Interview: Electric buses are booming in Poland

Most people wouldn’t have guessed it, but there is no other European country where electric buses for public transport are as popular as they are in Poland. An important reason for this is that Poland is itself a large manufacturer of electric buses. It is estimated that about a third of all electric buses in Europe are manufactured in Poland.

Primus inter pares is bus and tramway manufacturer Solaris. Which is heading for a market share of about 20% on the European continent this year. Volvo, Scania, MAN and Rafako E-Bus also make electric buses in Poland.

Innovation Origins had an interview with the head of e-mobility development at Solaris, Mateusz Figaszewski:

Solaris is one of the biggest European electric bus producers. How many of these buses are going to the local Polish market?

The number of electric vehicles that Solaris delivers to Polish customers changes from year to year. Altogether, our company has delivered over 360 battery vehicles to customers in 18 European countries, including 119 in Poland.

Furthermore we have over 500 orders for our electric Urbino buses, of which 194 will be delivered to local Polish customers in 2019 and 2020.

Which Polish cities are using your E-buses and how many electric buses are there in Poland?

The cities in Poland where our battery vehicles can be found are: Inowrocław, Jaworzno, Kraków, Ostrołęka, Warszawa, Ostrów Wielkopolski, Września, Chodzież, Katowice, Sosnowiec, Stalowa Wola, Ciechanów, Rzeszów, Ostróda, Bełchatów, Łomianki. Other cities with vehicles on order are: Kutno, Miechów, Poznań, Radom, Tychy and Włocławek.

The E-bus market in Poland is comprised of 155 vehicles at the moment, 119 of them have been manufactured by Solaris. Another 254 units are on order, 194 of which are from Solaris.

Mateusz Figaszewski

What can we expect in the next few years where electrification of public transport is concerned?

The aim of the European Commission is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 by at least 60% before now and 2050. One of the ways to achieve this is to transform and electrify the European transportation sector, including urban public transport.

In line with that target, 50 European cities have already signed the “Clean Bus Deployment Initiative” – a declaration of intent on promoting large-scale deployment of clean, alternatively fueled buses. Many of these European cities have opted for electric buses.

The European electric bus fleet has already increased nearly 15-fold over the past 5 years. Still, we are convinced that we will see a further increase in the volume of orders. According to estimations from the ZeEUS program from UITP, 22% of all new bus registrations in 2020 will be electric and this number will continue to rise up to 45% by 2030.

The rest of the bus fleet will be at least partially electric driven or based for instance on hydrogen.

How important are European subsidies for the transition to environmentally friendly buses?

European and local subsidies from European Member States are crucial for maintaining the speed of market growth. Without them, many customers could face difficulties in securing budgets for the procurement of zero-emission vehicles. This is especially important nowadays as the technology is still relatively new. Therefore that makes it more expensive in the deployment phase than is the case for combustion vehicles.

Once we manage to achieve a scale-effect with higher order volumes, the prices for individual customers will also start to be more and more affordable.

Having said that, it should be pointed out that as a supplier we also see a growing interest in electric vehicles from private transport operators who are not subject to government subsidies. Running on electricity is cheaper than diesel.

What is Solaris’s market share in the European electric bus market?

The market share for Solaris in 2018 was 17%. This put our company in 2nd place in Europe with the United Kingdom included. However, if we take just the European mainland into account, last year we ended up as the market leader.

As 2019 is still underway, we are unable to give an exact number. We did however secure over 20% of orders placed for electric buses this year in Europe.

One problem in Poland is that electric buses need power and this power still largely comes from (dirty) coal. When do you think this will change?

First of all this is a question that should be addressed to policy makers. But as far we can see, all of the political parties in Poland, including the leading party, are aware of the need for decarbonization of different branches of industry, including the energy sector.

The pace at which this will be introduced is, however, very hard to estimate. As the country’s leading manufacturer of an ecological means of public transport, we strongly support any activities geared towards the transition to reusable sources of energy and making our energy sector more efficient and sustainable.

Poland is slowly saying goodbye to its reputation as the dirty man of Europe

This is the first part of a series about the measures that Poland is taking against environmental pollution and global warming. Tomorrow, part two will be devoted to the transition to electric buses in public transport.

The sight of the Belchatów brown coal power station is both forbidding and impressive. A huge hole several tens of meters deep and kilometers wide stretches out in front of the power station. The plant spits out thick clouds of smoke day and night. Everything in the hole is dead. Except for the gigantic trucks that are constantly driving back and forth between the quarry and the power station. The area around Belchatów is regularly shrouded in mist and the smell around the power station intensifies in winter thanks to the numerous households in the area that are still kept warm with old-fashioned multi-burners.

It should come as no surprise that the power station in Belchatów was regularly criticized at the climate summit in Katowice last year. Belchatów is the world’s largest brown coal power station. And it is the greatest, single emitter of carbon dioxide in the EU, with more than 38 million tonnes of CO2 per year. It is also one of the reasons why Poland is often called the dirty man of Europe.

The fact that Poland depends on coal and brown coal for almost 80% of its electricity is a thorn in the side of Brussels. Even worse, it is felt that Warsaw is also not prepared to abandon its dependence on coal. The furthest Poland has been willing to go so far, is to reduce its dependence on coal by roughly 50% by 2040. The government deems anything more than that to be too expensive. Poland therefore has declined to sign the EU protocol on the supply of CO2-neutral energy by 2050. Just as the Czech Republic, Estonia and Hungary are also refusing.

The Netherlands emits more CO2 than Poland

This intractable attitude towards Brussels could give the impression that nothing at all is happening in Poland with regard to improving the environment. But that is not true. In a series devoted to environmental and climate measures, Innovation Origins will show that Poland is even ahead of the rest of Europe in some respects.

Read also: Coal Curtain replaces the Iron Curtain

For a start, the figures reveal that we, as The Netherlands, ought to be cautious in our criticism. Because of its high energy consumption per capita, The Netherlands emits more CO2 than Poland does. In 2017, Poland accounted for 319 million tonnes and the Netherlands for 175 million tonnes. In per capita terms, that amounted to 8.4 tonnes of CO2 per Polish person and more than 10 tonnes for one Dutch person. So the situation in Poland is not that dire after all.

When multi-burners are used during winter, nitrogen oxide emissions rise in Polish villages and towns, particularly in the south. Photo Maurits Kuypers

Also, the right-wing populist government PiS party seems to be realizing that doing nothing about climate policy is no longer an option either. For example, the government recently announced that with Michal Kurtyka, a special minister for climate issues has been appointed. While the conservative pro-coal minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski has since vanished from the cabinet.

And last week, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in Parliament: “Conventional energy sources will remain important for our energy system for a long time to come, but the situation is changing. There was a time when we couldn’t afford to invest in renewable energy sources. But now we can’t afford not to invest in them.”

Societal change

But the most important thing is that Polish society is changing. Nature and environmental policies are becoming increasingly important. The most noticeable change over the last few years was the increase in the number of protests against the extremely high levels of fine particles (smog) during winter months.

Last year, the European Environment Agency (EEA) estimated that 44,000 people in Poland die prematurely from poor air quality every year. Living in Warsaw for a year would be equivalent to smoking 1000 cigarettes. No wonder that the purchase of air masks was one of the biggest sales successes last year.

The response to this criticism is still a little slow at government level. The scheme to replace old multi-burners in houses with new ones is going rather sluggishly. Even though on paper as much as €25 billion has been made available for it.

Smog cities take steps towards banning multi-burners

The situation is different in municipalities and towns. In Krakow (long known as smog city number 1) multi-burners that emit too many fine particles and nitrogen oxide were banned this year. Other cities are also taking steps in this direction. Most experts therefore expect that the problem with the old polluting multi-burners – by far the most important cause of fine particles – should be solved in the not too distant future.

Another reason for optimism about air quality is the rapid deployment of electric buses. According to Solaris Bus & Coach (a local manufacturer of buses and trams from Bolechowo, a suburb in Poznan), there are already 16 cities with battery-operated buses. This is a win-win situation for Poland, as most of the E-buses come from their home country. In addition to Solaris, electric buses are also being manufactured in Poland by Volvo, Scania, MAN and Rafako E-Bus.

The Solaris factory, Photo Maurits Kuypers

Companies for a cleaner environment

Companies aren’t just standing still either. Press agency Reuters reported this month that 20 major companies have signed up to the EU targets for CO2 neutrality by 2050. In defiance of the Warsaw government. Among them are the PKN Orlen refinery and PKO Bank Polski, both state-owned. The Polish subsidiary of the ING Bank has also signed. As have subsidiaries of the French company Orange (telecom) and the German company Innogy (chemistry).

“Of course, we will not achieve the goal of climate neutrality overnight. However, it is important that we take immediate action,” says the Charter of the 20 companies. Deputy Director of ING Bank Śląski Joanna Erdman told Reuters that signing this document is a very natural step for the bank. ING was also one of the first lenders who refused to continue financing new coal projects.

