Interview with ENoLL member THESSM@LL
Thessaloniki Smart Mobility Living Lab also known as THESSM@LL fosters initiatives encouraging development in the transport sector and the sustainability of mobility schemes by the provision of novel technologies and innovation. Attendees of the OpenLivingLab Days 2019 had a chance to visit the living lab and discover novel technologies and innovative services in the transport domain that are developed within THESSM@LL. We talked to Dr. Georgia Aifandopoulou, Research Director and Deputy Director of CERTH-HIT to learn more about this Living Lab which uses the entire city of Thessaloniki as a platform for testing technological and innovative solutions.
We are curious to know the story behind THESSM@LL; how was it created and how did it grow to become such a wide-reaching Living Lab?
We can go back in time to 2005 when we decided to create a kind of “cloud” repository for transport data hosted in our facilities, in order to facilitate its access and use by researchers, professors, students or professionals, but the Thessaloniki Smart Mobility Living Lab was created formally in 2012 with the development of a suite of data-intensive info-mobility services for the citizens of the Region of Central Macedonia.
The first period of the Laboratory’s activities were mainly dedicated to enlarge the ecosystem by attracting data providers to it in a project-based approach, which allowed us to increase significantly our offer of dedicated added-value services, some of them for the ecosystem members aiming at keeping their interest and engagement in the living lab. Already in 2018 most transport operators were part of the ecosystem, providing their datasets and support.
Since then, a strong relationship has been maintained with the ecosystem, CERTH-HIT being the host and leader of the living lab. Today THESSM@LL is actively engaged with the end-users and relevant community stakeholders and pursues a co-creation and co-design strategy of technological solutions to improve transport conditions and upgrade mobility services with the final end of a better living experience of the citizens of Thessaloniki. The innovation, collaboration, development and testing of new services under real-world conditions, having always the citizen in the center, ensures high levels of continuity and reliability, which are among the basic priorities of our Living Lab. The strong liaison of the LL with public and private stakeholders and the continuous focus on research and innovation for problem solving and support in planning and decision making are the main characteristics of our success.
During all these years and through the participation in a large number of European and national projects (COMPASS4D, Cogistics, C-Mobile, ibikeshare, Galileo4mobility, commINSAFE and many others), we turned research to implement THESSM@LL become the test bed for new technologies and innovative solutions in mobility, new generation modeling and algorithms development for assessing and prototypes for applications arising from research. Everything well complemented by transport models and simulation environments which are the basis of the digital twin of Thessaloniki that CERTH-HIT is creating.
Currently Thessaloniki Smart Mobility Living Lab is one of the most important mobility living labs in Europe and has created an extensive network of mobility related stakeholders through its core memberships in pioneer organizations under the leadership of CERTH-HIT, who is a:
- member of European Network of Living Labs-ENoLL and leader of the working group on mobility
- core member of EIT-UM and scientific coordinator of RIS Hub Greece
- moderator of the national Smart Mobility and Logistics Solutions Cluster
- member of POLIS network, while Thessaloniki is included in the Eurocities network
- member of the AIOTI-The Alliance for the Internet of Things Innovation
The Living Lab methodology can help create better solutions to existing challenges through citizen participation. Could you share with us any difficulties you may have faced in your Living Lab journey?
Indeed, the Smart Mobility Living Lab is a user-driven innovation environment where users and producers co-create innovation in a trusted, open ecosystem that enables business and societal innovation. The citizens’ engagement is one of the greater challenges for our Living Lab and the journey towards the achievement of this goal isn’t always easy.
In 2012, Mobithess was one of our first attempts to create a platform of mobility services that provides a suite of services for travellers in order to help them move easily around the city, avoiding the traffic congested areas. By informing about the optimal mobility choices, mobithess aimed to raise the environmental awareness and consequently to improve the traffic and environmental conditions of the city, but also to provide “proof of concept” for intelligent services to the users which then can be and have been uptaken by the technology providers and the industry. The system was a unified effort of the key players of the city dealing with urban mobility, transport and environment, but had low public appeal due to the unsuccessful publicity campaign and the fact that citizens were mostly interested in real time info. Today, after 8 years of investment in big data analysis and forecasting, the platform is used by the citizens for being informed for traffic conditions and ubnormal situations (in bad weather conditions or during the execution of especial events in the city etc).
