Tomorrow is good: Human beings, machines with emotions?

Computers are good at abstract thinking; we are all too keen to delegate complex calculations to them in order to free ourselves from that chore. There is something threatening about the intelligence of machines too. Robots and synthetic or artificial intelligence (AI) force us to question our place in the world. What does it mean to be human? Where does the boundary lie between man and machine? What is man? – enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant pondered. Our moral views on in vitro fertilization (IVF) have evolved considerably over the past decades. Even to the extent that many people would find it unacceptable to refuse a couple who is eligible (within certain rules, such as age) to go through with an IVF procedure in the Netherlands or Belgium.  Reference is then made in this context to techno-moral change: modifying moral beliefs as a consequence of technology.

Die as a cyborg

Machine and body will become more and more intertwined. Philosopher James Moor asserts that we are born today as human beings, but that many of us will die as cyborgs. Cyborg stands for ‘cybernetic organism’. As in, partly human, partly computer. Moor’s claims are justified, even though cyborg may sound like science fiction. A good example is the pacemaker which is in fact a miniature computer. Moreover, there are pacemakers that are connected to the internet. There are bionic limbs too, such as a bionic arm for disabled veterans or people with congenital disabilities. As well as exoskeletons for patients with full paraplegia.

For example, knee or hip prostheses are implants in the body, which we have been familiar with for some time already. These are not computerized technologies. Still, our human dignity and integrity have not been altered by them. We have over time accepted these implants without any problems. Even further developments, as yet unknown to us, may amount to a broader sense of human dignity. Consequently, we should not be ‘automatically’ opposed to them.

Thanks to science and technology, human beings have been improving for centuries. And the results are clearly apparent, because we are living longer and healthier lives. The debate must now focus on ethical boundaries and problems – what is desirable? And also – what kind of cyborgs do we want to be? For example, AI implants should not only be accessible to the happy few who can afford them, which invariably means that only they can enjoy the benefits. The principle of justice is important for ensuring fair, democratic access to technology. Damage or risk of harm to the patient and third parties obviously needs to be curtailed.

Are we expendable?

How unique is humankind? Are we replaceable by robots and AI systems? AI researcher Rodney Brooks thinks we should rid ourselves of the idea that we are special. We, people, are ‘just’ machines with emotions. Not only are we able to build computers that recognize emotions, but eventually we could also build emotions into them. According to him, it will at some point even be possible to design a computer with real emotions and a state of consciousness. But he also remains rather cautious and avoids making statements about when that is going to happen. That is a wise decision, because the brain is extraordinarily complex. There is still not enough known about its specific workings or the very long evolution that preceded it. Least of all about being able to replicate it just like that.

 

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: Spaceflow digitizes a platform for tenants and landlords

Czech start-up Spaceflow is introducing technology to one of the most old-fashioned sectors – that of residential and office property rentals. “Our aim is to help digitize life in buildings for their occupants by providing easy access to all services, shared resources and the communication flow in the surrounding areas,” says Lukas Balik, company co-founder and CEO.  Spaceflow was set up 3 years ago by a former economy student and two experts from the real estate sector. “They knew that change was just around the corner. Together we saw that we could make a difference with a technological platform for tenants,” says Lukas. It seems that they were right. Today the start-up operates in 12 countries, including the US, UK, Denmark, Germany, and Japan. Recently it raised €1.6 million in funding.

What exactly is Spaceflow?

Lukas Balik: We are a property technology company. Spaceflow is an app that connects buildings with their tenants. It enables communication between a tenant and building owners or managers as well as with other tenants. The app can help you to book common spaces such as meeting rooms, parking spots or amenities such as a barbecue, or report maintenance issues to the building managers. It can facilitate connections to services in the area, for example dry cleaning, food delivery. Also, it is a hub for further smart building integrations such as smart access.

Are these things really such a problem for tenants that they need a special app to book a parking space or report a leaking faucet?

Firstly, if you, as a landlord, want to attract and keep tenants, you must react to current trends when tenants increasingly want top-notch services and a range of amenities. As a landlord, you can offer them various services, like fitness, wellness, food delivery and so on. Technology can help you to do that. More importantly, landlords can get new streams of revenue this way. Through the app, property managers can streamline payments for services and keep an eye on margins.

What is about the innovation that makes you different from your competitors?

The app has a number of components and modules. For example, we connect our platform with other smart building solutions. To give an example, we can connect it with digital lockers, a parking system or an access system so you don’t need to use physical cards to open the door. Instead, you do that with your phone. Also, we have an in-house team of community managers. This is crucial, because sometimes landlords don’t have the capabilities or the time to deal with new technologies. So, our community managers can help them to bring the project on board and acquire the right content and services for the users. They also help to evaluate what works well, get the right data from the platform and curate the best possible experiences for the tenants.

What was the best moment in the company’s history?

Recently. That relates to our latest investment round with solid partners who helped us scale our platform for the new markets. Another big thing for us is that we have just launched our first project with Allianz. Who, apart from being a major insurance company, is also one of the biggest real estate owners globally. The company has more than 60 billion assets under management. Our first project for Allianz is in their flagship building The Icon in Vienna.

