”

Better cooperation with the audience does not have to go hand in hand with substantial financial investments, according to the report. “It is often assumed that innovation means hiring an expensive web developer. However, I believe that innovation must be mission-driven. Instead of focusing on the latest piece of technology – de shiny things – we need to focus on meaningful innovation through creativity. This can be done with very few resources, as The Quint proves. Even in parts of India where the Internet is almost non-existent, the public is reached by, for example, sharing videos in low resolution.”

Also at The Correspondent, where Shabbir recently started as a conversation editor, the public should play a more important role. “We need to build bridges between the journalist and the subscriber, only then will we be able to provide good journalism that actually reaches readers.

Nabeelah Shabbir will explain the research in more detail on Thursday 21 November at the LocHal in Tilburg during the sold-out (un)Conference: Beyond Media. Follow the event live via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Also read: ‘Cybernetic news’: the automated newsroom is the future of journalism

Start-up of the Day: Hydrogen as the ‘crude oil’ of the future

Wasserstoff, Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies

Hydrogenious is the product of a university research team that already had faith in hydrogen when it still wasn’t really relevant in Germany. They have managed to find a way to store and transport the hard-to-handle hydrogen in a practical way. After a successful financing round, they now want to establish their LOHC technology worldwide and “make hydrogen the ‘crude oil’ of the regenerative era”, says co-founder Daniel Teichmann.

In terms of mass, hydrogen has three times the energy content of gasoline. This is an impressive feature for an energy source. However, hydrogen also has the lowest density of all gases and is therefore difficult to handle. It evaporates easily, is flammable and must be stored under high pressure or at low temperatures.

Evaporation and flammability

Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies took up the challenge and solved both evaporation and flammability issues. The start-up company developed a process whereby hydrogen can be stored and transported together with oil (dibenzyltoluene) without risk. The result? The existing infrastructure can be used. Not only the fuel tanks at service stations, but also the pipelines for transportation. This could pave the way for emission-free mobility and industry.

Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies is a spin-off from the Friedrich Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. Managing director and co-founder Daniel Teichmann has been working in the field of LOHC (liquid organic hydrogen carriers) since the start of his PhD in 2009. The company was founded in 2013 as a result of a critical technological breakthrough, which was also co-developed by professors Peter Wasserscheid, Wolfgang Arlt and Eberhard Schlücker.

Dewatering system

What was already working under laboratory conditions could be implemented on a technical scale for the first time in 2016. The first LOHC dewatering system was commissioned at the Fraunhofer ILO in Stuttgart. Electrolysis and hydrogenation take place at the main site in Erlagen. The process works as follows:

  • The hydrogen is produced with the aid of solar energy using PEM electrolysis,
  • Hydrogen is hydrogenated through the chemical bonding of hydrogen molecules to the liquid carrier via catalytic reactions,
  • During the dehydrogenation process, catalytic reactions are again used to release the hydrogen molecules from the liquid carrier medium,
  • The carrier material is not wasted and can be reused again and again.

Target groups are the chemical industry as well as service stations and the chemical industry. Hydrogenious sells two types of equipment. These are storage facilities for use in hydrogen-producing wind farms for hydrogenation, and the so-called Release Box at service stations and industrial installations for dehydrogenation.

 

Wasserstoff, Hydrogenious
LOHC recycling system with storage installation and a Release Box (c) Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies

Innovation Origins spoke with Daniel Teichmann:

What is your motivation and what problem does the company resolve?

We believe in hydrogen as a renewable energy source. This motivated us to start the company in 2013. At that time, we could have developed the technology together with industrial partners, but we wanted to be in business.

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome? Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

Giving up never occurred to us and fortunately there was never a reason to give up. However, setting up and developing a business is a huge challenge. At the start, it’s usually a matter of finding funding. In Germany, there is not really an explicit culture when it comes to venture capital. Things are different in the Anglo-Saxon world and in China. Six years ago, hydrogen was not yet playing an important role in Europe. This has changed over the past year. As a university spin-off, we started out with a technology that works at the laboratory level. We first had to bring it up to an industrial level and make it commercially relevant.