Erdman: “At the moment, the discussion in Poland revolves around whether we ought to endorse the CO2 targets. When it should actually be about how we want to achieve that.”

As I said, this message from companies is slowly but surely beginning to resonate with the government in Warsaw. For instance, after parliamentary elections in October, the energy plan for 2040 has been partially amended in favor of the environment. For one thing, according to the old plans, all onshore windmills were supposed to disappear. That’s because they were considered too unsightly. Now the aim is to keep capacity at about the same level.

Onshore windmills are not very popular in Poland. Photo Expresselblag/Pixabay

Gigawatts on the rise

Warsaw wants to make a decisive leap forward as far as solar energy is concerned. This year, the 1 gigawatt threshold will be exceeded for the first time. A further 15 gigawatts will be needed over the coming 20 years. The VAT on solar panels has been reduced. And an incentive fund of € 235 million has been set up for private individuals as well.

The government foresees slightly slower development when it comes to offshore wind energy. Poland prefers to wait until this technology becomes cheaper before investing heavily in it. Expectations are that this will happen after 2025.

Lastly, Prime Minister Morawiecki sees an important role for “clean” nuclear energy as an alternative to coal. Poland is one of the few countries in Eastern Europe that does not yet have a nuclear power station. That will nevertheless have to change by 2033. Warsaw states that nuclear reactors are an important alternative to coal-fired power stations. This is because they are ‘adaptable’. Which basically means that they can be cranked up at night when the wind isn’t blowing. Or in winter when there is hardly any sun. That will ensure that there is never a shortage of electricity.

Independence from Russia

There is something that plays a role in the background to all these plans for 2040. And that’s the desire to become independent of energy from arch enemy Russia as soon as possible. Alongside nuclear energy, the import of liquid natural gas (LNG) serves as an alternative to Russian coal and gas.

The electricity plan for 2020 and 2040 currently looks like this:

The electricity plan for 2020 and 204020202040
Brown coal8,6 gigawatt3,4 gigawatt
Coal15,6 gigawatt7,6 gigawatt
Gas and cogeneration2,4 gigawatt12,4 gigawatt
Onshore windmills9,5 gigawatt9,8 gigawatt
Offshore windmills08 gigawatt
Solar panels1,3 gigawatt16 gigawatt
Nuclear energy04 gigawatt

 

Start-up of the day: on-the-spot accurate and fast disease diagnosis

Polish start-up Genomtec is trying to introduce a compact and practical device to general practitioners (GPs). This will enable them to analyze samples on-the-spot. As well as help treat symptoms straightaway and stop a disease from spreading further.

The diagnosis requires no more than a reduced sample volume of biological material. Moreover, the examination does not need any samples to be prepared beforehand. Once the sample is placed on the test card, the device will automatically test the material and provide the results. These can then be sent directly to the patient’s medical records or to an email address.

This process is based on the amplification and detection of specific DNA and RNA fragments, i.e. standard procedure for molecular diagnostics. However, not just GPs will get to use it. Because research involving Genomtec’s technology is able to be carried out on both on humans and animals. Plus in the fields of agriculture, the food industry and environmental contamination control. This technology is easy to use so that family doctors, pediatricians, oncologists, veterinarians, scientists, and also regular consumers will be able to operate it. Nonetheless, the technology is still undergoing further development. Although it already has a number of implementation options in many areas of medicine,. These include liquid biopsy, immunological and biochemical tests.

Innovation Origins talked with Genomtec’s CEO and co-founder Miron Tokarski, here is what he had to say:

Miron Tokarski, CEO & Co-founder. ®Genomtec

What can you tell me about your technology?

As you know, there are several competitors on the market. Though almost all currently use the old-fashioned qPCR technology. This is very energy-inefficient and also needs plenty of effective cooling in order to be able to provide the results as soon as possible. So, from day one, we decided that we need to move from the qPCR technology to a more novel technology. As in an isothermal technology. This has a lower energy consumption, which means that the device can be made smaller in structure.

Consequently, that was when we first realized that we needed to move from qPCR to isothermal technology. Then our co-founder Henryk sent us a very good idea for heating the system and measuring the temperature. This is important as these technologies require that all samples are all treated in a certain way. Subsequently, he found that it might be interesting to use optical heating. It means that we are using very powerful LEDs. These heat the test cards so that they are at the right temperature without the use of any other heating systems or sensors, or without any other active elements besides the test cards. The heating elements and the control temperature elements are built into the hardware of the control device. That way, we are able to heat the sample and measure the temperature at the same time. This ensures the temperature level will not experience any interference. This was quite interesting, because energy consumption is kept to a minimum so we can maintain the exact same temperature level more efficiently.

At that time, we also started work on acids which makes it possible to detect virilization patterns. We are still focusing on developing an acid which has a very low risk of detection and that can aid diagnosis as fast as possible. We are now able to get the results within seven minutes after the process has started.

And, who can use the Genomtec technology? 

In general, this is intended for general practitioners (GPs). There is a high number of antibiotics being prescribed around the world. This is being done outside of  hospitals and GPs sometimes don’t have enough experience or the necessary equipment. Therefore, this is a quite affordable device that we want GPs to have. They are then able to start with the correct treatment straight after the first visit. This means that the disease won’t advance any further and in many cases the patients will no longer need to go to hospital.

®Genomtec

What has been the biggest obstacle during the creation of the start-up?

From my perspective this has to do with microbiology. The quality of the acid is very important because you need to have results that are constant. And also, we’ve stated that if you want to use equipment on site, you cannot use refrigerators to store the test cards. That means that you need to build equipment that is compatible for applications at room temperature. So, taking all those factors into account, building a state-of-the-art technology that will not affect the sample. However, it must be fast and specific enough at the same time. This has been our biggest challenge from the start. Back then, we thought this was our ultimate goal. But, of course, there were some tough moments when it came to developing this. Because at first, the acids were not acting in the way we wanted. It took over a year to finally develop the first acid that was extremely effective.

And the most rewarding moment?

This was right at the start when we eventually found a way to develop this acid. As we are taking a different approach from other people, this is particularly interesting. But, another very good time was at the beginning of this year when we received the Fast Track to Innovation grant. It is partially funded by the EU and the Polish government, it’s a grant of $2.5 million (€2.2 million). This is quite substantial for technological development. It was an endorsement that the experts saw potential for a real breakthrough solution.

What can we expect from Genomtec in the future?

Now we are moving into this production phase for the test cards. In the next few months we will finalize the so-called beta system, and of course then enter the clinical trial phase. Over 500 patient samples will be tested so that means we will be able to verify our parameters. This is what will happen over the next 12 months. And this falls in line with our idea of bringing the device onto the European market in 2021.

 

Start-up of the day: artificial intelligence for safer rehabilitative therapy

Structural intelligence in combination with sensors could be the future of telemedicine – this is how mission of the Aisens start-up can be summed up. What to do if you invented an innovative technology, but suddenly the market has changed and nobody wants your invention anymore? Adam, Jarosław and Piotr, the founders of the Polish start-up Aisens, have faced that kind of problem. All three of them studied automation and robotics together.

Later, their paths went their separate ways. Adam ran his own business. Jarosław and Piotr stayed at the university and invented new technologies. When they developed sensors for precise drone orientation in space, Adam joined them in order to help transform an invention into a business. However, when the market changed, the founders were left behind with interesting technology, but without any idea how to use it. Then Jarosław’s wife, who is a physiotherapist by profession, offered her help. The founders learned from her all about what problems physiotherapists have to face every day. It turned out that sensors, which were originally supposed to be for drones, is able to be successfully used in the treatment of patients. Subsequently Orthyo was created – a system that aids rehabilitation safely by remote.  Recently the device entered the market after more than one and a half years of work.

What exactly is Orthyo?

Adam Woźniak, CEO: “Orthyo is a set of sensors and an application that is used in physiotherapy and rehabilitative therapy. It has two features. First of all, it supports diagnostics. Currently physiotherapists, occupational therapists and orthopedists just use their eyes in order to assess the mobility of joints and range of motion. Or they use a goniometer, i.e. an adjustable protractor. Its level of accuracy depends on how precisely it is applied to the patient’s body. Orthyo specifies the measurements. After placing sensors on the patient’s elbow or knee joint, the specialist collects parameters about the mobility of the joints. This type of examination can be carried out during the first visit to the clinic, but it can also be done during subsequent visits in order to evaluate the effectiveness of a therapy.”

And the second feature?

We enable safe telerehabilitation. Patients nowadays often either don’t do their exercises at home at all, as they don’t remember them or are afraid that they will hurt themselves. Or they exercise incorrectly and actually worsen their condition. Thanks to our device it is possible to record a series of exercises for any given patient at the clinic. We somehow personalize the therapy this way. The patient puts on sensors at home and when they exercise they see their avatar (e.g. their virtual hand or leg) on the screen. They are then able to compare their movements to the model movement and correct themselves if necessary. After completing a series of exercises, they can send the results to the server for the therapist.