And what was the most difficult moment?

I think it was when the company just started out, when every mistake that you make can hit you quite hard. When we started the first pilot, we chose an external IT company instead of building our own IT team. Yet an external agency is always a step too far. We had to figure out how to put our own IT team together. If you want to build something for the long term and for a global market, you have to be close to your developers in order to be able to design the best features and the best product.

What are your plans for coming year?

Obviously the most important thing is to have as many happy clients and users across the market as possible. For that, we’re strengthening our business development teams in several locations. Our focus in this round is on penetrating the European market and we also want to have our first large projects in the US. I’d love to see a lot of progress within a year. We might potentially be able find partners in the US in the next investment round.

What do you want to do in 5 years?

Our ultimate goal is that Spaceflow will become the standard for every commercial and residential building.

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

Read moreStart-up of the Day: Spaceflow digitizes a platform for tenants and landlords

Start-up of The Day: ReVibe Energy generates power out of thin air

Generation of electricity without coal, wind, hydroelectricity, or nuclear power plants, wind turbines or solar cells, etc? – Without any harmful emissions? The Swedish start-up ReVibe Energy is doing just that. A self-charging battery that can be attached to any vibrating surface generates electricity solely via these vibrations. This battery also stores the energy it generates. Apart from its 100% climate-neutrality, this kind of battery also comes in handy when no other power source is available for charging.

ReVibe co-founder and CEO Viktor Börjesson talked to Innovation Origins about his company.

Two of the founders of ReVibe Energy: Erik Godtman Kling (COO) (left), Viktor Börjesson (CEO) (right) © ReVibe Energy

How did you come up with the idea of founding the start-up?

The technology was originally invented by Per Cederwall while he was working at the Saab Group. As the technology was considered to be outside Saab Groups’ core focus areas, Viktor Börjesson and Erik Godtman Kling were asked to start a company that revolved around the technology.

What makes ReVibe or your product special compared to your competitors and what problems does it solve?

All sensors in industrial IoT systems are in constant need of power and the shortcomings of current power sources (cables and/or batteries) do not guarantee long-lasting energy security. At the same time, there are many environments where vibrations are almost constant, of which rail transport, mining, and construction are the ones we have worked with the most. With our products, we can deliver a long-lasting and sustainable power source for predictive maintenance and condition monitoring systems.

Our products utilize a patented design that ensures a longer lifetime, higher output per volume and a faster ROI compared to our competitors.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

Slow sales cycles! We work with large corporations who are fairly slow in their way of operating which means that the process of signing new customers takes quite a long time.

And vice versa: What were you particularly proud of?

Our team! It’s our team that makes all of our accomplishments possible, so they are the ones who deserve all the credit!

Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

When you start a company you will always experience setbacks and periods where you feel that there’s no use in continuing but we’ve never been that close to actually shutting down the company. So no, not really 🙂

What can we expect from ReVibe over the coming years?

We’re currently scaling up our manufacturing capabilities to be able to meet the demand from the marketplace, so I’d say that you can expect a ReVibe Energy that will grow as a company and increase its reach across the globe.

What is your vision for ReVibe?

To be the obvious choice when it comes to powering Industrial IoT systems in all environments where vibrations exist.

Featured Image: The standard product, the modelD evaluation kit © ReVibe Energy

You are interested in start-ups? Here you find all our articles on start-ups.

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.”

Beyond Media: research on ‘rogue caregivers’ wins prize for open data

During the Beyond Media journalism conference last Thursday evening, the researchers involved in a study of what the Dutch term as ‘zorgcowboys’ (care cowboys, as in rogue caregivers) received the Stuiveling Open Data Award (SODA). As internet pioneer Marleen Stikker says, it is time to regain sovereignty over our data. “People think that technology is neutral.”

The award-winning project is an initiative of Pointer, Reporter Radio and Follow the Money. They used open data from the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) to uncover large-scale fraud in the healthcare system. The research led to internal investigations within several municipalities. The jury praised the methodology used by the applicants, explains jury member as well as chairman of the Netherlands Court of Audit, Arno Visser. “The data used is open. The work method is transparent and traceable and offers room for discussion and other interpretations. This is crucial for proper social debate.”

By the people, for the people

The prize (20,000 euros) is awarded each year by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK). It is named after Saskia Stuiveling, the former president of the Netherlands Court of Audit. She was an advocate for the use of open data within government. “Public sector information belongs to the public. By the people, for the people“, as Visser states. “The whole of society benefits from open data. It leads to surprising insights and a lively public debate.”

Paranoia confirmed

According to Marleen Stikker, member of the jury and speaker at the conference, the pursuit of more open data fits in with the struggle for a more transparent society. “Even with more open data, we are still saddled with other problems, such as algorithms. We no longer feel comfortable on online platforms.” Among other things, Stikker is the founder of the research institute Waag Society and was one of the founders of the accessible internet as we know it today in the Netherlands. “Several revelations, such as those surrounding Snowden and Cambridge Analytica, have confirmed our right to be paranoid. This goes beyond privacy; it’s about regaining our sovereignty. Because do we actually understand the ways in which we are being manipulated online?”