Wasserstoff, Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies
Construction of the LOHC hydrogen infrastructure in the USA (c) Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies

What have been the highlights so far?

The successful funding round in July 2019, where we found four partners who not only act as capital providers, but also make a strategic contribution. This was an important milestone in the history of hydrogen-based LOHC technologies.

What are the advantages of your location?

Erlangen is an ideal location for us because of its proximity to the university, whom we also work closely with. In addition, the availability of specialists here is very good. We are also very lucky with our landlords, they’ve provided us with an excellent office and workshop space.

Where will your company be in five years’ time?

We want to progress from our current demonstration level to the realization of large industrial projects. We want to establish a successful global positioning of the LOHC technology. With our technology, hydrogen can then be easily and efficiently transported over long distances. For example, from Africa to Europe. That is how we can make an emission-free industry happen.

What distinguishes your innovation from similar products in the hydrogen energy sector?

Hydrogen has been produced and stored as an industrial gas for one hundred years. Our technology means that using hydrogen in a liquid form is feasible which thereby means it can make use of the existing infrastructure. In this way, we are turning hydrogen into the emission-free fuel of the future. Similar technologies exist in Japan, although they are not exactly the same. We are the technological leaders with our LOHC. As such, we hope to make an important contribution towards combating climate change.

Are you interested in start-ups? Read all articles from our series here.

Also interesting:

TU Eindhoven is bringing hydrogen as a source of energy for households one step closer.

Mobility of the future – battery or hydrogen?

US and China overtake Germany as the most important export countries for Brainport Eindhoven

Economic growth in Brainport Eindhoven was again stronger last year than in the rest of the Netherlands (3.3% versus 2.6%). However, the differences are narrowing. Regional growth is mainly driven by the manufacturing industry; exports of goods have never been as high as in 2018: €31.9 billion. At 17.7% compared to 2017, it also sees the strongest growth in the past decade. ASML is largely responsible for this – and partly because of this, Germany is no longer the largest market in terms of export value. The US and China have pushed that country into third place. This is revealed in the data published today in the Brainport Monitor 2019.

Brainport chairman and mayor of Eindhoven John Jorritsma said today, in an explanation of these data, that Brainport is becoming a household name in China. “I just came back from a visit to that country and it really struck me how important we are now over there. We are an iconic concept, we can be really proud of that.” In the Netherlands, too, Brainport’s reputation has increased significantly since the name “Metropolitan region Brainport Eindhoven” appeared on PSV’s shirts. Commercial director Frans Janssen of PSV said today that already 36% of the Dutch people know the name, compared to only 4% half a year ago. “Without having done anything extra for that.”

© Brainport Monitor

Economic prosperity is also reflected in the increasing innovative power of Brainport Eindhoven, the report says. Never before have there been so many patent applications (7,140) at the European patent office in the Netherlands as in 2018. With companies such as Philips, Signify, NXP and ASML, Noord-Brabant is responsible for 50.3% of the total Dutch patent applications. This puts the province in 5th place on the list of most European patent applications for European regions. Here you can read more about the patent applications.

Although the employment rate is rising proportionally both regionally and nationally, and the unemployment rate is back at the level it was before the economic crisis, the continuous growth of the economy is leading to more and more tension in the labour market. In tech and IT, in particular, many vacancies remain open and in 2018 more than a quarter (27.6%) of the total number of vacancies created in Brainport Eindhoven is in tech and IT. The number of tech and IT vacancies in 2018 has grown more than 1.5 times faster in the region than nationally.

No Germans but Bulgarians

Despite a decrease in the number of foreign migrants, 2018 has the highest net migration balance of the past 10 years. This is due to the domestic migration balance, which is positive again after years of decline. In the same year, the province of North Brabant had 10,600 international students, 3,400 of whom were studying technology. The largest group is no longer from Germany but from Bulgaria.

