#72 SMCNetZero Project: Social Tech Projects - AI for Urban Decarbonisation

Episode 78 April 17, 2024 00:28:23
#72 SMCNetZero Project: Social Tech Projects - AI for Urban Decarbonisation
Smart in the City – The BABLE Podcast
#72 SMCNetZero Project: Social Tech Projects - AI for Urban Decarbonisation

Apr 17 2024 | 00:28:23


Hosted By

Tamlyn Shimizu

Show Notes

In this fourth episode of our SMCNetZero series, we discussed decarbonisation in Small and Medium-sized Cities with Luca Leomanni, CTO and Co-Founder of Social Tech Projects, focusing on infrastructure maintenance and the role of AI in urban planning.

The discussion explores innovative solutions for sustainable mobility, particularly cycling infrastructure, and the importance of community engagement in policy implementation to achieve a more proactive approach to city management.


To learn more or to join the SMCNetZero project, you can visit the SMCNetZero Website.


Overview of the episode:

[00:00:43] Teaser Question: If you could have any superpower to assist in your work with Social Tech Projects, what would it be and why?

[00:03:44] What is your background and what led you to Social Tech Projects?

[00:04:55] What exactly is Social Tech Projects? What is the mission, and could you also mention the AI road system?

[00:09:42] How are you working with, for example, small and medium-sized cities, and what challenges do you think these cities are facing, especially related to decarbonization?

[00:13:29] Are you mostly working in mobility or are there other types of products that you're also doing?

[00:14:12] How has working with the European Space Agency shaped what you're doing with small to medium-sized cities? Were there particular sites or other advancements that emerged from that collaboration?

[00:24:29] Inspire Us: Our guest shares an inspiring story about the city of Oulu, Finland.

[00:26:23] Ending Question: To you, what is a Smart City?


