The Snuffelfiets: pedalling towards a better environment

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

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

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

Heat island effect

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

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

Units handed out to 500 Snuffelaars

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

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

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

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

Cheap sensors, relevant data

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

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

Levels of fine particles

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

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

New Snuffelfietser groups

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

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

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

Photos: Ronald van Liempdt

Start-up of the week: an invisible problem made visible

”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. Moreover, our weekly winners may be awarded another prize. Because at the end of each calendar month, our readers, together with the editors of IO, will select the Start-up of the Month!

 

Future Mobility Solutions – Simcity for optimal traffic flow

Anyone who has ever played Simcity or Cities Skylines faces a major challenge at some point. The roads are hit with chaos, congestion and traffic jams when your city population reaches a significant number.

As a matter of fact, this happens in real life. Traffic experts are constantly working on streamlining traffic flow in cities as efficiently as possible. Productivity is adversely affected every minute that a vehicle is stuck in a traffic jam. And it’s obviously not much fun for road users either. The German team behind Future Mobility Solutions wants to work with virtual cities in order to find the optimal solutions for urban mobility.

They have designed an urban simulation platform where new ideas can be tested out. Checking if a potential investment of millions of euros will lead to improved traffic circulation in practice is, of course, more than welcome. The focus herein is not solely on the car, but also on all present and future motorists who form, in a sense, an entire ecosystem that is connected with everything and one another.

Unifly – Air traffic control for drones

Air traffic must comply with all kinds of strict rules and regulations to keep the airspace safe. These regulations are there for a reason and ensure that fewer accidents happen. However, in recent years a new member has joined the aviation ranks. One without a pilot in a cockpit and who doesn’t always abide by the rules. We are referring to drones, which are increasingly being used for a variety of purposes.

Unifly maintains that drones must comply with air traffic regulations too. Since 2014, Unifly has been keeping the airspace safe around Antwerp Airport. They have introduced a type of license plate and tracking system for unmanned aircraft. This is a relief for everyone. ‘Old-fashioned’ aviation is no longer plagued by ‘drone anarchy.’ And drone pilots now know where they stand, without having to fear that their equipment will be confiscated or shredded by a Boeing’s engine.

APICBEAM – A screen without a monitor

With confidence verging on certainty, we daresay that you are viewing this article on a screen. Either on a small monitor or a large one. As far as APICBEAM is concerned, the era of the physical gogglebox may well be coming to an end after more than one hundred years.

This German start-up wants to use holograms to create digital displays and animations that can be seen all around you. In other words: you transform your entire immediate environment into a screen without using a monitor. These holographic images are not just static but are also able to show movement.

In any event, advertisers are already enthusiastic. They can hardly wait to use holograms to market their merchandise to unsuspecting passers-by.

Woon Duurzaam – Sustainability without unsustainable costs

The energy transition is a reality. So, as a consequence, many households will have to become more climate-neutral. This transition should take place progressively more over the next decade. Former PvdA (Labour Party) leader Diederik Samson irked a lot of people when he said that a sustainable heat pump ‘costs just €10,000.’

Through his start-up Woon Duurzaam, Rense van Dijk wants to make it clear that sustainability does not necessarily have to be expensive. He was shocked by the number of doomsday scenarios that were being touted in the media. That’s why he wants to get the real story out there.

Homeowners can install energy-saving measures step by step in their homes with the help of his tailor-made deals. Within five years, 10,000 households should have ‘gotten rid of gas’ this way. Nonetheless, whether biased reporting will subsequently also disappear into the history books remains to be seen …

Hawa Dawa – Fine particle radar

Fine particles are anything but a fine thing for city dwellers. In fact, this invisible air pollution has lowered the life expectancy of many urbanites by several years. Of course, you can measure air quality on various criteria with certain equipment, yet Hawa Dawa takes a broader and more coordinated approach. They have designed a system whereby the quality of city air can be seen at a glance on a map. This information is also updated in real time.

The Munich-based start-up uses a network of measurement units. The resulting data is linked to external factors such as weather conditions. This is comparable to a kind of weather vane for air quality. Authorities can then take appropriate action on a local level when excessive levels of toxins are found in the air via this data.

Hawa Dawa solves a burgeoning problem as more and more people live in cities. This in turn has led to a vicious circle of increasing air pollution and a greater risk to public health. Making an invisible problem visible in real-time means that governments can take proper measures to protect their citizens. This start-up has the potential to save lives over the long term. That’s why we at IO believe that Hawa Dawa more than deserves our Start-Up of the Week incentive prize!