According to Jorritsma, the region is still in good shape. “We score above average in almost all statistics. We have been riding in the yellow jersey for years. Of course, that’s more tiring than riding in the peloton, but we manage wonderfully well.”

Other wind

At the same time another wind is blowing, Jorritsma said with a reference to a recent study by RaboResearch. “We need to pay full attention to the wide range of prosperity. Social security, health, welfare, enjoyment of life and safety are important to everyone. On average, we may be doing well on these criteria, but what good is this if one cannot enjoy it? Certain groups feel orphaned, misunderstood. They lack affordable housing, they don’t have the right qualifications, and there are people in debt who are distanced from facilities such as sports and culture. This is a task for us. Brainport is there for everyone.”

Sustainability, Living Labs and a High Tech Academy: High Tech Campus Eindhoven aims for a competition with big global tech hubs

By 2030, High Tech Campus Eindhoven wants to be one of the leading tech hubs worldwide. “Eindhoven is to be mentioned in the same breath as Boston, Berlin and San Francisco”, the High Tech Campus management says. To realize this ambition, the Campus will broaden its focus with the latest digital technologies. Examples include innovations in healthcare, the generation and storage of sustainable energy, the creation of smart environments through 5G and LiFi and the application of artificial intelligence.

HTCE’s vision is laid out in kind of film narrative:

“In 2030, the grounds of High Tech Campus Eindhoven will resemble the set of a science fiction movie. Autonomous, electrical shared cars will transport you to and from your office. Smart sensors track your health and provide dietary advice and exercise tips to keep your body fit. If you do get sick, a digital twin of your body allows doctors to diagnose and test treatments in virtual reality. And computer chips are cooled in a sustainable way.”

Yet, in the perception of the Eindhoven campus, it’s no science fiction at all. “The examples above illustrate the future that HTCE together with the companies, institutes and startups on its terrain is aiming for. To realize that scenario the Campus has developed a new strategy that emphasizes on technologies that make the world a better place.”

But not everything on Campus will be ‘high tech’. “The Campus will remain a green environment with grazing sheep and swans floating around in the pond”, says Hilde de Vocht, director of marketing and communication at HTCE. “The Strip next to the water will still be the place where everybody meets for lunch, eats a sandwich and takes a casual walk. Social innovation is one of the strengths of High Tech Campus Eindhoven.”

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are important benchmarks for the High Tech Campus, De Vocht says. “We strive to be the most sustainable Campus in Europe by 2025. The Campus revolves around the drive to contribute something meaningful to the world. Companies that work here on the latest technologies do so from a deep purpose.’

To stimulate this development the Campus will adopt a new, proactive role. “We do so much more than renting out square meters”, says Managing Director Jan-Willem Neggers. “We see ourselves as a connector linking together talent, new technologies and sustainable initiatives.”

Living Lab for innovation

High Tech Campus Eindhoven will become a ‘living lab’ for innovations. Neggers: “Companies will have the opportunity to test new technologies on the Campus.” Examples of new initiatives are the creation of an Artificial Intelligence lab and a 5G hub. The Campus will also increase its focus on vitality. It’s one of the reasons HTCE has initiated a premium partnership with football club PSV.

High Tech Academy

In order to attract new talent and inspire and educate current Campus residents, HTCE will establish a special High Tech Academy. The Campus will cooperate with renowned educational institutes, Neggers says. “Like the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science (JADS), Vlerick Business School, Holland Innovative and the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). Top international speakers will be invited to Eindhoven to share their vision of the future. Diversity also plays an important role on Campus. The recently established platform Female Tech Heroes aims to inspire more women to take up work in the technology sector.”