The best moments for the company have been …?

The very first one was when we received a grant of 180 thousand PLN for the development of the idea after just giving a PowerPoint presentation. The second time was when we got to go to the  Startupbootcamp Digital Health accelerator in Berlin. There were 3,000 entries from all over the world, and we made it into the top ten. That’s when we stopped having second thoughts. The third time was when we signed a deal with an investment fund. Then other people started to believe that we were capable of building much more.

The most difficult time for the company?

There are always difficult moments. Sometimes the financing from investors didn’t keep up with our plans. The certification process for the medical device was not easy either, but finally we managed to complete it.

What are your plans for the next year?

By the end of the year we want to validate our business model. We expect that we will be selling Orthyo Pro kits to clinics and from that patients will be renting Orthyo Home sensors for their homes. This year we would like to sell a few dozen or so sets to clinics in Poland and have a few hundred or so patient rentals. In the next 12 months we would also like to approach foreign markets. We are already holding talks on these matters with foreign partners.

What do you want to achieve in 5 years?

We want to be a fully-fledged, self-financing company that operates on several continents and has its branches in several countries around the world, and have a portfolio which includes more products based on artificial intelligence and sensors.

 

All of our articles on start-ups can be found here.

 

 

Start-up of the day: Forget Siri and Alexa. Now meet Edward, a portable AI sales assistant.

Edward is the “child” of Tomasz Wesołowski and Bartłomiej Rozkruta. Previously, they both ran their own software development business and produced software on commission. Then they noticed that clients did not want complicated programs and difficult interfaces. Ideally, they should simply be able to talk to a computer. That is why Tomasz and Bartek are working on a solution in their latest company: ” This AI works fast, is pleasant and easy to use, and underneath they have algorithms that automate some of the most common tasks”.

Who is Edward?

Tomasz Wesołowski, CEO and co-founder Edward AI: Edward is a portable smart sales assistant. This is a mobile phone application, which during the day tells the retailer what to do next and also does some of the typical things for them which no salesman likes to do. Such as filling in data, filing reports, making notes, keeping an eye on the contact with the client. For example, after a meeting with a client, Edward will ask for a memo to be dictated to it, then record it in text form and extract key information from it.

What’s the matter with Edward?

People have less and less time to use traditional computers, and retailers are particularly affected. They are constantly on the road, at meetings with clients. Plenty of things are going on around them, so they may easily forget about something. The last thing they want to do at the end of the day is to open up their computer and type in all the things that happened. That’s why we make life easier for them with Edward. Our assistant tells them what to do, some of the things it does for them. Therefore, at the end of the day, the retailer will automatically have more time for their customers and for themselves.

Edward_screeny_en

What are you better at than the competition?

We operate in a narrow market segment. Around the world, we have identified around 10 other smart sales assistants. What distinguishes us is that we are not dependent on one language. At this point, Edward “speaks” Polish and English, but we could easily have it be translated into other languages.

And furthermore, Edward is flexible. This is not a program that works the same way within every organization. Yet we can quickly personalize it depending on the specific requirements of any given company. For example, in some companies there is a requirement that after each conversation with a customer, the retailer should mark the categories of products they have discussed and make a note. Edward does that. In other companies, there may be no requirement to submit reports after each conversation, but salespeople may have to focus on meetings and fill in a special questionnaire during meetings. Then, for example, the questionnaire can be filled in by dictating it to Edward.

What are the biggest obstacles you are facing?

Educating the marketplace remains the biggest obstacle. Creating an innovative solution must also create a market for it. Therefore, our work with customers often consists of having to explain to the customer what artificial intelligence in sales means, what are its possibilities, what value it will bring for them, why they should be interested in it at all. It’s like working at the core of a client’s needs. For us, this is the biggest barrier, because before it gets to the point of sale, we have to work very hard on educating people.

When did you feel proud of your achievements?

The feedback that we receive from our customers tells us that what we do makes sense. From time to time, Edward asks its users how they like working with it. That is why we know that more and more customers see value in this product. We’re very happy about that.

What are your plans for this year?

First of all, we want to increase the number of customers. For the time being, we focus mainly on the Polish and Indian markets. Maybe we’ll go into Britain. We are talking to a prospective representative right at this moment.

There is a lot of interest in Edward, especially among large clients such as banks and insurance companies. We are here to serve them.

What is your goal in the next five years?

We want our platform to become the standard when it comes to retailer’s work. We want to have a strong presence in Poland, because it is our main market, and to be present in markets such as Australia, Great Britain and the United States.

 

 

Scientists find new method for bioplastic production using food waste

Plastic is everywhere, not just in our households. Plastic bags and bottles pollute the environment including the oceans. Just recently, a researcher discovered a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench at a depth of almost 11,000 meters. And tiny microplastic particles are in the air we breathe and the water we drink and in what we eat. According to the latest information, each of us – whether we like it or not – allegedly eats five grams of plastic every week. That’s the weight of a credit card. Recently, microplastic was even detected in the polar ice of the Arctic and Antarctic.

In the battle against plastic waste, scientists around the world have been searching for alternatives that are as light and resistant as conventional plastics, but biodegradable and eco-friendly. At the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences, researchers led by Prof. Juan Carlos Colmenares have now succeeded in producing Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) out of waste from food production.

“We would like to be able to replace PET with something that would take several months or at most several years to degrade,” explains Prof. Colmenares. “Today’s petroleum plastics contain phthalates and other plasticizers – such as ‘mixtures’ of organic and even inorganic compounds – which are not degraded by bacteria or fungi. This is why they remain in forests and seas for so long. Plastics based on DFFs contain sugar furans, and what comes from nature, is more readily accepted by nature.”

System for the selective photocatalytic upgrading of cellulosic biomass © IPC PAS, Grzegorz Krzyżewski

Colmenares and his colleagues have already carried out tests with such polymers. “They decompose into sugar-like monomers. And many microorganisms love sugar. Even if you dump a bottle of this material in the forest, it disintegrates after just a few years at the latest. This is much faster than conventional polymers,” he explains. However, it is not the product itself that is new, but rather the production method. Previously, the production of bioplastics requires high temperatures (approx. 100 to 150 degrees Celsius) and complicated technology. As a result, bioplastics were ecologically better but far more expensive than plastic made from crude oil.

Thanks to newly developed nanorods made from manganese dioxide (MnO2), that act as catalysts which accelerate partial oxidation within the process, the plastic can be produced at significantly lower temperatures and under normal pressure conditions. “These nano-catalysts are long and very, very, very thin, and their structure take on more light absorption,” says Colmenares. “Thanks to the unique thermo-photocatalytic properties of manganese dioxide, the manganese rods have a much larger contact surface with the initial material molecules and are able to activate them better, so that practically all of the HMF is converted to DFF. 100%!”

Therefore, an LED lamp in the UV range and oxygen from the air at room temperature are sufficient for the conversion from HMF to DFF. “This is a waste-free process without the need for oxygen and additives [e.g. hydrogen peroxide H2O2],” says the professor happily. “The nano catalysts can also be used several times because the DFF doesn’t destroy them.”

Colmenares dispels concerns that the plastic might decompose too quickly and could, for example, lead to people drinking the compounds of drinking bottles. “No. It practically takes several years to decompose, but even if this reaction were to be faster, the consumer would only drink a small amount of ‘harmless’ plastic. One that is safe for the body. It is simply broken down by our intestinal bacteria and their enzymes.”

More articles on plastic

How can Poland increase the number of women in science?

How can we increase the number of women in science? Don’t just create programs for women. These conclusions have been drawn from the experiences of the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP).

The FNP is one of the most important and prestigious organizations who finance scientific research in Poland. Its motto is “support the best so that they can become even better”.

When a researcher in Poland becomes an FNP laureate, they may hear the words “wow!” from their admiring colleagues. The FNP runs programs for researchers during various stages of their careers and has been supporting women scientists for nearly ten years. Justyna Motrenko, who was responsible for providing support for pregnant women scientists in previous years and is now the head of the panel for awards and scholarships, tells us how the approach to women’s issues has been evolving.

Professor in physical chemistry Robert Holyst

Why does the Foundation for Polish Science support women scientists?

Justyna Motrenko, FNP: Because women are dropping out of science. In Poland we have a comparable number of doctoral students – both women and men. Typically, however, men continue on with their scientific careers after they have defended their doctorate. Whereas women more often tend to abandon theirs. Or their professional development slows down in contrast to their male peers. This happens typically at around the age of 30, i.e. when people decide to start a family and children start arriving. This affects the careers of women more than it affects men. As a foundation, we strive to make sure that science in Poland is the best that it can be. Consequently, we take steps to ensure that when people leave science, that this is not due to non-substantive reasons and that women, who are great scientists, do not have to quit their science jobs.