Technology is not neutral

Stikker hopes that people will think about their online behaviour more. “It’s actually quite absurd: we find it important that our products are protected in supermarkets and pharmacies, but we don’t think about the safety issues of the apps that we install. The problem is that many people think that technology is neutral. But the ethics are part of the creative process. And that is monopolized by large companies. We need systems in place to ensure that those companies are not able to misuse our data.”

Beyond Media

The prize was awarded during Beyond Media, a conference on innovation in journalism at Tilburg’s LocHal. The event was organized by MindLabs, a joint initiative on the cutting edge of AI and people. Alderman Berend de Vries from Tilburg opened the evening. “The future is being driven by perspectives on technology, not just technology itself,” he underlined. Consequently, the overarching theme was a question of how the professional field can shift the focus more towards the public, rather than technology. It was also discussed how robot journalist PASS could take over ”chores” from journalists, for instance. Innovation Origins previously published an interview about this project with one of the people behind it. You can read that interview here.

Photo: Open State Foundation, Twitter

Don’t forget the hardware, you can’t build a smart city solely on dreams

The annual Smart City Expo World Congress is taking place in Barcelona. It is the largest in its field with 25,000 visitors. The motto of this edition is Cities made of dreams. Nevertheless, all those dreams also involve a whole lot of hardware.

Dreams are wonderful. But 5G doesn’t just happen, as the people who are responsible for laying the infrastructure are well aware of. “All those 5G antennas that will soon provide super-fast connections will also have to be connected to fiber-optic cables below the ground,” says Petra Claessen at the Smart City congress in Barcelona, She’s the director of BTG, the Dutch branch association for ICT. “In order to avoid having to break open the sidewalk three times in the future, a law must be quickly put in place to ensure that the mobile network operators will share their infrastructure.”

The BTG has come up with a uniform standard that should ultimately lead to legislation, but it is hasn’t gotten that far yet. The three major providers -KPN, T-Mobile and VodafoneZiggo – are currently all building their own transmission masts. Given that 5G requires many more masts, the BTG acknowledges that this will be a never-ending task. “The operators should be able to share the costs in the future.”

Not solely on dreams

Smart Cities are fabulous. However cities can’t be built solely on dreams, as they all know at the BTG. “This also requires a lot of hardware. Lampposts of the future will become multifunctional. In addition to light, there will also be Wi-Fi, and possibly power for electric cars. At the moment, the population is insufficiently informed about what is coming their way. Smart cities are going to matter a lot as far as infrastructure is concerned.”

Also read: Don’t develop technologies which won’t solve any real problems

According to Irene van Bruines (from the brand new procurement platform Smart City Plaza) a lot of missionary work also needs to be done in the municipalities. “In a certain municipality, they have already come a long way with smart street fixtures. But in another municipality, a public servant put it quite bluntly: ‘I don’t want any gimmicks on my patch.’ In that respect, there is still so much that has to be done.”

Bruines, who has a long career in construction and infrastructure, now makes it very easy for municipal purchasers by providing a complete, independent, overview of products for smart cities through her platform. From sensors to charging stations and from solar-powered rubbish bins to ultra-quiet wind turbines, Smart City Plaza offers it all. The only thing municipalities have to do is subscribe to this gift guide for smart city officials.

Rotterdam designs a modular streetlamp

The city officials of Rotterdam no longer need to be told anything more about smart cities. It’ s buzzing with ambition in the Maasstad, which this year almost clinched the ‘Innovation Capital of Europe‘ award. The city aims to be a model digital city by 2025.

One of the projects that fit in with this, was the design of a smart lamppost. The city has developed CENT-R, a modular lamppost, together with start-up Lightwell, the Da Vinci College in Dordrecht, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the manufacturer Valmont. The CENT-R (Connective Energy Network Tool – Rotterdam) prototype was finished just in time for the expo in Barcelona and was unveiled there. In addition to 5G, electric charging, cameras and lighting, the lamppost can also be retrofitted to accommodate any future innovations. Three smart poles will be put into use in the Rotterdam district of Reyeroord towards the end of next January.

Start-up of the day: fintech lends a hand to Italian businesses

The Italian start-up Credimi offers the largest digital platform for invoice financing and digital loans in continental Europe.

Credimi provides loan to companies using an almost completely automated risk assessment algorithm, helping companies simplified access to credit. The start-up has supplied a total of over 600 million euros to over 3500 Italian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Furthermore, Credimi is authorized and supervised by the Bank of Italy, meaning that it is subject to all capital, compliance and anti-money laundering and risk control requirements which apply to Financial Intermediaries. This ensures that the start-up is an even more reliable partner.

Innovation Origins talked with Ignazio Rocco, CEO and founder of Credimi, this is what he had to say:

How did you come up with an idea like this one for a start-up?

Before founding Credimi, I was a banking professional and a consultant. I had a real fascination with financial technology. So, in 2015, I wanted to invest in the fintech industry. Even though at first, I did not have the launch a start-up in mind. However, when I noticed there was a demand for fintech services in Italy, I decided to start a fintech company which focused on loans to SMEs. Plus, there were no other loan companies specifically for fintech in Italy. No one else was trying to serve the enormous Italian SME market either. Italian SMEs needed new services, faster and more flexible ones than those offered by the banks.