The High Tech Campus is still growing rapidly. Currently, the Campus houses more than 200 companies and 12,000 employees. “High-level professionals from all over the world are amazed when we give them a tour of the Campus”, Neggers says. “They tell us this place beats the Facebook Campus. It’s up to High Tech Campus Eindhoven and the Brainport region to spread this message all over the world.”

Female Tech Heroes at High Tech Campus Eindhoven

Swim Skills Track: discover swim talent at a young age

A good swimming performance is not just about being able to swim very fast. It requires strength, technique, flexibility, stamina and mental skills. Factors that can be evaluated per swimmer, although how someone “coordinates” through the water is still an unknown factor. And that while this so-called “motor coordination” is such a good indicator for talent, says Jeroen Houtepen, student motion technology at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. He and Lisa de Koning graduated with their model of a circuit – the Swim Skills Track (SST). This provides insight into the coordination skills of children between 9 and 12 years of age.

The SST is part of one of the ‘talent development’ projects at the InnoSportLab De Tongelreep (a sports innovation and research center in Eindhoven, The Netherlands). Supervising these two were Aylin Post, PhD student, movement researcher and Embedded Scientist at the InnoSportLab De Tongelreep, and Peter Beek, Professor of Behavioral and Movement Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Motor skills

There are five basic motor skills: speed, coordination, strength, agility and stamina. Children learn these skills by playing (outside). They then jump, run and throw. Which is important, because the more you practice, the better you get. Seeing what a child is capable of at a young age will help them in their subsequent sports career, De Koning explains.

As early as 1995, René Wormhoudt collaborated with Professor Geert Savelsbergh from VU Amsterdam on the design of the Athletic Skills Model (ASM) at Ajax. This talent development model was originally intended for sports, but may now be used for assessing the talent of anyone’s motor skills. The ASM can also be used to encourage children to exercise more.

Joris Hoeboer developed the Athletic Skills Track (AST) as part of the ASM, a motor skills test for physical education. Which formed the basis for the circuit in the water, says De Koning. “You can also use the AST to test a child’s motor skills, except that this is then done on land. It looks a bit like a monkey cage.”

They came up with seven different exercises that young swimmers have to do as efficiently as possible. “Efficiency is a good indicator of how well a child moves in water,” explains Houtepen. “We use the same style as an IQ test. Furthermore, there are have several other tasks. All of it says something about the overall motor skills involved in swimming,” says Houtepen.

Swim Skills Track: Tiger crawl © InnoSportLab De Tongelreep

Swim like a dolphin and crawl like a tiger

The start immediately launches the first test too: as in, a child is only allowed to start when they hear the buzzer. Then they dive off the starting block, swim underwater through a circle using a dolphin-style kick and crawl across a mat like a tiger (they are only allowed to use their arms). They swim to different points within an area of two by two meters in order to test their reaction speed and orientation. Then they turn around, swim fast for six meters and then four meters backwards, climb back on a mat, dive into the water and tap the pool wall.

Not boring

“The most important thing for us was that children should really enjoy it,” says De Koning. “In order to be able to say something about motor skills, a child has to complete the circuit several times. So it shouldn’t start to get boring.”

The very first test at the beginning of October showed that the children had a good time. Houtepen: “The children were initially allowed to do a practice lap, then do it three times as fast as possible. They all wanted to have another go after that just because they enjoyed it so much.”

Puberty changes everything (maybe)

As a swimming coach at PSV (football club), Pim van Hedel sees that so much can change due when puberty hits and kids start to grow. He mainly trains the juniors, 12 to 15 year olds. “Not only do they change physically, but their motivation and mentality might also change. It is good to discover talent at a young age. Then you will be able to give that child the right attention which could really benefit them later in life.”

Now talent is mainly selected well in advance. You are also able to see whether someone has got great technique. But it is still a bit of a gamble. Someone who is fast at a young age will not necessarily be fast when they’re older. Through using more of these tests you can look at other factors that can’t be measured or observed. That adds more depth.”