Since when has the foundation had these schemes for women?

We started 10 years ago, when the ‘Pomoście’( Bridge) scheme was launched. Although I would like to point out that from the very beginning these are not exclusively schemes for women.

There were two factors to the ‘Bridge scheme’. The first one consisted of programs for women – for scientists who were pregnant and whose scientific work involved hazardous conditions. Women were offered ways to hire stand-ins for dangerous technical work, and they were free to continue their analytical or conceptual work. It seemed to us that by doing so, they would not be held back in their scientific work.

The second factor was the so-called ‘return schemes’ for parents, women and men who want to rejoin the workforce and return to their scientific work after a break due to pregnancy or child raising.

Magdalena Niemira, researcher Medical University of Bialystok Białystok

Did it pan out that way? Was there any interest in such support? The “Bridge” is no longer being implemented.

Actually, interest was huge. We had over 700 return scheme applications during 8 recruitment drives conducted over 4 years. Over 100 women and 1 man benefited from these. 63 women received support during their pregnancies. As it turned out, the schemes for pregnant women did not fully translate into scientific work, because maternity and parental leave then followed.

On the other hand, as far as the return scheme was concerned, the format turned out to be too restrictive. That is why we have extended the conditions and now we are running the ‘return’ scheme for young doctors who want to get back to research work after a break which was perhaps related to parenthood or to employment outside of school.

It is more the case that our programs are evolving. We have seen that situations in the different fields of science are wide-ranging. Personal situations of scientists are diverse, and the reason for the break is not particularly important. The important thing is that the scientist wants to return to their scientific work after their break.

That said, science is very meritocratic. What matters are measurable achievements. There is a danger that the special scheme for young mothers will be considered less competitive than the other general grant programs. Therefore, we are moving towards taking into account the needs of women and young parents in our other programs. We would like this to be a universal principle. For example, in the ‘Start’ scholarship program for young scientists, we have announced an increase in the age limit up to the age of 30 for those candidates who have taken maternity or parental leave.

Schemes that allow people to return to work after maternity leave are just one aspect. The second is the creation of tools that support women’s careers in science. Including assistance for those who govern universities and who strive for equal representation of women and men in managerial positions yet who have problems finding candidates with suitable competencies.

Dr Katarzyna Matczyszyn, Associate Professor, Advanced Materials Engineering and Modelling Group, Faculty of Chemistry, Wroclaw University of Science and Technology,

Where should we look for them?

On Academia-net.org, for instance. This is a database only for women scientists. It distinguishes itself by the fact that it is impossible to subscribe to it by yourself. You have to be nominated by one of the grant institutions operating across Europe.

We are a partner of the portal. We nominate women, including the successful applicants of our programs, and we use the portal to look for assessors and experts, among others.

What are the Foundation’s conclusions after 10 years of supporting female scientists?

I see two important factors. Firstly, that we need help for young parents – scientists – and support for childcare. Secondly, it is important that the work climate should be favorable to those who return to scientific work. That breaks should not be considered odd, and that the scientist should be able to return and have time for a recap and a run-through. I know that it is difficult to influence something such as the work climate, but the more people talk about this, the better. People who have experience outside of science are valuable because they bring new perspectives and ideas. Perhaps then gender equality in science will finally be discernable at the next career stage in the statistics.

Wireless digital stethoscopes for parents of flu-stricken babies on the market this year

This year, the Polish start-up StethoMe is launching a wireless, digital stethoscope that consumers can use at home in order to listen to their lungs and heart. The company has been sponsored with 1.5 million euros from European innovation funding.

The major advantage that this wireless home stethoscope has, is that it digitally registers a patient’s heart or lung sounds – and that this produces a much more accurate result than one that a physician is able to physically perceive themselves. Until now, doctors have had to use the classic stethoscope in their own ears in order to assess whether there it is pneumonia, for example, or just a bit of harmless sniveling.

Incorrect diagnoses

Things can go wrong sometimes. According to the Polish inventors, doctors’ diagnoses vary based on the old, tried and trusted method. It also appears that a large proportion of these diagnoses are not accurate. Research has shown that doctors make a lot of mistakes, especially when diagnosing small children. This drove the founders of StethoMe, (who are not doctors themselves but parents of young children who were confronted with this problem just like other parents are), to come up with a more accurate diagnostic tool. As soon as the wireless, digital stethoscope is launched on the market, they will have succeeded in doing so.

No need to waste anymore time at the First Aid Clinic

Another big advantage of the StethoMe is that consumers themselves are able to use the digital stethoscope at home, which means that they do not have to go to the hospital. This will likely be a huge relief, especially to parents of babies and toddlers who often suffer from major and minor colds that can sometimes lead to respiratory problems or pneumonia. That means that they no longer have to go to the first aid clinic with their offspring every once in a while, but will be able to take a first reading at home and send it on to a doctor. For hospitals, the introduction of the home stethoscope means fewer nonessential patient visits and therefore fewer unnecessarily crowded waiting rooms. To give an indication: according to information from StethoMe, about 70 percent of parents in the US go to hospital with a child who has a cold, when afterwards it turned out that these visits were not warranted.

Graphic: StethoMe

StethoMe’s home stethoscope looks like a curved disc that you can place on your child’s chest or back. It then records the sounds of the heart and lungs. The device uses software to transfer the data generated by the recorded sounds to an app which can be installed on a mobile phone and which guides the home stethoscope user through the recording process.

Algorithm analyzes lung and heart sounds

Doctors who are planning to use the application will be able to receive the data readings immediately and, using an algorithm, will be able to see on their computer whether a patient is at risk or whether they are responding well to a medicine that they have prescribed.

StethoMe StethoMe has already won several awards for this innovation, which has recently been granted European certification and for which a patent has been applied for.

Also of interest: Start-up of the Day: device checks the health of a fetus anytime, anywhere.

Start-up of the day: intelligent lighting for greenhouses

Greenhouse owners get double the benefit if they use our lighting systems. Firstly, they pay less for electricity. Secondly, they get higher yields. This is according to the founders of the Plantalux start-up.

Plantalux is a family start-up. Originally, father (Jacek Lachowski) and two sons (Jakub and Rafał) had been working with LED lamps. By chance, they found out about a competition for crop lighting that was set up by one of the agricultural institutes. They built a lamp in their grandfather’s garage and sent it to the institute. After six months, they heard the news: they had won first place. Under their lamps, the plants grew the most, and energy consumption was the lowest as well. The family followed up on that win and founded Plantalux. Today, this Polish start-up lights up greenhouses across hundreds of hectares in Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Macedonia, Israel and Canada.

Jakub Lachowski, CEO and co-founder of Plantalux

What is your product?

Jakub Lachowski, CEO and co-founder: Plantalux is an intelligent lighting control system for greenhouses which uses LED lamps from our production line. These lamps emit the exact amount of lighting required for each crop. The thing is, each plant has its own particular characteristics. If we provide it with light just from within the spectrum it needs, we can maximize its growth with minimal energy consumption. Take tomatoes and herbs, for example. Tomatoes are plants that climb upwards. For this type of plant, we use infrared lamps with a very low ratio of blue to red. We also simulate sunrises and sunsets. We get the plants to grow at a lower height and get more tomatoes and less green matter this way. In turn, when growing herbs, we provide a brighter light with a greater proportion of blue. Then we achieve faster growth and more green matter, because this is what breeders want.

What kind of problem do you solve?

We make more money for our clients. High pressure sodium lamps (HPS) are typically used in greenhouses. Their main disadvantage is that they consume a lot of energy. On average, 1000 watts are installed per hectare of greenhouse, and the annual cost of lighting such a 1-hectare greenhouse is about 2.5 million PLN (about 600 000 euros). We are cutting costs by up to three times with our LED lamps! There is also the advantage that with LED lighting, we are able to accelerate photosynthesis and production. Not only do we reduce the bill, but we also increase the yield.

How does your product differ from the competition?

Most manufacturers work with Osram or Philips LEDs. We have our own diodes, and our lamps have a longer life. We have also introduced a consultation service, i.e. we talk about how to grow plants with our lamps. A plant is a living organism and even a positive change can turn out to be either good or bad. In addition to the new light source, you also need to know what temperature amplitude to set, how much CO2 to release, how to fertilize, what humidity should be used, how to ventilate.
The cherry on the cake is our latest lamp. It can be used independently for different crops, because its structure has different spectrums, which can be controlled in real time by the app.

What were the most difficult moments?

