Autonomous vehicles are coming. We already trust our lives to metro trains that run without a driver, and self-driving buses and cars will be the new normal in just a few years. In Gothenburg, ordinary people can already test self-driving cars in their everyday life on a city-wide basis.
Innovations that change our lives and make the world cleaner and safer require real-life testing to become a reality. Yes, years of research are needed too, but at some point, testing and piloting in a real environment are a must both for companies and the users. Digitalization and open data are rapidly changing the business models and way we innovate. Innovations today are all about agility, co-creation with end-users, and experimentation.
Cities play a crucial role in enabling concrete testing of new innovations. It would, for example, be impossible to test self-driving cars or new car-sharing concepts without co-operation with city authorities. Such innovations are also increasingly important to cities, as they develop Smart City concepts and new solutions in circular economy and smart mobility to improve the quality of life for their citizens and to tackle climate change. It has already been shown that Smart Cities are at the forefront in attracting new businesses and creating jobs.
A variety of open urban innovation and technology platforms are being developed and tested. One such “living lab” for co-creation between companies, researchers and ordinary citizens is the Smart Kalasatama concept in Helsinki, where concrete innovations are being tested while a whole new district of the city is still being built.
This autumn, Gaia conducted a study on existing different smart and clean platforms for the Helsinki Metropolitan Smart and Clean Foundation. It turned out that in Helsinki and nearby Lahti alone, some 70 different innovation platforms target such smart and clean areas as energy, circular economy, and mobility, and that hundreds of companies use them. A further survey is open until December 20 for companies to assess their use of these platforms and the benefits from their use.
Innovation platforms must be further developed to ensure that they provide results and benefits to all. The scene is fragmented, many of the platforms are based on development projects that stop too soon, and the business and operating models for managing them are far from clear. But opportunities are there, cities need to invest and further develop the strong ones. Co-operation and openness are a must.
And it’s not only giant metropolises that can innovate. Even small and mid-size cities can facilitate and support world-class innovations in specialized fields. This was shown in a review conducted by Gaia for over 20 smaller towns that develop their business parks in Finland. As a part of the work Gaia also together with these cities identified the key success factors for creating future business parks. Key to success in developing innovation and competitiveness is boldness–and long term hard work.
- Mari Hjelt, Managing Director and Mari Saario, Business Director, Gaia Consulting Oy, firstname.lastname@example.org