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View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:06] Tamlyn Shimizu: Welcome to Smart in the city, the BABLE podcast, where we bring together top actors in the Smart City arena, sparking dialogues and interactions around the stakeholders and themes most prevalent for today's citizens and tomorrow's generations. [00:00:21] Tamlyn Shimizu: I am your host, Tamlyn Shimizu, and I hope you will enjoy this episode and gain knowledge and connections to accelerate the change for a better urban life. [00:00:31] Tamlyn Shimizu: Smart in the city is brought to you by BABLE Smart cities. We enable processes from research and strategy development to co creation and implementation. To learn more about us, please visit the BABLE platform at BABLE Smartcities. [00:00:43] Tamlyn Shimizu: EU so welcome back to the SMCNetZero podcast series where we are exploring decarbonization efforts in small and medium sized cities, brought to you by our EU funded project SMCNetZero. In this episode, we shift our focus to the innovative work being done in the realm of infrastructure maintenance, a critical aspect of urban decarbonization efforts with cool products and different things going on with AI road system developed by the company Social Tech Projects to help cities in becoming more proactive rather than reactive in their infrastructure management. So if that sounds interesting to you, make sure to stick around and I have an exciting guest for you today. His name is Luca Leomanni. He's the CTO and co founder at Social Tech Projects. Welcome Luca. [00:01:32] Luca Leomanni: Thank you. Tamlyn thank you for the amazing introduction. [00:01:35] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. It's really a pleasure to have you on and I'm very curious myself because we actually haven't talked before this, so I'm very curious myself to find out a lot more about your work and where that stem from. But before we do that, I always like to get us started with a little teaser question to get us warmed up. So the little teaser that I have brought for you today is if you could have any superpower to help you in your work with Social Tech Projects, what would it be and why? [00:02:06] Luca Leomanni: Good question. If I could choose a superpower, it would be to understand and speak every language in the world. Just think about it. I meet incredible people from all corners of Europe and beyond every single day. How fantastic would it be to chat with everyone in their native language? I could be complimentally the French on their bike lane policies fluently, by breakfast, discussing with Spaniards city managers on how actively engaged citizens in mobility challenges, by tapas time and by dinner. I've been telling jokes in German and I already see myself with such a superpower. So it would be definitely awesome, right? [00:02:45] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah. So you would take the language superpower? Which languages do you speak already? [00:02:52] Luca Leomanni: Yeah, I'm Italian. So I speak Italian and Danish right now, so I have two of my superpowers in place. [00:02:57] Tamlyn Shimizu: English, obviously. [00:02:59] Luca Leomanni: English, obviously. Yeah. And some French I did in the high school, but. Yeah, but I wish I had much more superpowers. I really believe it's a skill that everyone should start to practice more to connect with people. And it's fantastic if you really know how to connect with the language. [00:03:18] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. I think I would choose the same too, you know, although I also really want to teleport, so those are in competition with each other. Yeah. [00:03:28] Luca Leomanni: Right. Maybe we'll get there at some point. [00:03:31] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, I mean, both. I'll take both any day. Right. So good. So I want to know more about you. So what is your background? What led you to Social Tech Projects? [00:03:44] Luca Leomanni: Yeah, I'm an italian electronic engineer and I lived in Copenhagen for the last ten years. I've been developing itech technologies together with fantastic people that surround me all the time. Together with me and supporting. And I've been developing a solution in engineering, machine vision and AI. And meanwhile, doing these activities, I've been participating in discussion about the challenges that city managers face across all Europe all the time. And for me was such an interesting point also to understand what was happening across Europe and what the challenges were. And I always tried to be patient about solutions that bring positive social impact. And guess what I found out? Sociate project is a danish company that really embodies this clear vision. And I thought that this was a company where I could thrive and feel myself. So for me, it was a no brainer. [00:04:39] Tamlyn Shimizu: Okay. Yeah, very interesting. Yeah. I want to know more about Social Tech Projects now. Let's dive into it. What exactly is Social Tech Projects? What is the mission? And also, if you want to mention the AI road system as well. [00:04:55] Luca Leomanni: Right? Yeah. So social tech project is focused on three main areas that are key to implement and achieve ambitious goals. Such, for example, decarbonization. Today we have this amazing topic that we are discussing. And first, we provide technologies to startups like Alsin. So we are also enabling other companies that are similar to our ambitions. And we, for example, we are helping clean up. That is a danish leader in reusable packaging. And another example is Skipit, that enables citizens to buy a ticket for public transportation in multiple cities through a simple mobile app. We also helped earth miles. That is another solution that rewards users for journeys made by using public transport and active mobility. So we are really driving this path also, not just for us, but we also want to enable others like us doing that. And another area that we are really focused on is citizen engagement, and we believe that active participation is key for implementing policies that involve many stakeholders, including all citizens. We realized from our experience that it's crucial for the community to be united, stand together, and ensuring that everyone feels heard and belongs. Even I realized myself when I moved to Denmark. I wish I could have a platform that would have helped me to overcome language barriers, for example, and to include me in the activities