Similarly, in 2019 LL proved its amazing power for common understanding and win-win situation building during the pilot testing of a ride/taxi sharing service. Taxi drivers were a bit reluctant at the beginning because of the risk of an income drop but, after CERTH’s efforts, they understood that the goal was to increase the user pool by attracting people driving their private car on their own, and not just cluster existing taxi users. From the side of the users there were also challenges, mainly to gain their confidence in the services. We started with only a few participants, but after 8 months of pilot the number of participants was ten times more, the service is self-sustained and this happen thanks to the participants themselves, who became ambassadors of the service that was being tested and they engaged new users, coworkers and friends of them.
We often hear that we live in unprecedented times. How are you able to cooperate with the quadruple helix in the new reality? Any tips you would like to share with the community?
THESSM@LL lies at the centre of an ecosystem of mobility-related stakeholders in the city of Thessaloniki which consists of public administrations such as the Region of Central Macedonia and the Municipality of Thessaloniki, public and private transport operators, technology providers, research and academia. In addition to the added value services offered to the members of the eco-system, CERTH-HIT maintains an open data portal where most datasets are provided both as historical and real-time data, of course always complying with privacy as foreseen in the General Data Protection Regulation. Using these data the identity of the mobility in Thessaloniki agglomeration was quantified before, during and after lockdowns. The relation of mobility figures from LL infrastructure with COVID related measures implementation and their impacts assessment is now taken into account for decision making and COVID free policy making.
THESSM@LL always tries to create value for its ecosystem following the needs of each specific period. Thus, the COVID-era allowed for more detailed analysis of transport conditions giving us the ability to analyze the citizens’ behavior and support decision making processes to allow decision and policy makers better recovering period & agile planning. In this direction, and as a response to the needs for safer mobility solutions during the pandemic period, new services were created and pilot tested in Thessaloniki: a carpooling service combined with disinfection systems for areas with high concentration of companies was developed within the CommINSAFE project leaded by CERTH/HIT, one of the 11 projects funded by EIT Urban Mobility within COVID-19 call; considering the dimension of social distancing, special emphasis was also given to the safe movement of both pedestrians and users of micro-mobility means, who are more exposed than car drivers, a comprehensive routing service for pedestrians was created which suggests the safest route taking into account the areas of increased concentration of citizens.
Looking ahead to the world in 2021 – can you share your plans for the year and what’s in store for THESSM@LL?
Thessaloniki Smart Mobility Living Lab is a one-stop source for mobility data and services in Greece. By the period 2021-2025, the Laboratory aims to ensure its sustainability by its own resources through the value-added services offered to third parties at local, regional, national and international level. Its participation in funded projects will operate as a channel of networking and creation of innovation. An important step to this new situation is the definition of a new governance scheme and the signature of a joint agreement to replace the bilateral ones that exist today between CERTH-HIT and each member of the ecosystem.
Moreover, Thessaloniki Smart Mobility Living Lab will be focused on increasing the availability of open data and services. New tools will be used not only for data collection and processing but also for certification and validation. The existing business plan will be continually updated on the basis of new market trends and technological evolutions. B2B, B2H, H2B and H2H will be also developed by the laboratory supporting the match between needs for transport sector and the transport services providers, with special emphasis to “Mobility as a Service” (on-demand and sharing mobility services) trends of the European Union and the freight transport.
Finally, THESSM@LL will benefit from the upcoming new research infrastructure for connected automated mobility test bed which will be developed in ThessINTEC; an innovation initiative that will attract important private investments and international leading companies to Thessaloniki for supporting their collaboration and colocation with research teams for new product and services development for mobility and logistics.