Ignazio Rocco, Founder & CEO. ®Credimi

Do you only operate in Italy? 

Yes, at the moment we are operating solely in Italy, but we are planning to expand to other European markets.

Did you create the technology that is used in your start-up?

Yes, we did. Our proprietary risk evaluation technology is almost completely automated and allows us to process and analyze thousands of data information in just a few hours. Our team evaluates the information collected this way and decides if a company’s request is able to be validated.

What makes Credimi different from other similar fintech start-ups?

Well our business model is different from most competitors, due to our proprietary risk evaluation technology (which is almost fully-automated) on the one hand. And on the other, the fact that Credimi has been authorized to lend from its own balance sheet. Which means it can approve loans to companies in real time.

Also, Credimi is fast, it takes an SME just 48 hours to know whether they are eligible for an advance. Then a few more hours to actually get the money. It’s simple, it only takes 10 minutes to apply for a loan. Most importantly, it is transparent. We have no hidden costs. In addition, we have special services for very small and micro businesses, which usually find it difficult to get financed by banks.

Who is the Credimi customer?

Credimi’s customers are all medium, small and micro businesses which very often need and ask for alternative credit and invoice financing solutions. As in faster, simpler, more accessible solutions than banks or other traditional avenues have on offer.

Did you have a role model when setting up the start-up?

I very much admire Xero, the online accounting software for small businesses, which offers a wide range of services. This is what we aim to do too: offer as many services as possible.

®Credimi

What has been the biggest challenge while building your start-up?

So, the biggest challenge was to build up the right team. I had no tech experience, so I needed to find other co-founders that would complement the team. That’s how Jacopo Anselmi, a 27-year-old anti-abuse strategist at Google, and Sabino Costanza, a talented project manager at BCG, came on board. Then I looked for other professionals in San Francisco and other Italian talents who would want to join the project.

What can we expect in the future from Credimi?

Credimi is currently focused on further expanding its client base, product range and talent pool. All that while still carrying on with its mission to help companies improve management of their working capital and their supply chain efficiency. In the future we will also be operating in other European markets.

How has been the response been to Credimi? 

We are receiving very positive feedback. The companies that use our services now number more than 3500 and they are satisfied by the speed and ease of our services. Also, the Italian innovation landscape believes in our project. Several of the most successful Italian entrepreneurs have privately invested €8.5 million in Credimi. Four principal investment funds have signed agreements to underwrite €300 million in loans originating from the platform, and contractual agreements have been recently upgraded to match our steady growth.

What is your ultimate goal?

Our mission and ultimate goal is to help SMEs grow and focus on their business and take care of all the needs of entrepreneurs: starting out from credit and small tech businesses.

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

MATD: a hologram that you can feel and hear

Holograms are part of everyday life in science fiction films and series such as Star Trek. On Captain Picard’s ‘Enterprise’ or on the ‘USS Voyager’, there are complete ‘holodecks’ where you can create any environment and any hologram you want. You are even able to physically communicate with them. On Voyager there is even a “Doctor” in sickbay – the Emergency Medical Holographic program (EHM).  Just like a person, this hologram is capable of learning from his experiences. He has many other human qualities as well.

As far as technology has advanced in the 24th century, we are not quite that far yet in the 21st century. But scientists from the University of Sussex have come a step closer to holograms like those in Star Trek. For the first time, they have developed holograms that can be seen with the naked eye, yet can be felt and heard too. The Multimodal Acoustic Trap Display (MATD) is not yet able to respond to emergency calls and treat patients. Though this system can show a colorful butterfly, emojis and other images without the need for a ‘headset’ for Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR).

© University of Sussex

Using sound waves to manipulate physical objects

“Our new technology takes inspiration from old TVs which use a single color beam scanning along the screen so quickly that your brain registers it as a single image. Our prototype does the same using a colored particle that can move so quickly anywhere in 3D space that the naked eye sees a volumetric image in mid-air.” says Dr. Ryuji Hirayama, a JSPS Fellow and Rutherford Fellow at the University of Sussex. He is also the lead author of the study published in Nature.

The holograms in Star Trek are comprised of photons and force fields. According to Hirayama, the researchers’ holograms in Great Britain are produced in a similar way. “To my understanding, the holograms in these fictional mediums are generated by bending and shaping light using force fields. Similarly, our technology uses sound waves to manipulate physical objects. In the case of generating holograms, these sound waves are able to move a bead fast enough to generate solid images, and are given color through an external light source.”

The MATD is modeled on the method that made free floating projections possible as early as 2018. Small particles were illuminated by laser beams which in turn produced a hologram. The MATD uses ultrasonic sound to hold a ball in a room, move it at breakneck speed. Then light it up with red, green and blue light to create a colorful image. With up to 100 position changes per second, the rapid movement through the room creates a 3D illusion.