The SST is still in its infancy says PhD student and movement scientist Aylin Post who supervised the project. “The next step is to see if the SST also correlates with tests that are considered to be the gold standard on land. Like the KTK-NL test (Body Coordination Test for Children, ed.) The baseline is in place, now we have to see if the SST actually measures the seven coordination capabilities that we want to measure. We will keep up the research on this.”

 

Smart City Business Forum: Don’t develop technologies which won’t solve any real problems

Smart Cities are hot. This week a large delegation of Dutch civil servants and entrepreneurs is in Barcelona for the world’s largest congress on this subject. Today there were 466 participants from 24 countries at the International Smart City Business Forum which was organized by The Netherlands and by the Scandinavian countries.

In a recent podcast made by Innovation Origins for Dutch Design Week, director Rob Adams of the Eindhoven-based Six Fingers agency said that he despised the term ‘Smart Cities.’ “Because when we talk about Smart Cities, it’s just all about technology,” Adams said. “And people don’t feel happier as a result of lots of technology. It’s really a matter of solving real problems in people’s lives.”

Ecosystems, not ego-systems

While Adams was absent, there was reason enough to listen more critically to the statements made by the speakers at the business forum. For instance, to Frans Vermast, Ambassador of Amsterdam Smart Cities and a world authority in this field. “Cities are ecosystems and not ego-systems” is one of his slogans. In his presentation at the congress he discussed a variety of successful and less successful experiments with ‘smart technology’.

Vermast is not afraid of sharing failures either. “This is the only way we will be able to share lessons learned and prevent other cities from making the same mistakes.”

Zeynep Sarilar, chairperson at Itea, the Eindhoven-based European innovation program for the software industry, is similarly down-to-earth. “We need innovative solutions that are driven by real problems. That is something you will only find out if you talk to people.” Sarilar advocates more cooperation between scientists and companies that develop technologies of this kind. She talks about global solutions which provide a better future for our children.

No Big Tech

Today’s speakers are certainly not the representatives from Big Tech. Instead, they work for municipalities, universities or more idealistic companies that are committed to sustainable development. There is a panel discussion on the question of who should be the owner of your data. This is topical, as cities are storing more and more data. Cooperation between The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries, as well as between The Netherlands and the US, is also high on the agenda.

“The important thing is that we all should try to find solutions for the future,” says Magnus Agerström, managing director of Cleantech Scandinavia, one of the organizers. “And there’s no point in all of us trying to find out everything. One country may be good at one thing and another may be good at something else. If we work together more closely, we will be able to accomplish global innovations.”

Smart Cities are where targets are brought together

Merei Wagenaar, deputy director of international entrepreneurship at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says things with a more business-like tone. “Our goal is to help Dutch companies do business abroad. We see it as a challenge that companies actually achieve the United Nations’ sustainable development targets. Many of these targets are brought together in Smart Cities. That’s why we think we should be here with lots of Dutch companies. That way, we can discuss what solutions are needed which will help municipalities achieve their targets. Not just in the Netherlands, but all over the world.”

The Dutch ambassador to Spain, Jan Versteeg, sums it up succinctly in a closing statement. “Over the next 30 years, more than 2.5 billion city dwellers will be added worldwide. So the world will look a bit more like The Netherlands. However, there will also be more problems like air pollution. What we need are innovative solutions in order to deal with these challenges.”

Not just with state funding

Would Rob Adams from Six Fingers have been satisfied with the presentations? In contrast to what he was concerned about, it was not solely about technology. Above all, it was about solving real problems for real people. Yet in the real world, problems also need to be financed. And this is unlikely to be possible with state funding alone. Data companies are also seeing their market grow due to the many interesting smart city projects that will emerge over the coming years.

That’s why deputy mayor Cathalijne Dortmans promised that Brainport Smart City District (the smartest district in the Netherlands, which is being built within her municipal borders) will be given a solid ethical committee. “And we expect and hope that this will keep us up to speed. It should only be the citizens themselves who decide what happens to their data.”

