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

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

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

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

Smart Servitization

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

Smart Servitization © Fontys Hogescholen

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

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

Speed vs latency

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

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

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


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

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

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

Start-up of the 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

How photonics takes autonomous driving to the next level

Amber test platooning op busbaan

The Automotive Photonics Conference aims to bring the automotive industry and the world of photonics closer together. According to photonics professor Ifelfonso Tafur Monroy, the technique is crucial for the further development of autonomous cars and the Brainport region could play an important role in this.

Photonics Applications Week

Monroy will be speaking at the conference, which will be held on 2 October at the Automotive Campus in Helmond. The conference is part of the Photonics Applications Week(30 September – 4 October), where various industries will be able to discover what the promising combination of light and electricity has to offer their sector.

Plenty of attention

Professor Monroy is a specialist in terahertz technology which photonics uses. ‘Terahertz frequencies have received a lot of attention lately because of their advantageous properties,” he explains. The frequencies are used, for example, in detection ports at the airport and in the detection of fake medicines, but are also suitable for very fast data transfer.

Mobile data center

According to Monroy, photonics offers a solution for this kind of data communication. Autonomous cars process a lot of data. It’s really about petabytes. Every car will become a small data center this way. Communication with other cars and systems requires very fast connections. You need wireless technology in order to exchange that data efficiently and that means you soon end up with terahertz technology.

A question of …

How great the role of photonics will be, is difficult for the professor to say exactly. Autonomous cars must be able to function under a wide variety of conditions, which means that they will also use a combination of technologies. It also depends on the need for autonomous systems. In the beginning you may be able to do without these systems, but as we develop more and more advanced systems, we will need this technology more and more.


Another major application for photonics within the automotive industry can be found in sensors. Evert Schaeffer, TomTom’s European Head of Product Management, explains how the company is already applying the technology in autonomous mobility services. Schaeffer will speak at the conference next week as well. Our network of test vehicles features photonic phase sensors (so-called LIDAR sensorsLIDAR stands for ‘Light Detection and Ranging‘) that map out the environment by turning it into a digital point-to-point network. This data is used to make maps, but can also be used in consumer vehicles with self-driving functions, i.e. in order to pinpoint the exact location of the car on the map.’.


“Expectations are that increasingly more photonic sensors will be used for advanced autonomous functions,” Schaeffer continues. “I now see a number of manufacturers with cars on the market which already contain these sensors. It remains to be seen how this will develop, but the potential is certainly there. However, we need to make a breakthrough in terms of costs. Current sensors are quite expensive. A number of technological breakthroughs are still needed to get that to a good level.”

Investment and management

Monroy is in agreement. “Major investments are required in order to put together the pieces of the puzzle and really get production off the ground. You need pioneers in order to be able to make this happen. The Province of Noord-Brabant has all the elements: the companies and test locations on the one hand, and the universities with the know-how on the other. The only thing missing is a bit of supervision, a conductor who can lead the orchestra. With more investment and direction, we have the potential to really become a major player in the field of photonics.”

Want to know more about the Photonics Applications Week? Read more about it here.

Tomorrow is good: Data, not words, if you really want to do something about subversive organized crime.

Recently the report De Achterkant van Amsterdam (The Other Side of Amsterdam) was presented. A report on the investigation carried out by Pieter Tops and Jan Tromp into drug-related financial transactions and how they take place in the main city. The report describes in no uncertain terms the destructive effect of subversive crime on our society.

More or less at the same time as the presentation of this report, Den Bosch wrapped up the project Weerbaar (the Resilience project). A project, financed by the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, which revealed that an effective way to combat subversive crime starts with data. Test data from the Oost-Brabant Police has been combined with that from the municipality of Den Bosch along with information from open sources. All of this data was brought together in a scenario-based model that recognizes patterns, identifies indicators of subversive crime and generates future scenarios. The outcomes, possibilities and risks of this model were assessed by scientists from the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science. I had the privilege of being involved in this research myself.

Pieces of the puzzle

When the knowledge and experiences from De Achterkant van Amsterdam, are combined with the lessons from Weerbaar, an effective approach to combating subversive crime comes to the fore. De Achterkant van Amsterdam, for example, shows that research has been done into associations (as in non-profit organizations) that own expensive cars or a lot of real estate (Amsterdam CID, 2017). It is also known how many applications for licenses for the catering industry are privately financed (Municipal study, 2019). The number of expensive properties sold in Amsterdam without a mortgage was investigated (DNB, 2017). And it is known how many people act as financiers for personal loans, who, according to the tax authorities, do not have the capital to do so (Report on Personal Loans, 2019).