© University of Sussex

Room for improvement

The MATD prototype is approximately the size and shape of a microwave oven. It is made up of 512 ultrasonic speakers arranged around a clear space. The resolution of the generated holograms is not very good at the moment. “The MATD was created using low-cost and commercially available components. We believe there is plenty of room to increase its capacity and potential,” Hirayama states.

Unlike the holograms that are currently being made, the hologram created by the MATD can also produce sound. It can even be felt in real life. “Even if not audible to us, ultrasound is still a mechanical wave and it carries energy through the air. Our prototype directs and focuses this energy, which can then stimulate your ears for audio, or stimulate your skin to feel content,” Dr Diego Martinez Plasencia, co-creator of the MATD and a researcher on 3D User Interfaces at the University of Sussex. “Our prototype sends and bundles this energy, which can then generate sound or touch our skin so that we are able to feel something. For example, an infrared sensor detects when a hand is approaching the hologram. The loudspeakers are then adjusted to concentrate sound pressure of more than 150 decibels onto that hand, allowing you to feel the hologram.

Revolutionary 3D display

“Our MATD system revolutionizes the concept of 3D display. It is not just that the content is visible to the naked eye and in all ways perceptually similar to a real object while still allowing the viewer to reach inside and interact with the display. “It is also the fact that it relies on a principle that can also stimulate other senses, putting it above any other display approaches and getting us closer than ever to Ivan Sutherland’s vision of the Ultimate Display.” Project leader Sri Subramanian, Professor of Informatics at the University of Sussex and a Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies) (Sutherland is the pioneer of VR techniques – ed.)

University of Sussex

Practical applications

In order for the hologram to also be able to produce sound, the scientists had to adjust the ultrasonic waves. They did this in such a way that the relevant resonance effects were created in the hologram. Yet these sounds are still very basic. They are a long way from being anywhere close to speech. Nevertheless, Hirayama believes that this can certainly be improved upon. “Operating at frequencies higher than 40KHz will allow the use of smaller particles, increasing the resolution and precision of the visual content, while frequencies above 80KHz will result in optimum audio quality. More powerful ultrasound speakers, more advanced control techniques or even the use of several particles, could allow for more complex, stronger tactile feedback and louder audio.”

But these new holograms don’t just have an advantage when it comes to science and entertainment. The authors believe that the technology can offer interesting opportunities. Such as mixing chemicals without contaminating them. Or performing ultrasounds in tissues in order to administer life-saving medicines. As well as numerous ‘lab-in-a-chip’ applications.

And what are the odds for holograms like the HoloDoc in Star Trek? “Right now, our display manipulates a single particle to create holograms. Using multiple particles instead will allow us to create more complex holograms. Also, by modelling the dynamics of the moving particle more accurately, the particle would be able to move faster and more precisely, allowing the display to project more realistic holograms. We are going to keep working on such challenges one by one because I personally want to see holograms like the EMH one day!”

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

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.”

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

According to Reuters, we are heading for a Cybernetic Newsroom: an editorial room where robots and journalists reinforce each other. A view that Jorge Alves Lino, Fontys Lector Media, Interaction and Narration, fully endorses. In the study De Automatische Nieuwsredactie (The Automated Newsroom), Alves Lino worked together with Tilburg University and De Persgroep over the past four years on the robot journalism system PASS, which allows automatic football reports to be produced.

The four-year research project PASS focuses primarily on football journalism. “Hundreds of amateur games are played every week. Journalists can barely report on all of them, while news consumers do need frequent updates. Our system can support this,” says Alves Lino. The Personalised Automated Soccer System (PASS) can process the data from matches into an easily readable text. “This makes PASS a welcome addition for the editorial staff.”

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PASS: Personalised Automated Soccer Text System (English) from Jorge Alves Lino on Vimeo.

Professor Dr Emiel Krahmer from Tilburg University also sees a growing interest in robot journalism. “The rise of automated text systems is definitely a great opportunity to get away from the boring stuff and spend more time on the interesting topics we want to find out about. From day one, future journalists should learn about the problems and opportunities that exist in the field of automated newsrooms and robot journalism.”

Moreover, according to Alves Lino, thinking about robot journalism is slowly changing. “Where for a long time fear prevailed that robots would take over the journalistic work, we now see that more and more editors are exploring the possibilities of automatic text systems.”

According to the lecturer, it is crucial that journalists play a role in the development and implementation of these systems. Only if they are able to work with them properly and see their added value, will this be a success. In the development of PASS, journalists from De Persgroep have therefore cooperated in the development and improvement of the system from the very beginning.

Finally, news consumers have also played a role in the study. Alves Lino: “Do readers want text written by automatic systems? Do they find that reliable? We soon found out that context is extremely important. You can’t just produce articles based on raw data, that’s too ‘robotic’. People want to know if it was a nice day at a football match, what kind of atmosphere was in the stadium and how the audience reacted to striking events. In order to incorporate this into the robot journalist’s messages, we are developing a chatbot that can provide additional information. Of course, the journalists of De Persgroep are also involved in this. After all, they are the protagonists in the future cybernetic newsroom.”