of the community. I feel more valued and empowered. So social tech project developed one of the most inclusive platforms for community participation, called we solve, that is currently used by more than 40 european cities, including the metropolitan area of Barcelona. It is used to improve public transport safety and to create inclusive communities. In the platform, citizens are able to remove all the language barriers and co create solutions together. In particular, for example, in Barcelona, we focused on gender inclusion by making public transport safer for women. Another key area that we also prioritized after listening to the challenges of city managers is sustainable mobility. So we implemented the AI road system to provide city managers and urban departments across Europe with actionable data for optimizing the cycling infrastructure. As you probably might have heard about your experience, but cycling is highlighted as the most sustainable form of transport. It takes only 20 grams per kilometers of CO2 emissions, considering the energy used for cycling, like the diet, your european diet that we are consuming, and it brings a lot of health benefits for the body. And in this way, it's really an enabler for decarbonization, for example. Anyway, there are several reasons why citizens don't embrace cycling. And spoiler alert. It's not about the weather or the lack of bicycles. So we have them. It's not that the problem. So when people, for example, ask how Danes manage to cycle in the rain during winter, their simplest response is, we are not made of sugar. Because biking, for Danes is just the easiest means of transport. This is the answer from 60% of Copenhagen ants. They said that 60% of them is the easiest way of moving across the city, and the fastest is the healthy and is convenient. And of course, for some people, could be also cheap. And of course, some people care about the eco friendliness, so the impact that the transport has as well. And indeed, this is very accurate. Personally, I cycle throughout the entire winter without issues related to cold or rain. Of course, I make sure to dress the proper clothes, but I have access to a safe cycling infrastructure. So lanes, in addition to not being made of sugar, they benefit from protected lanes wide enough to prevent, for example, flooding whenever a car passes. And that makes a big difference? [00:09:07] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. There's a saying also in Germany, right, that there's not any wrong weather, there's only the wrong clothes. So that's usually what they use when there's bad weather outside. I think I would like to know a little bit, understand a little bit more about how are you working with, for example, small and medium sized cities, danish cities, for example, and what challenges do you think that these cities are kind of facing, especially related to decarbonization? Like, what is your experience there? [00:09:42] Luca Leomanni: Right. Yeah, I think in Denmark it's quite interesting because there is an increase of population happening right now. In this moment, there are people coming to Denmark, and there might be different reason for that. But the problem is that this increase of people would probably put stress on the entire system about transportation. So the local authorities and general or the national also guidelines lines to accommodate. They are forecasting 20% more trips by 2035. So they need to reinforce the current corridors they have. And for over 70 years, urban planning in the region has followed the finger plan. So it consists of five fingers that correspond to five main mobility corridors that are spreading from Copenhagen centers towards the inner danish major cities. It's like the finger of a hand. And the analysis for the traffic and mobility plan indicates that expanding and aeronautic roads alone won't solve the congestion. So the strategies must also facilitate a smarter, more flexible network use in the future. So the traffic and mobility strategies will strengthen the interfinger's connections and expand northern confidos, supporting increased travel needs. And this includes also boosting public transport and cycling. So cycling might definitely be the key of also this challenge. So mixing transport modes, shifting travel times. Of course, also they add on that, so there will be more attention how the citizens are moving across the cities. As you can see, Tamlin, electrification alone won't solve the traffic congestions. So car free city initiative in dense cities will be essential and not just optional. Positive initiatives are also the so called road diets, or road conversions that aim at reducing the amount of space dedicated to cars. For example, in Copenhagen just recently, the municipality decided to reduce the amount of spaces dedicated for cars. And this is going to happen also in other cities, and this is the way they are able to release this stress, these congestions that are, that are going to be in the cities. And unfortunately, electrification, the car, even if, of course, has a great impact to reduce the CO2 emissions inside the cities, it will still contribute to the problem of traffic. But the good news is that according to, for example, Sloka, that is a partnership of sustainable low carbon transport, walking and cycling could replace over 40% of shortcut trips, so potentially saving nearly 5% of CO2 emission from cars, in addition to the current 5% that is already saved using the existing walking and cycling. So cities with more bicycles will benefit from equitable public space access. They will be quieter, safer streets, reduce traffic, less noise pollution and improve their quality and healthier population. So we can see that increasing the share of sustainable mobility offer incredible benefits beyond just reducing the traffic congestions. So we can definitely say that moving towards sustainable mobility might be key for reaching the decarbonization goal and improving the quality of life of the population for the citizens. [00:13:21] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. So are you mostly working in mobility or are there other types of products that you're also doing? [00:13:29] Luca Leomanni: Yeah, we're working in different areas. The main three areas, one is like the mobility, the active participation, and third one is like safety and resilience for cities. So we provide this kind of three main area of focus for our customers. [00:13:50] Tamlyn Shimizu: Okay, yeah, sounds good. I