The project Weerbaar shows that it is entirely possible to combine the above sources together with police data and to translate these into practical scenarios. Moreover, there is no doubt that the results of all this is much more than the sum of its parts and that valuable, previously unknown insights have emerged. What has become clear from both studies is that many parties hold pieces of the puzzle when it comes to subversive organized crime, but there’s no one who is overseeing the whole puzzle.

It is important in this context to stress that it is of course not illegal for an association to own expensive cars or expensive buildings. Nor is it illegal to issue personal loans, nor illegal to purchase real estate without a mortgage. But when this information is combined with other types of data, for example from the Chamber of Commerce, the Land Registry, the Inland Revenue Service, the Salvation Army, the shopkeeper’s association, the municipality and the police – a picture can be formed of a situation that points to less legal practices.

This investigative method is as old as the Methuselah. Every detective works like this. The big difference is that a detective brings together information on an incidental basis and is only able to investigate a very limited amount of data, while technology can bring together data in a structural way (and in real time), and moreover, do this with very large amounts of data.

Underlying problems

One of the conclusions of the Tops and Tromp report is that the competency of ‘cooperation’ is not particularly highly developed within the Amsterdam governmental agencies. This brings us to the actual and underlying problem. Now that it is clear that subversive organized crime can be tackled more efficiently than is currently the case, the following painful question must be answered: Do we really want that? Is the disruptive nature of subversive crime on our society large enough for us to genuinely want to work together and share data? And do we sincerely want to look for the scope that laws and regulations offer us for that?

Because if the answer to this is ‘yes’, then from now on the motto is: data, not words.


About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Maarten Steinbuch, 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.

“Brabant companies must use big data in a better way

Eindhoven wants to become a smart society. But how is that going? What’s happening already? And what examples can we learn something from? The Datastudio is researching the transition that the city needs to make to become such a smart society. E52 features a new contribution every Friday. This week: Can companies deal with their data in a better way? Read all of the submissions here.

Every company collects big data, either deliberately or not, but there is still too little being done, according to Brabantse Ontwikkelings Maatschapij (BOM) and BrabantKennis. In the March edition of the e-zine, it shows that a lot of companies are already out of the starting blocks, but the awareness should be there for everyone. But what steps should you take to make this switch?

Not only companies, but citizens, should also learn to deal with data. The New Institute is therefore organizing a lecture and debate series entitled “A city as smart as its residents”

If you want to deliver added value to your customers in the future, then you need to include an element such as datafication, according to Ruben Kolfschoten, Business Development Project Manager at BOM. But before you as a company immediately hire data scientists, you should first look at the possibilities. “Companies quickly start collecting data, but do you know why you’re doing that? Firstly, are you aware of where all data can be collected, what other companies are doing, and where your possibilities lie? This awareness has not even come so far yet, and that is of utmost importance before you can even think about what can I do exactly with big data.” In order to be able to deepen your knowledge of the subject, you should, according to Kolfschoten, hold talks with business associations, visit masterclasses, and make connections with universities.

Once you are aware of where you as a company stand, and the opportunities that big data offers, then you need to look at the requirements. “Where do you need to develop further as a company, do you need partners or certain facilities? Only after these steps are taken can you start to build your program around your datafication.

“This awareness has not even come so far yet, and that is of utmost importance before you can even think about what can I do exactly with big data”Ruben Kolfschoten,

The enormous growth of digital information, or big data, can provide businesses with added value for both their own organizations, as well as for their customers. Big data can, for example, predict when machine maintenance is required so companies can better use their service engineers. “Data can help improve your business. You can come up with new ideas, new improvements, products, customer insights, and new ways of interacting with your customers. If you gain an insight into how things are done by means of datafication, then you can, in this respect, implement improvements.”


According to Kolfschoten, you cannot and must not isolate yourself. “If you cut yourself off from what is happening around you, then you will be written off. The companies that have been able to gain value from their data, they have advantages with this. On both financial and competitive levels. This can still be on a limited scale, but it is getting bigger.” It is a matter of starting ‘something unknown’ as a company. “You do not know exactly where the added value lies. It expects an investment with unknown results.”

With the e-zine, a start has been made about the awareness of datafication. The BOM is currently in the process of setting up a program to see how they could support businesses. “With the e-zine, we are going to look at the status. What do companies already know about the topic and how do they work within that. We want to promote economic growth, and for this, we want to look at the needs of companies so that we can potentially fulfill that.”

Smart Solutions in Brabant

Brabant Branding

Data for Dummies in the retirement home

The lecture ‘Data for Dummies’ given by technology philosopher Tsjalling Swierstra begins fifteen minutes later this Thursday evening. The hall in retirement home Eerdbrand where the lecture on the (im)possibilities of big data would take place, actually still is occupied. The billiards tournament is not over yet. Another, much smaller, parlor offers a solution.

Read moreData for Dummies in the retirement home