Jorge Alves Lino and Emiel Krahmer will present PASS at the Beyond Media conference on 21 November in the LocHal in Tilburg. The entire programme can be found on the Beyond Media website.

We can give away five free tickets by sending an e-mail to meike.jentjens@fontys.nl. The first five entries will be returned with a ticket by e-mail.

Start-up of the day: the greening of the fuel-guzzling shipping industry

Efficiënter brandstofverbruik met behulp van We4sea kan enorm schelen in de scheepvaart

We4Sea helps ship charterers and ship owners to reduce the fuel consumption and emissions of their ships. And they do this without needing to install sensors on board. This energy-intensive sector can reap substantial profits with the help of big data. Especially now that fuel costs are soaring.

CEO Dan Veen elaborates on their services.

What motivated you to set up the company?

Co-founder Michiel Katgert and I have a passion for shipping. The downside of this wonderful and global industry is its relatively large impact on the environment. Shipping has a major impact on the environment due to the large amounts of industrial oil that is used daily. We aim to use our expertise to help improve ships by greatly improving their fuel efficiency. Research at TNO (where we used to work) has led to an idea for helping shipping companies and charterers to cut down on emissions from their ships.

What are you doing?

90% of all goods around the world are transported by ship. The maritime sector consumes enormous amounts of crude oil -up to 100,000 liters per day per ship. As a result of new regulations aimed at reducing emissions, fuel costs will rise to 50% as of January 1st next year. Shipowners are therefore looking for existing or new techniques geared towards monitoring fuel consumption and conservation. However, the purchase and installation of sensors is expensive, and the uncertainties surrounding this is considerable. To date, the use of data analysis in the maritime sector has been very limited when it concerns predicting consumption in combination with new technical measures or technologies.

We4Sea helps ship owners to monitor and lower their fuel consumption. We4Sea can provide accurate and real-time insight into fuel consumption and ways to improve it. This requires using big data and simulation models. The data provides insights into where profits could be made. There are two areas where measures can be taken: operational and technical.

In operational terms, we can advise on economical speeds. This means that a recommendation is made on the speed that leads to the lowest fuel consumption based on the ship type and the weather forecast. This can save up to 10% in fuel consumption.

Another common factor is that the ship is used for a purpose that differs from their design. Almost all the ships that we monitor do not sail the way they were originally designed to. For instance, a ship doesn’t reach the high speeds for which it was built. If that is permanent, you can adapt the propeller, engine or hull to the new situation. This can often reduce consumption by between 5 to 10 percent.

How is your company different from comparable companies, how do you try to distinguish yourselves?

We4Sea has a unique technology which means that we don’t have to install any sensors to be able to give an accurate picture of the performance of ships. Installing sensors on ships is often complicated. This is because the ship has to be in a port and cannot be used for a few days or several weeks. Moreover, maintenance and calibration are required, and in the event of a breakdown, the data supply is immediately cut off.

We4Sea’s technology uses a sophisticated combination of various data sources, such as satellite data, vessel position data, weather data and the ship’s technical data. These are all in aid of enabling the Digital Twin simulation mode to calculate what the ship’s energy consumption should be at that particular moment in time. This creates an accurate overview in real-time of the ship’s usage. This estimate is regularly validated using the ship’s fuel consumption and speed data, usually once a day. Discrepancies between theoretical and reported usage often signify inefficiencies that can be addressed. This monitoring method means that a ship could be monitored with a minimum of investment. After analysis of the data, concrete cost-cutting measures can be proposed.

The founders of We4sea are Michiel Katgert (CTO, left) and Dan Veen (CEO, right).

How has the response been?

The response has been very positive. The high level of accuracy for the data analyses and fuel consumption projections were particularly well received.

What obstacles have you come up against?

The main problem is the speed at which this technology is being accepted by the industry. Many shipping companies have limited expertise in data analysis, which means that the implementation and acceptance of this technology is progressing slowly. Thanks to internationalization, decisions about the application of the technology are often divided between various companies, each with its own role: ship owner, technical manager, charterer, end customer. In most cases the shipowner is not the one who pays for the fuel, while the charterer, who foots the fuel bill, doesn’t have long-term contracts with the ship owner either.

What has been the main highlight for We4Sea so far?

There have been a number of highlights. Like the first version (MVP) of our online platform back in November 2016. The signing of our first commercial contracts with clients and, of course, the favorable reactions of some of our clients.

What will happen in the coming year?

In January 2020, new regulations will come into force which will increase the charterers’ fuel costs by 25 – 50%. We are anticipating a much greater level of interest in fuel monitoring and fuel efficiency. By the end of November 2019, we will be launching a new module that will provide charterers with immediate insight into this. We have high expectations for this.

Where will We4Sea be in five years’ time?

We will have reduced CO2 emissions by one million tons in the shipping industry. This is comparable to the annual emissions of 300,000 cars.

Read moreStart-up of the day: the greening of the fuel-guzzling shipping industry

Professor: ‘Involve companies in scientific research from the outset’

cosine voert wetenschappelijk onderzoek uit voor de ESA

Get science and industry to work together from the outset to ensure that everyone benefits from major scientific research.” This is the message that Marco Beijersbergen, Professor of Physical Instrumentation, is delivering to visitors at the annual Precision Fair. “Don’t see commercial parties as customers, but as co-developers.”