The beginning. We made the first lamp. We had confirmation from the university that it was working. We approached our first client with it, and she said: “I don’t believe in university. Which colleague of mine uses your product?”
We told her that it’s not on the market yet. “Oh, yeah. Well, come by if anyone I know uses it.” It’s the same with the other clients. And so, we bounded from door to door and everyone asked us the same thing: “Which friend of mine uses it?” Nobody wanted to be the first to buy it. It took us about six months, I guess. Finally, we showed up at the expo and we managed to win our first client; only then did we start making sales.

Which achievement are you particularly proud of?

Some time ago we came up with the idea of moving towards developing a lighting control software application. We launched this type of lamp with an app on the market. We traveled with it around the world for half a year. Then it turned out that one of the world’s leading companies also introduced a control system. I was really proud that a small company from Poland invented this product, and that top manufacturers are also going in this direction.

What are your plans for the coming year?

In July we are opening a company in the USA and expanding our presence in Canada – we have signed two contracts with distributors. We also want to have a stronger position within the Dutch market, and we are considering more countries in Europe.

This year we are also building our own experimental greenhouse. Now we’re going to go in three directions: not only are we going to produce equipment and make our own apps, but we’re also going to test them. Due to the fact that we are small, we can pivot relatively quickly and improve hardware, something which is very difficult for large corporations to do.

What do you want to achieve in the next 5 years?

In 5 years, we want to be highly visible on the Canadian and American markets, because these markets are rapidly developing in terms of new technologies in agriculture. In Europe, on the other hand, we want to be seen as experts in the field of lighting.

Founders: Jakub Lachowski, Rafał Lachowski
● year founded: July 2016
● financial info: The start-up was set up with the support of EU grants. Two investment funds have invested in the company. Additionally, external investors have invested in the company.

How many employees? And are they hiring?
15 permanent employees. About 30 people work in the production season. They are looking for people for R&D and sales.
Ultimate goal in a few words:
To be a strong presence in the lighting market in Europe and North America.

Need some inspiration? All our Start-ups of the Day can be found here

Innogy Doubles Number of Electric Cars in Poland

Granted: Poland is not exactly known as a green EU country. But thanks to the German energy giant Innogy this could soon change. The RWE subsidiary is launching a project with 500 BMW i3 in Warsaw in April. At the same time, Innogy is doubling the number of charging stations in the Polish capital from 30 to 60. In addition, the company promises to add several hundred more in the next two years, in cooperation with a Polish bank and the Warsaw City Council.

“As a pioneer in electromobility, Innogy is also driving this topic forward internationally”, said board member Martin Herrmann in a press release, adding: “…With this trend-setting project, we are making environmentally friendly electromobility a tangible experience for all.” According to an Innogy spokesperson, the project will initially only be implemented in Warsaw: “In other Central European countries we have no plans of this magnitude for the time being. But what we are doing – for example, to companies in the Czech Republic – is offering concepts for electric cars.”

Norway at the Top

For Poland, the Innogy project represents an enormous advance in electric mobility. At the end of 2018, the country was lagging far behind the European environment with only 625 licensed electric cars. Although the 500 BMW i3s will almost double this figure in one fell swoop, Poland is still at the bottom end of the scale when it comes to electric mobility in Europe. In 2018, for example, there were more than 36,000 electric cars in circulation in Germany, 24,000 in the Netherlands and more than 46,000 in Norway.

10 Percent of Car Sharing Cars in Germany are Electrically Powered

The example of Germany shows that e-mobility can be boosted by car sharing. After all, around 10 percent of the more than 20,000 German community cars are powered by electric motors as hybrids or completely electrically. The German Carsharing Associationexplains this high percentage with the fact that the 2.46 million carsharing customers are more eager to experiment than the typical car owner in Germany.

In the Netherlands, the share of electric cars in car sharing is somewhat lower. According to the latest figures from the organization CROW-KpVV, there were 41,000 community cars at the beginning of 2018, of which 6.4 percent were half powered as plug-ins or all-electric.

Charging station at Aldi with Innogy technology © Innogy

Innogy at the Forefront of Infrastructure

Innogy is only a small player in Germany when it comes to e-vehicles. With a total of 20 cars, the Essen-based group is far away from the market leaders Daimler and BMW – which operate 20,000 vehicles worldwide with their merger combination Car2Go and Drive Now. But Innogy is the market leader in the German infrastructure with 7500 charging stations, of which about 3500 are private and about 4000 public.

The limited number of public charging stations in Germany is often seen as an obstacle to the breakthrough of the electric car. At the end of last year, the entire country had a total of 16,100 charging stations. It is expected that this number will increase rapidly in the coming years due to various new initiatives.

For example, the supermarket chains Lidl and Aldi are setting up their own charging infrastructure in Germany. In addition, people are eagerly awaiting what Volkswagen will do with its specially founded subsidiary Elli. There are also major plans from global companies such as Shell – with its subsidiary New Motion – and Charge Point. The latter is a start-up supported by large German companies such as Siemens, Daimler and BMW.

According to the National Platform for Electric Mobility (NPE), these initiatives are urgently needed. The consultancy assumes that by 2022, Germany will exceed the one million mark for electric cars. Since one charging station is needed for every ten cars, this means that there should be about 100,000 charging stations in three years.

Helping Organizations Evolve with People Analytics Innovation

A company founded by two Polish scientists from Wrocław is disrupting the way organisations work. The story of Network Perspective shows how individual researchers can lead management innovations, successfully competing with large companies, and how at times innovation needs time to get market traction. Network Perspective required almost ten years to turn academic research on networks to a practical solution for companies to become leaner, stimulate cooperation, and find hidden talents.

Reinventing organisational chart

“Our goal was to reinvent the organisational chart. Everyone knows it – the tree chart that represents the corporate structure, the hierarchy, dependencies as well as workflow. For me, it’s incredible how such a limited tool could still be so useful. That was our starting point – if we found a way to present actual data about how people and teams collaborate within an organisation, it could transform management”, says Anita Zbieg, CEO of Network Perspective (aka Mapaorganizacji.pl) and a PhD graduate from Wrocław University of Economics.

Brokers are one of the most important people in an organization. They connect different groups dismantling corporate siloses. ©Network Perspective

More than ten years ago Anita was researching her thesis on organisational network analysis (ONA) as a method of evolution for organisational structures. Together with software engineer Blazej Zak and a PhD graduate from Wrocław University of Science and Technology, they started to work on the software that would be able to visualise interactions among organisation members with network graphs.

The early solution they came up with was straightforward but already very useful for the first Polish corporation that was open enough to test it – a copper mining giant KGHM. “Using our software we mapped cooperation flow. Just by doing this we helped the partner company to identify key people and barriers of cooperation within the complex organisation with mines in three different continents. It was an eye-opening moment for us,” says Anita Zbieg.

Helping become or stay lean

Since then Network Perspective has evolved to a universal tool that can be used by both corporations and startups. The first need it in their effort to become agile. The latter on the other hand have to face a different challenge – how not to lose the agility when scaling up and at the same time not to fall into complete chaos.

Network Perspective has been one of the first ONA software-as-a-service. However, the scientists decided to develop their project organically – bootstrapping forever. “For us, the research and commercial projects are not only about business and career but also about lifestyle. We believe we can stay innovative, competitive and scale up globally maximising our productivity, which is a separate challenge on its own,” says Anita Zbieg. “Our strategy focuses on close and long-lasting cooperation with the clients such as mBank, Burda Media or Samsung.”

Visualizing the real cooperation

An example of an organizational network chart. ©Network Perspective

The Network Perspective platform has evolved from being just an auxiliary tool for management consultants to stand-alone SaaS that gathers real-time behavioural interaction data about emails and meetings through MS Office 365 and G-Suite integrations and shows the real organisational structure. “We are very concerned about the user privacy. Our integrations don’t read the e-mails analyses the metadata – when and to whom the message was sent,” underlines Anita Zbieg.

Visualising this data in a network graph helps anyone immediately spot the crucial organisational roles – central connectors (who coordinate the work of teams), brokers who (bridge the groups) and peripherals (lone specialists that are at high risk of leaving the organisation).

“This is just a beginning, and we use the data for further studies on wasting collaboration potential, models for suggesting the best connections in networks or predicting the future flaws in the structure – such as a key specialist leaving the organisation”.

Network Perspective has already accessed big corporate clients from different industries and although being developed by a small team competes with well-funded companies – Humanyze, TrustSphere, Workylitics or Syndio.

Sharp rise in patent applications from Central Europe

Last year companies and innovators from Central Europe filled more patent applications at the European Patent Office than in the previous years. Poland became a regional leader. The country posts its strongest growth in patent applications in four years.

Last year the European Patent Office (EPO), received 946 patent applications from Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, according to the EPO Annual Report 2018. This is a growth by 20% compared with previous year and well above the average growth rate of the 38 EPO member states (+3.8%).