Start-up of the Week: Farewell to filthy seafarers?

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

CityStep – E-scooters set to soar in The Netherlands

The four students from Breda at CityStep have proven that holidays can sometimes also be a time to reflect and be inspired. Sometimes you don’t even have to come up with something completely new for a good business plan. Instead, you can simply shift an existing idea from one place to another. The Brabanders were so enthusiastic about their e-scooter tour during a city trip to Valencia that they immediately thought: ‘We have to got to bring this to The Netherlands too’. But that was easier said than done, as ever since the Stint tragedy in 2018, electric bikes in the Netherlands have suffered from a bad image.

The National Transport Authority (Rijksdienst voor het Wegverkeer) has significantly tightened up the rules due to safety reasons, but this did not prevent CityStep from going ahead with their plans. During a networking get-together on a rooftop in Tilburg, they came into contact with a scooter manufacturer that meets these strict regulations. The first rental scooters in Tilburg are now available for hire. The transformation towards an e-scooter empire which encompasses the Netherlands should take place over the coming years.

Wabenwerk – Done with non-recyclable plastic

The invention of plastic in the twentieth century meant a real revolution in the packaging sector and in food preservation. Yet plastic is both a curse and a blessing. Mountains of disposable plastic pollute the oceans and the stuff is so tough that it takes nature hundreds of years to break it down. How wonderful would it be if you could have the versatility and advantages without the drawbacks? More and more governments are working on reducing dnon-recyclable plastic. There is even a complete ban in Costa Rica. However, an alternative is needed. The founders of Wabenwerk in Germany were inspired by Mother Nature herself.

Bees in their natural environment are also constantly working on sealing their larvae, pollen and honey in their hives. They do this with honeycombs that they make out of beeswax. Wabenwerk developed a cling foil made of this organic material so that plastic foil is no longer necessary. Bees play a very important role in the pollination of crops in nature. They fly from flower to flower and gather more pollen on their feet. Whenever things go bad for these insects, you can also see this reflected in the environment. Do the diligent six-legged honey makers still play an essential role when it comes to the livability of our planet? That may very well be the case!

SARA – More mechanical hands on hand in homes for the elderly?

The workload within the elderly care sector is set to increase at an unprecedented rate over the coming years. In about ten years’ time, a relatively large group of elderly baby boomers will need a great deal of care. At the same time, there will be significant shortages in this sector. Nevertheless, there is a trend that more or less coincides with that of baby boomers who are in need of care. Namely, the rise of service robots. The Eindhoven-based company Bright Cape has designed SARA, which is a Social & Autonomous Robotic Health Assistant, SARA already carries out work in two Dutch senior citizens’ centers on the work floor. Ironically, this robot offers a modicum of humanity in times when every minute of care is supposed to be spent efficiently.

SARA is able to chat with chronically ill clients, play a number of interactive games with them and even has a program with made-to-measure physical exercises. This allows her human colleagues to spend more time on healthcare tasks. However, it is a bit odd that a robot like SARA is supposed to make sure that the human element comes back to the care for our senior citizens. Wouldn’t it be more logical to employ a robot nurse for the medical tasks and thereby give people more time for a cup of coffee or a chat about the weather? All the same, SARA is more than welcome! Clients and care staff are happy with this innovative nurse on wheels. She is a keeper for them in any event.

Heat Power – Flexible turbines for peak demand

The first two decades of the 21st century were characterized by flexibility. And if it’s up to Henk Ouwerkerk, this should also be the case for consumers of large quantities of energy. This Dutch start-up designed a system that they have called Rankine Compression Gas Turbine. A steam turbine that can be switched on when there is a need for more power. Why is this so convenient? Large consumers often buy electricity in bulk. So when they unexpectedly need more than that, they tend to buy extra. However, this costs them a lot of money and puts an extra burden on the electricity grid.