Companies as scientists

Beijersbergen is a professor at Leiden University and the founder of cosine, a manufacturer of specialized measurement systems for IBM and the European Space Agency (ESA), among others. During his lecture at the Precision Fair (which is an annual trade fair devoted to precision technology) he explained where things often go wrong. “Many research projects in my field have plenty of potential. Yet companies frequently do not see a business model in them. That’s why they’re not prepared to invest money in research and development.”

“So if research is dependent on commercial money, it often doesn’t get off the ground,” he adds. “But if you turn it the other way round, you’ll see that companies also have a lot of expertise in house and do carry out scientific research. They should actually get paid for that, instead of paying for it themselves.”

Partner in research

As an example, Beijersbergen cites the cooperation that took place during the development of equipment for ATHENA. This is an ESA X-ray telescope. “A few years ago, we realized that if we want to play a major role in that development, we’d have to come up with vast sums of money. Or else work more closely together with other organizations.” Cosine subsequently partnered with SRON, the Dutch space research institute. Cosine was able to apply for public research funds via SRON. “This was the very first time that I saw this happen and I think it is an important step. Some companies in the high-tech sector are just as capable of developing new technology and conducting scientific research as the public research institutes are.”

Across the fence

According to the professor, this also requires scientists to think in a different way. “In many cases, they only approach companies when they need money for their research. I’m really in favor of letting go of this idea that researchers should develop technologies and then cast these over to commercial parties on the other side of the fence. That’s often way too late and it rarely goes well. It only works if you start working together from the outset. Give companies the opportunity to actually participate in your scientific project and be willing to pay them for their input.”

Saxion wants to build a drone that cannot only see and hear, but touch and grab things as well

A drone with a camera can be bought in any toy store. Many of them have a built-in microphone and some of them can even pick up odours. But actually taking immediate action on the basis of what it makes visible, audible or smelling, that was quite difficult until now. Saxion University of Applied Sciences wants to change this with a subsidy of €1 million which the school has received for their contribution to the MARS4Earth project.

The project’s desired result: “the development of the world’s first autonomous and modular flying drone with a robotic arm that can physically interact with the outside environment”. The application areas the project focuses on are ‘safety & security’, ‘inspection & maintenance’ and ‘agriculture’. According to Saxion, new drone technology can contribute to safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness in areas such as firefighting, the maintenance of offshore wind turbines or the selective treatment of precision agriculture.

Saxion is now asking the business community to think along about the possible applications of the robotic drone “in order to spend the subsidy money as wisely as possible”. A workshop on 25 November in the new lab of the Mechatronics lectorate in Enschede is the best way the school expects to achieve this. Anybody can join through an application on the Saxion website. In addition to the workshop, visitors will see a number of demonstrations of drone technologies and there will be a guided tour of the Mechatronics Lab.

What makes a pop hit such a classic?

Have you always wanted to write a pop music classic? Good news! Prof. Dr. Stefan Kölsch and PhD student Vincent Ka Ming Cheung from the Max-Planck-Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig have decoded part of successful music’s DNA. Songs like James Taylor’s Country Road, UB40’s Red, Red Wine or The Beatles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da are irresistible thanks to their perfect combination of anticipation and surprise. Pleasure in music depends on both past and future expectations.

Other IO articles on research into music.

“It’s fascinating how people are able to enjoy a piece of music, if for no other reason than how chords have been arranged over time,” Vincent Cheung says. “Songs that we like are probably songs that strike a fine balance between our knowing what’s going to happen and the surprise of something we weren’t expecting.” The neuroscientist then adds:

“”If we understand how music activates our pleasure system in the brain, we would also be able to explain why we often feel better when listening to music. Even when we may be feeling melancholic.”

Neuroimaging and machine learning

As part of their research, the experts used a machine learning model to analyze a total of 80,000 chords from 745 classic American billboard pop songs. This enabled them to mathematically quantify uncertainty and surprise. This is one of the elements that distinguishes this study from an earlier one. Previously, reactions to surprising musical passages were only taken into account when a piece of music was actually heard for the first time, Cheung explains. He and his colleagues, on the other hand, have also taken into account “the uncertainty of a former expectation.”

We are all familiar with this: the first bar of a piece of music is heard and we recognize the song straightaway (faster than Shazam can). According to Cheung, the researchers have removed elements such as text, melody and rhythm from the songs in order to prevent this from happening. They just kept the chord sequences of the original pop songs. As a result, the hits were no longer recognizable for the test subjects.

Cheung explains the uniqueness of their research:

“Our study combines neuroimaging and machine learning in order to find out how the anticipation of music makes music enjoyable and also reveal the immediate underlying neural networks.”

Mix of surprise and familiarity

© Cell.com

The result: when test subjects were relatively sure which chords they could expect to hear next, they enjoyed being surprised. In other words, their expectations were compromised. Conversely, the researchers also proved that if test subjects were not sure what they could expect next, they would prefer the next chords to be familiar rather than surprising.