saw that you were recently doing something with the European Space Agency and I would love to know a little bit more about how that work has kind of shaped what you're doing with small medium sized cities. Were there particular sites or other advancements that emerged from that program? [00:14:12] Luca Leomanni: Right, yeah. Collaborating with the ESA helped us to improve our solution to collect data that were geolocalized. So we used the satellite constellation that is in Europe, probably heard about Galileo and Copernicus. They are the major satellites that actually is like. They are the result of a contribution from a lot of research, a lot of effort in the space area. And we were able to improve the positioning of the issue that are detected using our system on the cycle roads. And thanks to the yet Airbnb mobility, during the last summer we were able to test our solution in six danish cities and also in the Dholven lab. So we were able to take the insights, the learning that we got from the ESA incubation and bring that back to the city and understanding what were the major issues in the cycling infrastructure. Of course, their support also extended also not just in the technology level. So that's also what some people think about ESA, that is provider technologies, but they also provide business help. So they helped us to focus especially on the customer challenges. And that was crucial to develop a solution that not just solve the problem, but is also solving the problem in a way that meets the requirements of the city. And often this is a key to a success as a product. And this brought also today that in this year we are starting a project also in Barcelona, in Sarajevo. We're going to scan 100 cycle roads and assess their quality infrastructure. This won't be impossible without the support of ease and their attention to this kind of priority points that were the attention of not just the technologies, efficacy of the solutions, but also the possibility to understand what are the real problems that our customers are facing. [00:16:19] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, yeah, it makes sense. We are actually also involved in an ESA project and it's really incredible. I highly advise anybody who is listening to take a look at some of the programs that they're involved in and what they're doing. Because you think. I think sometimes people just. Oh, they're doing stuff in the space. Right, right. [00:16:38] Luca Leomanni: I believe the same at the beginning. [00:16:40] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, exactly. Like what, what would ESA be and why would they be involved in this? Right. So I definitely highly recommend checking, checking that out and seeing all the different projects and initiatives that they're pushing forward on. [00:16:53] Luca Leomanni: So I also, a great point also to alight because ESA has this amazing program that is like focusing on Earth. So we need to, a lot of the instruments that Isaac as deployed are actually focusing on how to improve life on Earth. So let's still try to work on this. I would say we have of course, a lot of exploration possibilities in the future, but we need to keep an eye, of course, on the earth because we still, it's still a discovery. We're still learning a lot from the observations we are having thanks to these instruments like Copernicus or other new instruments that are going to be deployed as well. [00:17:33] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, really, really interesting. I want to, I always like to play devil's advocate a little bit, sometimes with some questions. There are definitely people that argue, especially, like for example, if you're working in the biking, for biking lanes and stuff like that. Some people might argue that focusing too much on technology might lead, especially like small and medium sized cities, to overlook, maybe more like simpler types of sustainability solutions. How, from your experience, do you balance this kind of technological innovation with practicality in the context of achieving net zero? [00:18:10] Luca Leomanni: Yes. Yeah, I think it's a great question. I believe that technology should act as an enabler, so we should always keep in mind the reasons why we are using the technology in the first place. So we don't need to overlook to the technologies for the sake of the technologies. We need to solve specific problems. And for example, in our case, for example, our solution offers assessment that would be prohibitively expensive to conduct manually, so it enables more sustainable choices such as safer by claims. So the challenge often lies in our frequent misuse of technologies that satisfy misplaced desires. So it's essential to develop our self awareness and align our choices with our authentic needs, allowing technologies to serve us and not the other way around. So we really believe that technologies need always be thought as an empowerment, and that's the way we started as a species to build our stones. And we started from enable to use technologies to solve problems, and not just to, I would say, especially for decarbonization. We need to keep in mind that technologies could also distract us in a sort of. If we don't deploy the right technologies for the right purposes. [00:19:31] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, exactly. I think just looking at this from a city perspective, because we at BABLE, of course, work with many, many cities across, mostly across Europe, but also in other places. I think the important point is that a lot of cities have to clearly define their needs and then understand on the market what is available, what specifications could fit those needs, and then really use procurement also as a tool. So whether or not that a technology would fit their needs or not, needs to be determined to find the best solution. I think sometimes it's a little bit more like ad hoc, like, oh, I saw this city doing this. And so that's what I want to do as well, or something along those lines. So I think this really kind of well thought out approach is quite useful for cities when it comes to balancing this. Do you see that as well in your work? [00:20:28] Luca Leomanni: Yeah, I also see that. And the good thing is that I see also that there are system in place that are like living lab, or there are like these possibilities for cities to try out and so they can experiment, they can see how this works. For example, there is an amazing example of this. It's called the sitcom