By using the RCG system from Heat Power during times of peak demand, you can avoid that this ‘peak demand’ becomes the new standard. You can’t use this superfluous amount of electricity for any other purpose, so it’s a real shame that it’s generated for no reason. The steam turbines can be activated in the event of a power outage but remain inactive for the rest of the time. Ideal for manufacturing companies that have to deal with fluctuating and unpredictable demand.

We4Sea – Farewell to filthy seafarers?

The fact that flying and driving contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases is now well known. We all have to live more sustainably on a massive scale and every polluter has to be involved in this. One sector which is somewhat less commonly recognized as far as this is concerned, is the shipping industry. Container ships are essential for the transport of goods around the world, but they have a very nasty disadvantage. They use heavy crude oil and this is about the most environmentally damaging fuel out there. In fact, one container ship produces as much carbon dioxide emissions as no fewer than 50 million cars. So there is a lot of ground that can be gained here, as they pointed out by the We4Sea start-up based in TU Delft.

What does this international team do? They use data models to advise the maritime sector on how to reduce their emissions by a substantial percentage. Measurement equipment usually has to be installed for comparable initiatives, which is easier said than done for large ships. We4Sea uses a unique technology that utilizes satellite data, ship position data, weather data and technical data from the ship for creating a computer simulation. Real-time advice is generated on the basis of this data. This enables the crew to drastically reduce their emissions. These energy-saving measures are not only sustainable, but also make a considerable difference in terms of costs for companies. Because, of course, no one wants to emit more than is strictly necessary just for the sake of it.

Much still has to be done despite the fact that in recent decades considerable steps within the shipping industry have already been taken towards a more sustainable future. The sector has set itself strict targets. By 2050, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 50%. While such targets are naturally a welcome first step, they still have to be met. This is also easier said than done. For example, the Dutch government has not met its 2020 targets. Nor do  they expect to meet those of 2030 either. Perhaps the shipping industry will succeed in 2050 with We4Sea’s help! Their single-minded, innovative approach to a sector that is not known for its flexibility and sustainability has in any case convinced us to honor We4Sea with the title of Start-up of the Week!

Tomorrow is Good: a higher speed limit for electric vehicles makes sense

The Netherlands is struggling with nitrogen emissions. Dutch lawmakers are trying to work their way towards compliance with the agreements made earlier in Paris. Nevertheless, they are still lagging behind on an international level.

In light of agriculture being one of the pillars for these emission measures, parliamentary plans to reduce their footprint has bumped up against fierce protests from farmers. There seems that there is no end in sight to this anytime soon.

Lowering the speed limit

One of the other key pillars concerns the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) emissions that are to be reduced by lowering the speed limit on highways from 130 to 100 km per hour according to a recently made decision.

For many, many years, Dutch lawmakers have been successfully promoting EV (Electric Vehicles) with tax incentives and campaigns to support electric transportation.

Rather curious

With that in mind, it is rather curious to me that the perspective absent in this 130>100km topic, is one which would allow EV cars to keep the 130km limit. Lowering the speed limit for these vehicles which have a lack of any actual NOx emissions, makes no sense. Although this may impact the number of accidents. Yet there is no significant gain for the emission footprint with the reduction of the speed limit for electric vehicles. On the other hand, maintaining the higher speed limit might even act as an incentive to drive electric vehicles.

Read moreTomorrow is Good: a higher speed limit for electric vehicles makes sense

Start-up of the day: Heat Power generates extra energy when there is no sun or wind

During his mechanical engineering studies at the TU in Eindhoven, Henk Ouwerkerk came up with a system that allows combined gas and steam turbines to generate supplemental electricity ‘on demand’. And now, fifteen years later, his idea has evolved into a product that he plans to sell through his company Heat Power. It will be on the market for the first time next year.

What motivated you to set up Heat Power and what problem does it resolve?