“Although composers have known this intuitively for centuries, the underlying processes of how expectation evokes joy in music were still unknown,” Kölsch confirms. “In the past, most studies have only looked at the effects of surprise on musical pleasure, but not at uncertainty when it comes to listeners’ expectations.

The scientists used brain scans from functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) for their research. They also discovered that the perception of musical pleasure is reflected in three areas of the brain. The amygdala (for processing external impulses). The hippocampus (for controlling influences and memory). And the auditory cortex (auditory center). These regions process emotions, knowledge and memory and sound. By contrast, the activity in the so-called nucleus accumbens, where the anticipation of reward is processed, merely reflects the uncertainty of the listeners. This also came as a complete surprise to the researchers. Up until then, it was thought that this part of the brain (linked to the human reward system) also played a role in processing pleasure in music. It is Cheung’s view that further research will eventually reveal the way in which these brain processes come together and how they exactly lead to delight in music.

Dance and film

In short, the results of the researchers show that the sense of pleasure influences the areas of the brain that process sounds, emotions and memories. “And that musical pleasure depends on the dynamic interaction between past and future expectations. Our fundamental human ability to predict something is therefore an important mechanism whereby abstract audio sequences acquire an emotional significance. By doing so, they transform into a universal cultural phenomenon that we call ‘music’,” the researchers state.

Another important outcome of the study is that people’s expectations of chords are gained implicitly over the course of their lives. In this respect, our previous experiences in music determine our expectations. Take for example, listening to the radio or the sound in bars and restaurants. These can also have an impact on the kinds of music we enjoy.

After considering their findings, the study’s authors encourage future brain research to pay more attention to the combined role of uncertainty and surprise. One could, for instance, examine why other art forms such as dance and film have such great value for people. The results could also be used for improving artificial algorithms that generate music. Or for helping composers to write music or predicting musical trends.

Make it easier, don’t ditch it

The next step for the neuroscientists is to examine how information flows across various parts of the brain while listening to music. They want to know why and how it  happens that people who listen to music sometimes get goosebumps. Cheung anticipates the outcome of that research to be even more significant: “We think there is great potential in combining computer modelling and neuroimaging not only in order to understand why we enjoy music, but also what it means to be human.”

Getting back to music, are we any closer to the moment when an automated composition kit for music might be made based on Cheung’s findings? “Our results could be used to improve artificial algorithms for generating music or simplify compositions.” However, this is not yet a substitute for human composition. Because, after all, a perfect song needs lyrics, melody and an uplifting rhythm.

The study was recently published in the journal Current Biology.

Start-up of the Day: Sirum provides software for smaller logistic firms

The Hamburg-based start-up Sirum has set out to solve a fundamental problem in the logistics sector. Only a few companies can afford modern IT solutions, and only larger companies can afford to use digital Enterprise Resource Planning or ERP, which controls, monitors and optimizes all processes along the supply chain. Sirum wants to make these capabilities available to smaller companies, too.

Sirum was founded in 2016 and its founders, Dennis Uhlemann and Georg Notter, have known each other since their school days. After completing his studies, Uhlemann went into logistics and asked Notter for help with one of his projects. At the time, Notter was worked as a freelancer on ERP systems. Previously, he had been working for Siemens on industrial production monitoring systems. The two initially developed the Sirum application together, with the other two founders Michael Hötte and Bennet Block joining later.

Sirum’s presence at this year’s Transport & Logistics Trade Fair in Munich: Michael Hötte, Georg Notter und Bennet Block. Photo: Sirum

Sirum runs a browser-based software as a service solution. Customers can access their applications from their PC, laptop or smartphone. The system has a modular structure with each customer accessing the modules he has booked. This could be transport management, fleet management, human resources, master data administration or a combination thereof. The system runs on Sirum servers in Germany, but customers can also install it on their own system.

The software is based on an open source solution and is therefore constantly being improved by a community of developers. The core ERP is a product of the open source community, while Sirum developed the transport module itself and integrated it into the ERP. Their close relationship with the open source community enables them to react quickly to customer requests.

What is your motivation? What is the problem you want to solve?

We want to solve a central problem in the logistics industry. Small and medium-sized companies have high IT costs and have to work with partners who often use completely different products that cannot communicate with their applications. Established systems are expensive and often have outdated architectures. In addition, isolated solutions dominate individual areas such as transport management, scheduling, accounting and finance, warehouse management or human resources. These individual systems must be able to talk to each other. However, this is often problematic. Sirum offers all this from a single source. We are a web-based, all-in-one solution.

What is the biggest obstacle you had to overcome or have to overcome?

Market entry was easy because demand came from the market.

What is the best moment you had with the launch?

We were at the Transport and Logistics Fair in Munich at the beginning of June. Through the mediation of the Deutsche Verkehrszeitung and Blue Rocket, we had a presence at the Start.Hub stand. We were pleased to receive a lot of positive feedback and new customer contacts.

What can we expect from you in the coming year?

We are planning to scale up and have carried out a version change of our software. We hope to see a further increase in customer numbers.

What is your ultimate goal?

In the long run, we want to set a new industry standard.