Tag Archives: smart cities

Smart Adlershof

How One Town Reinvented Itself For a Greener Future

Today marked our final travel day of the program! The station, Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, looked quite different today than it did on the day of our arrival; instead of hordes of people armed with brooms to clean up the city following the G20 protests, there were just a handful of quiet travelers with their luggage. Our destination, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, was stunning. A large, glass ceiling and many different levels of tracks gave it the feel of one of the most modern hub of Europe. After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we were off to Adlershof.

The outside of Berlin’s Central Station. With 5 different levels and an exterior of nearly entirely glass, the Hauptbahnhof is the largest and most modern connecting station in Europe.

Adlershof’s history is long and varied, but it has an interesting connection to North Carolina in the form of aviation history. The Wright brothers were the first to fly, doing so in Kitty Hawk, NC. The first German motor-driven flight occurred less than a decade later in Johannisthal airfield, which is modern day Adlershof. The area grew as a hot spot for innovation in flight, and while touring the park we got to see some of the infrastructure that was used to test engines and planes in the 20th century.

This is a former vertical wind tunnel used to test the aerodynamics of various planes. Adlershof has a long history of innovation in the aviation sector, and it was the site of the first successful German motorized flight.

In the early 1990s, Adlershof once again redefined itself and moved to become a center for research and industry. The long tradition of adaptability was quite evident as we toured the area. Walking around, we noticed not only how impressive the buildings were from an aesthetic standpoint, but also how environmentally friendly and smart they were. It was apparent that this was a source of pride for those involved in Adlershof, especially for an area that brings so many people in to produce new and innovative ways of reducing our impact on the climate and finding more sustainable solutions.

The group gets an inside look at what it is like to work in Adlershof. Despite the location being a little far from city center, the infrastructure and resources available are huge attractors to companies, especially start ups.

At the minimum, many of the buildings had passive solar designs. By using windows and window coverings that can either trap heat or deflect it based on the season, the heating and cooling needs are greatly reduced. The “Amoeba” buildings, nicknamed for their wavy shape, used colorful coverings like these that look good while saving energy.

The so-called “Amoeba” buildings in Adlershof. The name is a reference to the wavy, rounded edges around both buildings. They both utilize passive solar and smart insulation to warm them in the winter, cutting down on heating costs.

Other buildings were creative with their use of traditionally forgotten space. Looking out at the rooftops, we saw that nearly all of them were “green roofs”. These have a multitude of important benefits. Firstly, they can help prevent flooding from sudden downpours of rain. The soil and plants soak in much of the precipitation and then slowly release it over the following hours. This helps reduce the peak amount of water in the drainage system, which is a huge help for stopping flooding. In addition, green roofs can diminish the “urban heat island” effect. This is caused when an area has a lot of asphalt and other materials that reflect heat rather than absorbing it, and is the reason why some cities can be 1-3° Celsius warmer than the surrounding areas. The plants absorb some of the heat that would be reflected by traditional roofs. In addition, they can filter the air of pollutants and carbon dioxide.

The “green roofs” in Adlershof. These help to lower the peak amount of water in the drainage system during downpours and can also help cool down the area and reduce the urban heat island effect!

Finally, we were struck by just how many solar photovoltaic cells we saw. Many were set up on top of the buildings and thus were usually out of sight, but there were some that were creatively installed around the façades. For instance, workers eating in the café were shaded by a semi-transparent array of PV cells adorned on the front outer wall. Another building had a concave array, which we learned was a great breakthrough when the technology was created.

Housing for students attending Humboldt University. Compared to our living spaces in Chapel Hill, we were shocked at how affordable these units were. We also learned about how the floorplan was specifically designed to try to increase social bonding between students.

Adlershof was an interesting look at how smart communities can successfully integrate multiple different institutions: industry, government, and higher education. In some ways, it was the perfect representation of both main topics of interest for our program: renewable energy technologies and smart city planning.

-Keegan Barnes

Amsterdam Smart City

How Amsterdam Fosters Innovation and Smart City Planning

The day began with a trip to Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. There, the group heard a lecture from a public-private partnership called Amsterdam Smart City (ASC). Amsterdam Smart City, representatives explained, is an innovation platform that brings supply and demand together to connect startups to other parties that can serve as resources. The goal of the platform is not to provide funding, but to connect groups with similar interests and test innovative ideas.

Cornelia Dinca speaks with Dr. Rademaker, explaining her role in Amsterdam Smart City.

Amsterdam Smart City is dedicated to using new ideas to improve the city of Amsterdam, incorporating themes such as urban planning, environmentalism, and technology. The five main focuses of the program are health, mobility, circular economy, digital connectivity, and talent for the future. A majority of the projects ASC is involved in require collaboration, and are of interest to multiple parties. For example, the city has a goal of having 850,000 solar panels installed, one for every citizen. To complete the project, Amsterdam Smart City assists in connecting businesses with universities, government, and other companies that can function as partners.