Also read: innovation is moving East

Also read: Siemens passes Huawei as most innovative

More applications from Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia

Patent applications filed by Czech inventors grew by 17,5 %. In 2017 the EPO received 242 applications from Czech Republic. A year earlier it was 206 applications. Overall, transport and organic fine chemistry are the technical fields in which the most patent applications are filed at the EPO, followed by pharmaceuticals and civil engineering. Among central European countries Czech Republic has the highest ratio of applications to population (22,6 applications per 1 million inhabitants)

Companies, scientists and innovators from Hungary submitted 120 patent applications. Top three fields were: medical technology, organic fine chemistry and biotechnology. In 2017 the EPO received 95 applications from Hungary, what gives growth of 26,3%. Number of patent applications from Slovakia increased by 22 %. The Slovaks filled 50 patent applications in 2018 and 41 applications year before.

Poland: regional leader in number of patent applications

2018 was a very good year for Poland. Patent applications filed by Polish inventors, companies and research institutions grew by 19.7% in 2018, one of the highest growth rates among European countries. It is the second consecutive year of strong and above-average growth, following a decline of 30.6% in 2016.

“In terms of patents, 2018 was another very positive year for Poland. With strong growth for two years in a row, we now see a positive upward trend that is based on double-digit growth in a dozen different key technology fields. This is a very good message, as industries with high use of intellectual property rights, including patents, strongly contribute to the economy in terms of employment, growth and trade. The contribution of academic institutions to Poland’s patenting activities is a particular strong point.” said EPO President António Campinos.

Polish key technologies: thermal processes and transport

The fields of ‘thermal processes’ and transport (where many patents in the automotive sector are filed) were the technology sectors in which the most European patent applications were filed from Poland (39 each), and each accounted for 7% of all Polish applications at the EPO in 2018. Strong growth was recorded in computer technology, ‘materials, metallurgy’, mechanical elements, civil engineering, and pharmaceuticals. Of the 15 most important technology fields in Poland, twelve showed double-digit growth.

High demand for patent protection across Europe

Demand for patent protection continues to grow. The number of patent applications filed with the EPO grew by 4.6% last year, reaching a new high of 174 317. 47% of all patent applications at the EPO originating from the 38 EPO member states. Asian companies also held their ground, with the combined share of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea rising moderately to 22.6%. The US remained the top country of origin, accounting for 25% of total filings, followed by Germany, Japan, France and China.

European countries exhibited an overall positive trend. With the exception of France and Finland, all of the EPO’s top 20 countries of origin posted growth in 2018.

source: EPO

The text was first published at www.innovatecee.com

Zylia: the recording studio in a microphone

Professional music recording is like a relationship status on Facebook: it’s complicated. A Polish start-up has invented Zylia, a device, that reduces this multistage process to just two clicks.

For amateurs, Zylia looks like a tiny soccer ball with a bright stripe. “Another funny gadget”- one might think. However, for the individuals connected to the music industry, such as musicians, sound engineers or even recording studios, Zylia is a game changer. This incredible ball is the world’s first portable recording studio and it can transform the professional way of recording music.

“Musicians always have problem when recording music. It’s not a matter of finance or apparatus, but of time and knowledge. There are always problems occurring on how to set up multiple microphones and how to mix sounds “- explains Tomasz Żernicki, Zylia co-founder and chief technology officer.

Żernicki is an audio expert: he received his PhD in digital audio processing, contributed to audio compression standards and – like almost all his colleagues – he is amateur musician.

“Musicians prefer not to focus on recording music too much. We want to dedicate ourselves to creating music. We thought it would be an amazing idea to have one simple device that records music, mixes music it and does all the technical stuff” – he states.

Just two clicks 

It seems that Zylia has turned out to be the device the founders longed to have. Let’s say there is a piano quartet: piano, violin, viola and cello. The musicians just simply place themselves around Zylia. Every instrument should briefly be recorded separately so the device knows where they are positioned. Then, the whole quartet can participate. One click, the device starts recording. Second click and Zylia stops.

After, the device automatically prepares the final recording and the user receives a complete stereo track. “The recordings sound amazing, as it also takes into account the positioning of the people in the room, so someone being positioned closer/further from the microphone is not an issue”- adds Żernicki.

But if the ensemble prefers to mix tracks manually, this is also an option. The musicians can decide what they want to be heard on the final recording: all instruments or only viola part? Perhaps they would like to quieten the piano slightly and move a cello to the back to hear the violin more prominently. Perhaps they believe it’s a good idea to mix together cello and piano? Or instruments aside, want to catch a little more reverberation of the room? The users might even delete selected instruments from the recording. This could be a useful opportunity when a cello e.g. plays out of tune or if the pianist wants to make “an instrumental karaoke”.

How it operates

Zylia is a microphone and software in one. To be precise, it is a set of 19 microphones in spherical enclosure that records 360-degree sound, whereas the software part (Zylia studio) is accountable for the sound processing.

“We represent sound in a unique way, since the sphere surrounding Zylia can be divided into tiny segments. Therefore, as a user, you have the option to decide what it is what you would like to hear, the whole sphere or fragments of it” – explains Żernicki.

After recording, users receive several tracks. When recording musical instruments, they will receive recordings of each individual instrument.

“Then, the system equalises the volume based upon the tracks’ sound level. For this process, sound engineering and mixing techniques are being used. Zylia’s CTO explains there are many possibilities: “For example the option to have the vocal recording in the middle and the guitars all on one side.”

“No, you can’t”

Zylia started out as a research project. Six years ago, the founders received a grant to develop a system for virtual sound stage reconstruction using wireless sensor networks. Eventually, the developed system turned out to be too complicated to commercialise, but this is how they came up with the idea to combine all the technology into one device. Back then, this was a dream. The Zylia founders have repeatedly heard it could not be done.

Fortunately for the company, there were a few people who believed in the project. These were mentors from German and Danish acceleration programmes (EuropeanPioneer run by Etventure and Next Step Challenge run by Nupark Denmark) who helped transform their scientific project into a commercial business model. It took them almost three years before the final product was released. The company produced 10 functional prototypes and tested them with more than one hundred music professionals, all over the world. At the end of 2018 Zylia emerged on the market.

There are three significant groups purchasing Zylia. Firstly, musicians of various styles, but many of them performing folk music and bluegrass. Secondly, people who prepare audio records for movies, games, videos etc. The third group consists out of people who work with the ambisonics method. Ambisonics is a full-sphere surround sound format invented in the 1970s, and has made a comeback in Virtual Reality and 360° movies.

Audience closer to artists

Zylia was created to keep the musicians’ energy alive. Now, its founders want to go a step further and bring artists and audiences closer together.

“Imagine that while being seated in your room, you have the ability to experience a concert of your choosing. That you can even choose to be positioned among the crowd or on stage, hearing the musicians’ interaction. Now our aim is to create this technology, that will record live concerts from several positions, so it can be enjoyed by the audiences” – says Żernicki.

Sounds impossible? Well, they said Zylia could not be done, and look at it now.

 

Sea Data helps preventing coal dust

YetiBox sensor in Port of Gdynia (photo with box and view at the harbour)

When a ship loaded with coal enters a harbour, soon the entire area might be covered with coal dust. A start-up from Gdynia, Poland, has an idea how to prevent that.

Last year’s summer was rather hard for citizens of Gdynia, a port city in Northern Poland. For many days, clouds of black dust hung over the city centre; dust was covering streets, settling on cars, rushing into flats through tilted open windows. This black dust came from coal stored in a harbor nearby. Townspeople were furious, local media covered the issue broadly, Gdynia authorities set controls on the port and the port authorities had to justify themselves profusely that they did all they could to restrict the amount of dust given off.

Air pollution in harbors

The problem with dust that Gdynia had this summer is not unique. It happens in harbors with bulk terminals where dry commodities such as coal, coke, ore but also grains, feedstuff or biomass are kept. The problematic part isn’t even storage but the moment of reloading. When items are poured from a ship into a wharf their particles rise up to the open air and under unfavorable weather conditions, they are carried across the entire area.

To solve the problem, Gdynia’s port authorities turn to the start-up Sea Data. This new Gdynia-based company has developed a system to analyse and predict air pollution in harbors.

“On the current market, there are mainly separate monitor and analytical measurement systems. We wanted to create a complete solution that can do both. Our platform can not only monitor air status but it also analyses the situation and Artificial Intelligence algorithms based on the weather forecast can predict air pollution at a selected day and time”,  explains Piotr Siedlecki, co-founder of the start-up.

Measure, analyse, predict

YetiBox sensor in Port of Gdańsk.
YetiBox sensor in Port of Gdańsk.

The system consists of two parts: a custom made sensor box (yetibox) and software in the form of an analytical platform (yetiSense). A set of sensors installed in the port and a nearby area can register the level of suspended particles PM10 and PM2.5. Data from the sensors are sent to the analytical platform every 10 minutes 7 days a week. This gives a picture of the current air quality. Data is presented on maps and interactive diagrams. If permitted levels of pollution are exceeded, the system detects the source of pollution and sends alerts to the port authorities. But the invention can do more than that. The platform also collects other data such as current weather conditions, weather forecast and data from sensors belonging to other institutions, for example to environmental agencies. The algorithm based on machine learning analyses all information and estimates the risk of polluting air at a selected time.