Start-up of The Day: Hawa Dawa maps out air quality

In Arabic, hawa dawa means something like pure air. Which is precisely the issue that the Munich-based start-up Hawa Dawa is working on. The company has designed an AI-based system for mapping clean air in cities. By integrating all sources of air quality data (satellite data, weather data and geodata) with its own sensor network. This is how they create temporal and spacial maps which show air quality in high resolution.

Small measuring units are installed on lantern posts or buildings that collect raw data. With the help of the latest IoT technology, this data then sent to the cloud and is “adjusted accordingly by a central artificial intelligence to take account of weather conditions, sensor drift and other disruptive factors,” as the company states on its website. The software also combines this data with other data sources such as traffic, weather, and satellite data to generate area-wide models almost in real-time.

The inventors were presented with the Munich Startup Award 2019 at the Munich Oktoberfest as part of the Bits & Pretzels start-up festival back on October the 1st.

Innovation Origins spoke with CEO and co-founder Karim Tarraf about his company and his vision for Hawa Dawa.

The Hawa-Dawa-Team © Hawa Dawa

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

Whether in the field of development cooperation or within sustainable economic development, you always want to use your own work to change something in the world and make a positive difference. Unfortunately there is a lack of substance and influence in many areas of people’s everyday lives. This became very clear to me when Egypt was on the brink of collapse during the space of 18 days, despite the billions in economic aid it had received. Only by taking one’s own destiny into one’s own hands and entering unexplored territory in technology fields and business models, does anyone get an opportunity to change the world in a sustainable way. Of course, it is by no means a recipe or a guarantee for success. We founded Hawa Dawa with the conviction that with the right team, the right technology and the right approach, we would be around at the right time.

What makes Hawa Dawa so special compared to your competitors and what problems does it resolve?

In just two years, we were able to increase the number of cities and municipalities who we directly work with to 19. We have developed one of the most comprehensive technologies for the collection and analysis of environmental data on our own. In other words, we’ve made our own complete architecture that is specially designed for this application. In the coming months, we want to demonstrate the potential and scope of our company in three representative projects. As well as cater to the growing international interest at the same time.

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

Going your own way and building your own market means doing pioneering work. A path like this is in itself full of hurdles that need to be tackled successively and in a structured manner. Although this also means that you get going without solving every issue satisfactorily. In my opinion, this kind of approach is difficult in Germany and in Europe in general. All the boxes have to be ticked before you start. Thoroughness is often mistaken for a lack of courage. That’s why we respect those people who don’t care about the tech-scene glamour and who just ‘do their thing’.

Mainly local investors are still stuck in old business models. The will to help shape the world and how it will be (and should be) is too often left to pioneers from Silicon Valley or China. Pioneering spirit and thoroughness are among Germany’s virtues. “We are pioneers in a new market.”

What motivates you to go to work every morning?

Working at Hawa Dawa means not only contributing to a better environment, but also enabling open and spirited cooperation in a multicultural and interdisciplinary work environment. For instance, in our work we have noticed that we are able to recruit and inspire administrative staff and CEOs.

© Hawa Dawa

Was there ever a moment when you wanted to give up?

Of course. That is part of the journey. That you consciously decide against giving up and instead carry on. This validation is important.

And vice versa: What are you particularly proud of?

Our team, which managed to deliver an extremely complex product and a vision for sustainable cities.

What can we expect from Hawa Dawa in the coming years?

Reducing climate change and environmental pollutants, promoting sustainable mobility and healthy living environments are and will remain our main focus. Of the 500 largest companies in the world, 215 have submitted detailed climate reports. Their self-reflections are a stunning insight into the changing nature of global business. Companies estimate that USD 970 billion in assets are at risk from climate change. In most cases over the next five years. So the potential for smart technologies like Hawa Dawa to help resolve these problems are immense.

What is your vision for Hawa Dawa?

Reliable information on air pollution has so far been a matter for experts. Hawa Dawa’s vision is to use intelligent technologies in both the public and private sectors to integrate relevant air pollution data into decision-making processes. When air data is included in decisions on traffic and logistics management, real estate, urban planning and health management, we have the opportunity to fundamentally change cities.

Are you interested in start-ups? We report on more innovative companies here.