“I always wanted to become an entrepreneur and I always have all sorts of ideas too. I had written down a few of them and I thought they could turn out to be something. I have been lucky enough to have been given the freedom to design a prototype at the TU/e during my Masters and subsequently as part of my PhD in Mechanical Engineering.

My idea was to enhance electric generation from existing combined gas and steam turbines so that they can meet market demands more quickly. So turbine can generate more electricity when there is more demand, and less when there is less demand. This innovation is particularly interesting for smaller factories that use steam, for example to heat raw materials during their manufacturing process.

Electricity on demand

A combined gas and steam turbine which is capable of generating electricity is already a reality in large power plants. But these turbines run continuously and on the basis of a consistent air flow. You can’t turn them on or off from one moment to the next. This is possible with our system, the Rankine Compression Gas Turbine (RCG). How? We let the steam turbine drive the gas turbine’s compressor. We then use a special valve in order to gauge how much air can or cannot pass through the steam turbine. The more air you let in, the more electricity is produced by the generator connected to the turbine. This allows you to generate as much electricity as you need at any time. That way you save on costs as a company. Because then you don’t have to buy energy from an external supplier.

If you generate more power than you need for your own manufacturing process, you can also sell it if there is a demand for it. You could earn money from that. Our Rankine Compression Gas Turbine generates electricity on demand. That’s very useful. Because when a great deal of sustainable solar and wind energy is already being produced, you don’t want to add to the electricity supply. That’s of no use to anyone. In that case, the electricity grid might become overloaded.”

Henk Ouwerkerk (right), project engineer Jeroen Schot and project leader Marc van Erp Photo: Heat Power

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome?

“Our turbine is an industrial hardware product. You have to finance the transition from an idea to a working system in a factory. Before you get that far, you are already talking about an investment of $1 million. And then you haven’t even done anything over the top. The steam turbine that we had to buy was the most expensive component for us. I found a used one in Germany. The new price is €150,000. But I bought this one for €10,000.

I attracted investors and issued shares for each stage of the design of Heat Power. At first, these were business angels from my own network, and then investment companies later on. I also applied for an energy innovation grant from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency. Looking for funding was half the work. I also spent many years investing my own unpaid time and money in it. We did energy consultancy work for third parties through the company. That’s how we earned money. We put that back into the company. We have made steady progress thanks to this diverse mix of income.

In the early days, I was also a truck driver in the evening hours for one of my business angels who is in the meat industry. I also drove trucks full of beer crates to supermarkets’ distribution centers for a beer brewery at night. I am a night person, so that wasn’t a problem. Then at 10 a.m. the next morning, I started tinkering with the prototype for my own company again.

What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

“That was the pilot at the Hout Industrie Schijndel factory towards the end of last year. Our Rankine Compression Gas Turbine is actually integrated into the manufacturing process there. We were able to demonstrate that our turbine is capable of a quick change of gear without hampering the manufacturing process.”

What can we expect from Heat Power in the coming year?

“Then we will bring our first full-scale commercial model onto the market. The model used in the pilot is made up of just one module. You need several in order to be profitable because you can then generate more electricity that way. We currently have three potential customers. But we are hoping for more.”

Where do you want Heat Power to be within five years? What is your ultimate goal?

“That purchasers of steam turbines will be able to choose the Rankine Compression Gas Turbine as an extra option via the established suppliers. The market in Europe, where there are 25,000 companies that use steam, is large enough for us.  Although it continues to be a niche market. After all, these are exclusively companies that use steam in their manufacturing process and that want to generate flexible electricity.”

What does Heat Power’s innovation improve in comparison to products in your segment of the market?

“That you only need to generate extra electricity with this turbine when there is a demand for it. In order to supplement the supply of renewable energy from the sun and wind, which is very difficult to regulate.”

 

 

Read moreStart-up of the day: Heat Power generates extra energy when there is no sun or wind