Briefly speaking, Sea Data’s invention gives harbors insight into the worst and the best time to reload dry commodities.

“Let’s say that a dispatcher in the harbor knows what day the ship arrives and wants to plan reloading on a particular day. But if our algorithm shows that on that selected time the risk of air polluting will be high, the dispatcher knows he needs to reschedule reloading. This way he can avoid the situation of dust being carried to the city “, explains Piotr Siedlecki.

What to measure

At the beginning, the start-up wanted to develop both the hardware, the sensor box, and the software part. However, recently they stopped working on hardware and concentrated only on the analytical platform. Why? The reason is simple: money. To develop hardware to a stage that it can be sold on the market requires lots of money, much more than a new start-up has. The Polish law doesn’t oblige industrial companies to monitor air quality, therefore investors in Poland are not interested in supporting work on sensors.
The start-up founders emphasize the fact that they wish to get back to the hardware part in the future and now an advantage of their solution is a fact, it’s not restricted to one type of sensors and one type of pollution. “We are able to integrate our platform with a whole range of measuring instruments available on the market and then we can measure any substance, for example Sulfur dioxide, Nitrogen dioxide or toxic gases. It only depends on what clients want to measure”,  says Piotr Siedlecki.
The Sea Data’s solution is currently installed in Gdynia and Gdańsk, two out of the three largest harbors in Poland and the company is in conversation with other harbors, including foreign ones.

Locky: forget about forgetting to lock the door

WARSAW, 1st December 2018 – “Did I lock the door this morning?” Have you ever asked yourself this question? Or maybe you’re always asking other key questions like, “where did I put my key?” or “did I leave my keys in the door?” A device invented by the Polish start-up Locky will let you forget about these questions.

The company has created Locky, a smart home security system. “We make a smart key,” says Dariusz Lipka, CEO and co-founder of Locky.

SENSORS AND ALGORITHM

In fact the device is a special key overlay connected to a mobile app via Bluetooth. There is no need to change or modify the door or the lock, or to change your daily routine. You just place the key you use in the overlay, install the app, and the device is ready to go.

How? The system’s heart is a set of sensors hidden in the overlay and a special algorithm. “The sensors collect data regarding key rotation and movement in the lock. The algorithm analyses the data and determines whether the lock was closed or opened. Then the information is sent to the app,” explains Dariusz Lipka.

If you forget to close the door or take the key out of the lock, the app will warn you. It also helps to find lost keys and sends a notification any time someone enters the house.

USER NEEDS

Locky is in the middle between a smart lock and a key tracker, which are currently available on the market. A key tracker, usually based on GPS data, can only locate lost keys. Smart locks are much more developed. These are digital locks which can be opened and closed remotely by electronic devices. They give the owner control over who can enter the house and they can send alerts regarding security. Thus they offer more features than Locky does, but as the start-up’s CEO stresses, smart locks are not their direct competitors.

“Smart lock users and our users have different needs. We don’t want to replace the smart locks. We want to be an alternative to them,” says Lipka.

As he stresses, a smart lock is the best solution for people who need remote control over their property. Locky, however, is for those who are afraid of being hacked, for example, or simply don’t want to digitalise their locks.

UNIVERSAL OVERLAY

Work on the device took over a year. The most difficult part was not the sensors or the algorithm but the mechanics. “We didn’t want to create a product designed for one market or one type of key. We wanted to make a product with mass applications, that would fit all markets and all key types,” says Lipka.

They almost pulled it off: the Locky overlay is compatible with 90% of keys available on the market. As it has a universal docking system, things such as key bow (the part turned by the fingers) size or where the hole is placed are not important. There are only three limits. The  key can’t be thicker than 3 millimetres, longer than 77 millimetres and the bow of the key can’t be wider than 30 millimetres.

THE WAY TO THE MARKET

In recent months the start-up has exhibited its device at international construction fairs, including those in Bologna and Dubai. The CEO reports that there was substantial interest, mostly from construction companies and door producers from Western Europe and Asia.

Now the company is about to start mass production. To finance it they ran a crowdfunding campaign at Kickstarter. Within 2 hours they had raised all the funds they needed. Still, however, they are looking for an investor to act on a larger scale. The plan is to have Locky on the market in March 2019.

How did Locky’s story begin? One morning one of the co-founders was late for work because he had to turn around through heavy traffic to rush back home. All of this because on his way to work he asked himself one question: “did I lock the door this morning?”

 

 

Polish innovation (2): top-down approach seems fruitful

Start-up Bioseco produces a system that protects birds from colliding with windturbines and airplanes at airports
The apple of the Polish government’s eye are start-ups. With a 700-million euro programme Start In Poland the authority has ambitions to make Poland a start-up hub for Central Europe. This is the second of two articles about the innovation climate in Poland.

WARSAW, 18 november 2018 – “The 4th industrial revolution cannot take place without politicians” – said Jarosław Gowin, the deputy PM and the Minister of Science and Higher Education introducing in 2016 a 3-billion PLN (around 700-million euro) Start It Poland Programme. The Polish authorities’ intentions are clear. They want to use all tools they have to make Poland a main hub for start-ups in Central Europe and to help commercialise innovations developed in young Polish companies. A crop of initiatives were created for start-ups, both Polish and foreigners willing to relocate their business activity to Poland. These initiatives include accelerators, money for venture capital funds, and changes in laws to benefit new companies, just to mention a few.

The most important, however, was to have state-owned companies, which still play a significant role in Polish economy, cooperate with new companies. One of the biggest problems for innovators in Poland is the lack of an initial client. The Law and Justice (PiS) government decided that the State Treasury must invest in innovation created by start-ups. All of a sudden large enterprises, even those without any history of cooperation with external innovators, set up corporate venture capital funds and hired technology scouts, or just simply joined accelerator programmes and started implementing innovations.

Huge demand

For example, 66 companies from various sectors that took part in the recently finalised ScaleUp 66 accelerator programme implemented around 150 innovations developed in the accelerators. “It turned out that there is a huge demand for solutions from start-ups and in the course of the programme corporations and young companies learnt how to cooperate and establish relations. It is also a huge success of the programme” – explains the press office of the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology.

However, there is a darker side to state control. Both people in start-ups and in companies admit off the record that making innovations in such a way is sometimes like painting the grass green. As the ministry demands state-owned companies to invest in start-ups, a company will find a start-up and sign a non-binding agreement with it, but not being sincerely interested in implementing new technology. “We are only necessary for companies for PR events”, complain founders. The staff carousel in the highly politicized State Treasury firms is of no help either. Frequent changes at the positions of directors (in some companies, directors have changed several times over the past three years) cause decision deadlock.

A change in mentality

Despite the changes in the Polish innovative ecosystem, they have not been seen on the innovation scoreboards, not yet. ¨To see tangible effects we need to wait a couple of years”,  says Krzysztof Klincewicz, professor at the Warsaw University. “But it seems that during the past few years there have been serious changes in the mentality of the business sector. Even the lowest tech company makes it a matter of honour to speak about innovation. Many companies are starting to cooperate with start-ups, and many people are being hired for the R&D positions. High-level mechanism processes have started, which are gradually copied at lower levels. This is a thing that the PiS government has managed to do.”

What has happened to the Just Drive app mentioned in the first part of the series? Well, it failed. In fact, after one day the app was closed down. Both companies accused the other of breaking business agreements. Nevertheless, both firms are performing rather well. Orlen launched its own app, very similar to Just Drive. And the website of the start-up shows that it has new clients. It seems that the failure of politicians’ model transaction hasn’t stopped Polish businesses from innovating.

 

(This is the second of two articles about the Polish innovation eco-system)

Katarzyna Zachariasz-Podolak is a Polish journalist and editor in chief of InnovateCEE.

 

Foto: Start-up Bioseco produces a system that protects birds from colliding with windturbines and airplanes at airports

 

 

Innovation Origins is expanding its activities to Poland and Austria

Redactie IO Innovation Origins

The headquarters is and will remain in Eindhoven, but Innovation Origins has now also managed to build a solid base outside that Dutch city-of-tech. The story of innovation is also sourced – and spread – in the rest of the Netherlands, in Germany, and since today also in Poland and Austria. In the coming months, the expansion to a complete European platform will continue.