A graphic from the presentation, depicting the idea that citizens can help transform their city. This idea is employed in hackathons and other innovation competitions.

Tom van Arman, founder of a venture called T.app, explained how the city of Amsterdam engages young entrepreneurs to solve some of the city’s most challenging problems. Hackathons are a common method of connecting young programmers and app-makers, and offer a free platform for participants to utilize their skills. One of the most recent challenges was to create an app that would decrease congestion and improve crowd control at sports events. In this way, the city of Amsterdam attracts young innovators and gains fresh ideas to better manage the city and improve quality of life. Events typically have private partners, but are advertised by the city, bringing in hundreds of attendees.

Tom van Arman explains the function of the makerspace during a tour of the Amsterdam Smart City building.

Another unique aspect of ASC is the program’s website. Unlike most companies’ websites, amsterdamsmartcity.com functions as a two-way forum that allows startups to post information about their ventures. Small businesses and non-profits can post updates, event notifications, and introduce new products on the website’s project page, which is organized into themes, creating a more interactive interface.

Amsterdam Smart City also has a 3-D printing lab and workspace for those that wish to create and test new products. The purpose of the space is to create a hub for entrepreneurs and provide them with the tools to be successful, without directly supplying funding.

A student works on a design in the makerspace. 3D printers can be seen in the background, used by entrepreneurs to make prototypes.
Signs point towards the “makerversity” reception and workshops, resources for founders of startups in Amsterdam.

Throughout the presentation, it became clear that a major focus of ASC is digital connectivity and programming. Cornelia Dinca, our first presenter, is an urban planner with a chemical engineering degree. When asked about women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), she confirmed that there were very few women in these fields in Amsterdam, and that she hoped to see more female involvement in the future. Currently, participants in hackathons and similar events are predominantly male.

Cornelia Dinca gives advice to a student, explaining possible internships in the Netherlands.

Overall, Amsterdam Smart City provided an interesting look at the innovative ways the city supports entrepreneurs and smart city planning in the Netherlands. Cornelia even offered several business cards to our students, urging them to contact her in the future regarding internships.

A presenter from Amsterdam Smart City explains digital infrastructure, a vital part of digital connectivity.

-Erin Danford

Smart Approach

A look at urban farming, sustainability, and standardization

The day started with a visit to a one year old urban farm called The New Farm centered in The Hague, Netherlands. This urban farm is located atop a six story building used for housing different office spaces. The rooftop and top floor were completely converted into a large aquaponic system containing both a greenhouse and fish tanks. By allowing the plants above to use the nutrients found in fish waste, aquaponics combines two different ecosystems into one to create an efficient use of resources. Thousands of tilapia were grown in the tanks and their waste water was taken through a large filter which then feeds into tubes to be taken to plant soil. The rooftop contained many different kinds of produce such as basil, cilantro, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, lettuce, and many other leafy greens, all fueled by the nutrients of fish waste. The entire aquaponic system recycled around 90 percent of its water. This resource efficient farm can be seen as an example for future food initiatives in urban areas. As the global population grows, more and more people need food and gravitate towards cities. This leads to questions of space and food production, which are both answered by urban farms. The only drawbacks are that they require a lot of money and energy to start. This urban farm combines agricultural and fish production to efficiently feed the planet as the population grows.

Rows of leafy greens at the entrance to the rooftop greenhouse at The New Farm. This was one of two sides. The other side contained tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants.
Water filtration system used to extract useful nutrients and water from fish waste to be used for produce. Water enters through the black box and then a series of open containers. Ammonia is the main nutrient extracted which is the converted into nitrates by small bacteria in each open container.
The irrigation system for all of the plants in the greenhouse. The system runs nutrients from fish waste and water from below directly to plant roots in a controlled amount. Yellow tape is suspended above the produce to control pest contamination in an organic way.

To finish the day we stopped by NEN, which is a company centered around standardization. Although it seems complicated, standardization is basically agreements among many parties affiliated in producing a product, idea, or system. The goal is to minimize conflict when developing ideas and allow for the acceptance of these new products in different areas, whether its regions, countries, or continents. Some examples are bolt sizes or USB ports on computers. In talking personally with a NEN employee, we learned that the most complicated part of standardization is making all parties agree on an outcome in a timely manner. This process can be difficult but it is necessary for allowing cities to replicate systems that are known to be successful in other smart cities.

An interesting entrance to the standardization building at NEN. Here many parties are worked with to come up with agreements that lead to a higher quality of life.
Rooftop and solar panels of the university. Under the parking lot there are thermal collectors which allow for the transfer of energy and aid in heating the building. The solar panels also acquire energy and produce heat.
The heat pump located inside the university. The structure looks as complicated as the processes that occur inside it. Its main purpose is to minimize energy use when heating and cooling the building.

When moving towards a smart city it important to take steps that enhance the quality of life for its inhabitants. We saw three examples of this in food production, sustainable building use, and standardization practices.

-Charlie Garnett