AI. It's like a consortium where it's like test facilities, and they are testing different solutions promoted by innovators like our companies. And in this case, they are able to who make, for example, responsible AI, showing how the solution works to people that might not have that knowledge. And this is really the best way to bring a solution to market, because you bring the solution in a context that is really similar to where the solution needs to be deployed and the city managers are going to see the outcomes, how that worked. What were the concerns also from the citizens, and if that turned to be positive outcome, then it gets implemented, it can be part of a tender, and then it can be acquired and taken inside the process of the city. Yeah, I think one challenge we saw often is like the processes that the city have in place, because a lot of practices that have been run at this moment are also legacy from methodologies that were developed from history, from a long time. So also having the approach of embracing new technologies that are going to change the way they work. Also internally, it's not an easy, it's not easy for cities. And I could see also other startups struggling with this area. And many times we are talking also across startups that cities they might become in the future much more, I would say buyer or for example, data, just acquiring data from companies. Because the, in that moment, once they are emerging across Europe, a lot of companies that can provide data as a service, so they can come with solutions that are really at a few clicks out of their reach, so they can easily get this data in their decision making and making better decision. So I really believe that startups, they are now coming with such amazing solution for mobility, for different, yeah, for different solutions. And this would be so much easy to get access from cities and would be completely a complete transformation the way they are working so far. So even the public tender, I would say that at some point it might not be even the way they're going to work, it might be even a service that they can acquire directly from really from like a marketplace without spending also this large amount of money they are sometimes incurring right now. So the market will be much more competitive. So the solution, the tender level thresholds will go lower in a way. [00:23:41] Tamlyn Shimizu: So, yeah, yeah. I'm not confident we get to a world without procurement. I think governments inherently have to be very careful with how they're spending taxpayer money. And this is the system that's been put into place. But I am really confident that we can increase efficiency in the market and increase the efficiency in the procurement process as well. So let's see where it goes. Now we get into our segment, which we like to call inspire us. [00:24:19] Tamlyn Shimizu: Inspire us just a little bit with a story, a quote or anything that has inspired you recently. [00:24:29] Tamlyn Shimizu: Do you have anything that came to mind? [00:24:32] Luca Leomanni: Yeah, I would say we talked about the technology side of our solutions, our contribution in this ecosystem. I think what I would like also to bring here, I would say on the table is also the experience, for example, that had sometimes, just for example, some, there was like a beautiful video that I found on YouTube that is about the city of Oulu, probably you might know is a finnish city, is just below the Arctic Circle. And you can see there is like a popular video, also a documentary covered by BBC. And they were like, they were showing their kids going to school in such snowy cycle lanes. And for me, when I saw this video was so inspiring because I could see how sometimes we overlook the difficulty. How that happens is because their cycling infrastructure and road maintenance is really remarkable. So they have 1000 protected bike lanes, and during winter they have snow on the ground for five months. And 42% of all the population is biking during winter. So for me, this was like really, something really sticked in my mind, because I thought, wow, if they are able to do that, why we have so much trouble to implement this in some other cities that have much less of challenges. So this is actually a good note, it's a good inspirational thing, so that I still keep in my mind always when I see some people kind of complaining about how difficult it might be to implement a certain solution. Right? [00:26:12] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, absolutely. And then we get to our final question of the interview, and it's the question we ask every single guest, and it's to you, what is a Smart City? [00:26:23] Luca Leomanni: Right? So to me, a Smart City represents a safe haven where citizens can connect, move and live freely, empowered by technologies, but to make more informed decisions, intentional, sustainable choices. So for me, the Smart City needs to be this beautiful, fantastic place where people feel really relieved, they have no anxiety, the technologies are going to help them to take really good decisions, and these choices are driven by intentionality, so they really know why they are taking those decisions for. I really believe this is, yeah, might be the future, the beautiful future of the Smart City, not the surveillance world we should not enter in that area. But this is like the amazing place I could see, I could imagine for myself and for all people, like my peers around Europe and the world. [00:27:12] Tamlyn Shimizu: Yeah, yeah. Wonderful. Do you usually refer to it as Smart City? I'm just curious. [00:27:18] Luca Leomanni: Yeah, I would say yeah, yeah, yeah. [00:27:22] Tamlyn Shimizu: Smart City works for you. Okay, perfect. Yeah. So thank you so much for coming on, Luca. That was wonderful to get to talk to you and learn more about your work. So thank you so much and I hope to have you back sometime. [00:27:35] Luca Leomanni: Thank you Tamlyn and BABLE for hosting us. [00:27:37] Tamlyn Shimizu: Absolutely. And to all of our listeners, don't forget you can always create a free account on BABLE smartcities EU. You can find out more about Smart City projects, solutions and implementations. And of course, we'll link to SMCNetZero as well. Please check out the project, get the resources that the project has, and I'll see you next time. Thank you very much. Thank you all for listening. I'll see you at the next stop on the journey to a better urban life.

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