Innovation Origins started in January 2015 with a clear mission: tell the inspiring story of innovation. By listening to the people and organisations who are working on finding solutions for the problems of today and tomorrow, we can show the world where the opportunities lie. Without being blind to the enormous task of our time, but always from the awareness that it can never come to a good end without the pioneers, innovators and entrepreneurs who dare to stick their necks out. People who dare to question the achievements of the past and take new paths with enormous energy are at the core of our focus. And because they themselves are far too busy with their own mission, we have made it our own to spread their stories. To inspire – and sometimes reassure – others. Not because the usual journalistic story (which often focuses on the things that are not going well) is wrong, but because a supplement to that is desperately needed.

Editorial Consultation Innovation OriginsEindhoven

Eindhoven was – and is – our logical basis. This city of pioneers, of innovators, of technicians and designers, forms the perfect foundation for our innovation mission. After almost four years of mining, the Eindhoven source is far from exhausted. On the contrary, every month it becomes richer and demanding more efforts on our part. Not only to please a proud local audience but far beyond that. We, therefore, decided early on in our development that it would be good to confront others with the Eindhoven story as well. Hence the decision to publish in English as well.

This had indeed made the local story of innovation accessible to a global audience, but that, of course, did not mean that the world was directly at our feet. Telling the story is one thing, spreading it smartly is another. There are roughly two solutions for the latter: money and credibility. Yes, money, because Google, Facebook and the likes are willing and capable show every article to anyone you want, as long as you pay. But for a startup like ours, that path was hardly feasible and that was the reason why we worked with great force to strengthen our credibility. First and foremost, of course, with reliable and relevant stories, but also by linking the Eindhoven base to that of other major innovation hubs.

Editorial Consultation Innovation OriginsMunich

We did this by ‘natural’ growth (gradually from Eindhoven to the rest of the Netherlands), but also by occasionally making a bigger leap. Munich was our first step: started on June 4, our local Munich editorial team has now brought several hundred innovative developments to the attention of a wide audience in German, English and Dutch. The direct side effect: the Eindhoven story also came to the attention of people in southern Germany. Credible, reliable and relevant, because it was integrated into the flow of ‘own’ Bavarian innovation stories.

Warsaw and Vienna

And now there is a cautious start in Warsaw and Vienna. Why exactly there? First of all, because in these places too, countless untold innovative developments await us, of course. Because the resulting stories can be nicely combined with those from the other innovation hubs where we are already located – and thus contribute to our central mission. But also because Poland and Austria fit in very well with a gradually and logically built structure of our organisation.

What’s next? We will continue along this path, will occasionally take a side step, but will remain focused on the one mission that we had in mind from the start: to provide inspiration by giving a platform to the people and organisations that are trying to solve the problems of our time.

Polish innovation ecosystem slowly evolves in the right direction

Piotr Orlikowski presents his cartesian robot in front of Mateusz Morawiecki, Polish PM
After three years under the rule of the right-wing Law and Justice, the Polish innovation ecosystem is doing fine. Even better than one might expect. This is the first of two articles about the Polish innovation ecosystem.

WARSAW, 17 November 2018 – It was supposed to be a model transaction. Orlen, a Polish state-owned fuel company and one of the largest enterprises in Central Europe, began a cooperation with a start-up called Just Drive. As a result, an app for mobile payments at Orlen’s petrol stations was launched. Start-up media in Poland widely spread the word about the partnership. Within 24 hours, the app was downloaded by 2,000 users. Success seemed to be guaranteed.

Until recently, this kind of cooperation between a huge Polish company and a start-up was unimaginable. The last few years, however, have been a time of dynamic changes in Poland’s innovation ecosystem. This process had already started under the previous government of the Civic Platform (PO) and Polish People’s Party (PSL), when grants were poured into companies to run R&D projects, into founders to set up start-ups, and into universities to build state-of-the-art R&D infrastructure. When the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015, the country already had all the elements of an innovation ecosystem, some of them better developed, and some of them less so. Unfortunately, the system as a whole didn’t work properly.

It’s the Innovation, stupid

The new government has made the word “innovation” one of its flagship slogans. However, the beginnings were rather unfortunate. On the one hand, an inter-ministerial Council for Innovativeness was established. Both the Minister of Development and the Minister of Science and Higher Education became deputy prime ministers, and after the government reconstruction in 2018, a separate Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology was formed. It was certainly the first time in Poland’s history that R&I policies had had such a prominent position on the government’s agenda.

Nevertheless, some actions led to the belief that the existing elements of innovation policy would become a victim of the revolutionary impulses of the ruling party and its tendency to centralise the economy: the government cancelled some programmes regarding innovation; heads of the main agencies supporting R&D projects were changed; and politicians began announcing initiatives to create national innovation, such as Electro Mobility, a programme with the goal of Poland becoming a European leader in electro-mobility, with one million electric cars on the roads and its own model of electric car to be designed and built from scratch by 2025. These are stunning expectations, considering that today, Poland is among the countries with the lowest number of electric cars and charging stations in the EU.

Evolution, not revolution

However, after three years under PiS rule, it has turned out that despite these brash announcements, Poland’s innovation policy has not experienced a revolution. To the contrary, it has kept on going like before.
“Many positive elements of the innovation policy from the previous government are now continuing. R&D projects are still supported with grants and financial instruments. Support for start-ups has been intensified. Government agencies responsible for supporting research and innovation projects still use objective criteria and standards developed in previous years,” says Krzysztof Klincewicz, professor at Warsaw University and a European Commission expert.
Moreover, the process of creating an innovation ecosystem has sped up, as the PiS government has started patching it up.
“It is extremely important to ensure a proper framework for innovation by implementing friendly regulations to support innovations and constantly removing obstacles to innovators,” says the press office of the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology about Poland’s priorities.
Tax incentives were the first to be fixed. Introduced in the last year of the PO-PSL government, R&D tax relief was very modest, thus only 528 companies used it. The PiS government has twice increased it significantly. Today all entrepreneurs leading R&D works are allowed to make a double deduction of R&D-related expenditures from the tax base, and the catalogue of costs eligible for deduction is broad. The result? The number of companies using the incentive doubled and it seems that this year it will increase even more.
Furthermore, the work on Innovation Box has started
“It will consist of more favourable fiscal treatment of income from IP commercialization which is a result of R&D works conducted by the taxpayer,” explains the press office.
The detailed regulations are under consultation at the moment and should enter into force at the beginning of 2019.

Support for companies

Another Achilles’ heel of the Polish innovation system is a lack of cooperation between industry and academia. Under PO-PSL government, multiple steps were taken to enforce the cooperation, including innovation vouchers, grants for R&D projects performed by scientific- industrial consortia or R&D funding schemes proposed by the business sector. As a result, the largest part of the NCBR budget (the main R&D funding agency in Poland) was distributed to consortia.
The PiS government refocused its attention on support for individual companies. Old instruments were limited and the new ones were added. For example the programme “Top 100 Innovators of the Economy” was launched, which enables firms’ R&D staff to visit foreign research institutes and companies in order to improve their R&D management skills; the programme of industrial doctorates was introduced, which enables companies to hire a PhD candidate and the candidate can carry out doctoral projects at the enterprise. It’s a novelty in Poland as previously PhD could be developed only in academia.
The biggest change, however, is the cooperation with start-ups. The new funds were established to co-finance the Venture Capital funds or to create corporate VC within the large companies.
“We’ve discovered that we need innovations in Poland. Even people at the top have started to believe in it. I must admit it was difficult to speak about innovations with some people from the previous government. They seemed to distrust that the ability of the economy to be innovative matters. I expect that with the new incentives from the next year we will have a large number of R&D centres or international companies that start to move their R&D expenditure to Poland. It may turn out Polish innovation rockets ”, says Krzysztof Klincewicz.

(This is the first of two articles about the Polish innovation eco-system)

Katarzyna Zachariasz-Podolak is a Polish journalist and editor in chief of InnovateCEE.

 

 

 

Usono to extend operation to Poland and Germany

Usono

MDS Cardio will act as a local sales organization for Usono in Poland. The health tech company based at the High Tech Campus Eindhoven has also appointed a first ‘Usono Ambassador’: Professor Jaroslaw Kasprzak from Lodz.

Usono is also continuing its international expansion elsewhere. The first customer in Germany was recruited: the Catholic Krankenhaus Hagen. Usono is also working with Mermaid Medical on sales in 9 countries in Europe. The ProbeFix – one of Usono’s main products – was recently acquired by the University Hospital in Oslo, Ulleväl, and Mermaid is in discussion with hospitals in Spain, Sweden, and the UK. The ProbeFix is used in these countries to monitor the heart of patients hands-free while they are walking on a treadmill, something that is never done in the Netherlands.

Less stress
Usono now works intensively with various hospitals in the Netherlands that have purchased the product and apply it in practice or for study purposes. The reactions from Deventer, for example, are very positive. Together with the Catharina Hospital in Eindhoven, Deventer is conducting a study to demonstrate that RSI complaints in shoulder and arm are reduced because the ProbeFix holds the probe in place and therefore the doctor has their hand free.