Breeze: air sensors for smart cities

As adults, we take 15 to 20 breaths per minute. The one who lives in the countryside is lucky. Because nobody in the city knows exactly what air they are drawing through their lungs. And with which – possibly harmful – substances they supply their body. That can change immediately. In 2015, the two computer scientists Robert Heinecke and Sascha Kuntze already founded the company Breeze Technologies in Hamburg. With the air sensor technology developed by the start-up as well as the appropriate infrastructure, everyone can find out about the air quality at their location. While Heinecke is Chief Executive Officer at Breeze today, Kunze took over the position of Chief Technology Officer of the steadily growing company.

AN INTERACTIVE MAP OF AIR QUALITY

Breeze’s product is in demand worldwide: the young entrepreneurs not only offer air quality sensors but also convince with their structured preparation and processing of the data in a clear form. For this, the company provides an interactive map as a citizen information portal on its website. On this, you can already find out about the quality of the air at some locations. However, the more comprehensive the small sensor boxes developed by the Hamburg-based company are used, the more precise the information will be.

Breeze Environmental Analytics Cloud & Air Quality Sensor ©Breeze Technologies

Urban development is a first relevant area of application,” Heinecke says about Breeze’s goals, “any city that wants to make life better for its citizens, that plans the life in the city of tomorrow today, should be able to provide data on air quality and intervene in real time to improve it.”

And Breeze has specialized in precisely this topic. The sensors, which are only about 9 cm tall, measure all the indicators that the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified for determining air quality. These include temperature and humidity, carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen monoxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3) and ammonia (NH3).

FAST SOLUTION OF QUALITY PROBLEMS POSSIBLE

Breeze collects all this data in real time with a measurement interval of 30 seconds. This allows potential problems such as congestion to be identified immediately. The information, in turn, enables the city management to defuse these immediately and actively initiate countermeasures. Thanks to artificial intelligence, the Breeze Technologies platform learns more with every air pollution control measure: Because the real-time air quality data also makes it possible to measure success immediately, the knowledge gained in this way can be used directly in the next projects. Additionally, the sensors can also be used to analyze and optimize the impact of construction measures on urban climate.

By the way, the sensors can also be used in office buildings. Here, the data is supplemented at the same time with smart solutions for air improvement – such as applying wall coatings with photocatalytic effects, i.e. sunlight, or moss walls for air filtering.

HOW EVERYONE CAN GET CLEAN AIR

Although there are also measuring devices for air quality in the final customer sector, Heinecke says: “I don’t know of any where I am satisfied with the quality of the data. Measurement accuracy and reliability is one of the biggest challenges in the very scientific field of air quality measurement. That’s why we publish detailed information on how we calibrate our instruments and how accurate they are.” Heinecke suggests that private individuals participate better in projects to improve air quality and, for example, request detailed information on the current situation from public authorities. An overview of air quality can be found on the citizens’ portal mentioned above. All public measuring stations are also integrated there. Municipal authorities should be able to provide information on air quality in the streets. But one should also receive more information, such as real-time data. Breeze cooperates with NGOs – for example, the technology for an air monitoring network along the Elbe, initiated by NABU, was developed by Breeze.

The city of Eindhoven has tried to solve the problem with a pilot study “Lungs of the City”

VISIONS

Breeze currently manages projects in the cities of Hamburg, Neckarsulm, Hennef and Moers. Recently the air monitoring network in Neckarsulm went online. Now the first feedback is eagerly awaited. In addition to the cities, the two Hamburg residents are also working with companies to further expand their solutions. The start-up is even represented in several European countries and in business outside Europe.

The collected data is to be integrated for further application scenarios in the future. For example, asthmatics could decide when and where they want to go out for sports, such as running, on the basis of current air quality data covering the entire area. Heinecke also points out further visions:

Imagine your running app generating the healthiest running route from your position at the current time. Or that you will receive detailed information about the average air quality in the street when you next look for an apartment. We’re working hard to make this possible in the future.”

BACKGROUND

Breeze Technologies UG was founded in 2015 as part of a European innovation and accelerator program for smart cities. The company’s team consists of scientists, engineers, analysts, computer scientists, designers and former consultants with international professional experience. The young entrepreneurs also worked closely with well-known research institutes and universities such as Hafencity University and the University of Hamburg. Following funding from several EU start-up programs, the company – alongside established companies such as Bosch Sensortec and Siemens – was named a key start-up in MarketsAndMarketslatest study of the environmental sensor market. In addition, Breeze Technologies was recognized by the European Parliament as one of the most promising startups in the European Union. Last but not least, the founders Robert Heinecke and Sascha Kuntze are among the most important European social entrepreneurs in the Forbes 30 Under 30.

The company video explains the technology in greater detail:

With Aireas, Eindhoven also has a very active group of people concerned about air quality.