Interview with Toomas Türk, director of the ICT sector at Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol
This week our coordinator Hanna-Kerli Metsala met with Toomas Türk, director of the ICT sector at Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol.
Read about the newest SmartCities developments in Estonia and why he thinks the UK and Estonia have a lot to cooperate on.
What exactly is Tehnopol? What do you do?
My name is Toomas Türk, I am head of the ICT sector at Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol. Tehnopol is the largest science park in the Baltics. We were founded in 2003 by Tallinn University of Technology (TUT), Tallinn City Government and Ministry of Economics and Communications. However, we are not a government-funded institution. The mission of Tehnopol is to support startups and growing tech-companies that specialize in ICT, Health-tech and Green-tech. Currently we have about 200 companies working in our offices with more than 3500 employees.
What are some of the specific areas that Tehnopol focuses on at the moment?
There are 5 key areas in which our companies and ourselves focus the smart city activities on right now. First, Green-tech Infrastructure, Resource Efficiency and Valorization – this includes smart building, Streetlight, IoT, energy efficiency and optimized consumption, renewable energy, monitoring and analysis of information. This is a new area, where we have recently seen a lot of businesses starting up, and have also developed some very interesting partnerships for testbed solutions, i.e. with PAKRI Science and Industrial Park
Secondly, Mobility and ITS – including queue and travel management, e-vehicles, smart parking etc. At Tehnopol we have one the charging point for e-vehicles in Estonia. We are also seeing a growing need for car-sharing, in campus mobility, ITS technologies and travel management.
Third, Health-tech – e-health, life sciences, biotechnology. Tehnopol has definitely become a leader in the sector via its activities in the Estonian health-tech cluster and several ongoing projects.
Fourth, Urban Planning. In this area there are two interesting developments to follow at the moment. In close partnership with the city of Tallinn, there is a joint goal of developing Tallinn into a regional tech hub. In our vision, the city could become an internationally known testbed for smart solutions. For example, in 2015, a joint project was launched between Smart Cities initiatives in Tallinn and Helsinki to establish a cross-border Smart City Centre of Excellence and demo lab (Horizon2020 project) – FINEST Twins. There is a clear political and business interest in strengthening the relationship between the cities of Tallinn and Helsinki, and Estonia and Finland respectively, in terms of research, innovation and economic development and the project offers a new model for closer cooperation.
Finally, Tehnopol together with Tartu Smart City Lab is leading the development of the Estonian Smart City cluster, which at present involves 23+ companies and organizations.
Looking from a more conceptual point of view – it seems that every country or region defines Smart Cities a little differently. Some say it´s all about tech, others focus on policy-making and some countries even link it to social justice. What are smart cities in your view?
Indeed, Smart Cities is still a developing concept and can include many different activities and areas. In Estonia, for example, we have worked on smart solutions for 10 years already, yet only recently did we identify our activities as part of Smart Cities.
Classically, there are two approaches to explain the phenomenon: 1. Smart Cities are about the actual technological solutions that make the city “smart”. 2. They are about the larger creative environment that can improve the living quality within a city.
Put together, we are looking into both technology and how it influences human behaviour. It is also applicable on the level of governance – i.e. the development of e-Estonia is smart governance.
Tehnopol and the smart city cluster in Estonia in general is trying not to become too broad in it is definition of Smart Cities. We want to keep our focus on three classical areas: efficiency, mobility and governance.
What is important is that we view the phenomenon globally – as part of a worldwide trend of urbanization. We focus on developing solutions that can be exported to other cities. There are solutions in Estonia that can greatly contribute to these three areas in cities across the world. In fact, we are already contacted by cities in India, Latin America, Japan as well as the Arab countries. Last year, an Estonian delegation also visited the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona for the first time.
So the „smart“ is not about saving costs, but about well-being?
It is about using creativity and technology to improve the living-environment that is in the city. The „clients“ of smart cities – citizens, decision-makers – want society to be sustainable and for governance to be more than just political. We want to include a community of smart people – seeking smarter solutions to problems – as well as focus investment in order to actually make for a better life and attract new investments, talents and establish more businesses/startups.
What in your view could even further enhance this push for cities to become smart and sustainable living-environments?
Those developing smart solutions should acknowledge all the possibilities that are out there to „improve“ something.
It is true that not all technological solutions can be universally applied and some may not fulfil the expected monetary goals, at least in the short run. This is something to keep in mind – that not all projects go as planned. However, it is acceptable in the larger view and we should think broadly and creatively.
What is needed is more active international engagement and to bring more people to Estonia. I have heard foreigners comment that when they visit Estonia, it is as if they visit the future. This is great and we should definitely develop the idea further! It also makes sense for us to tie ourselves even more to the Nordic Sea region. There is a San Fransisco Bay Area – why couldn´t we think of a Talsinki bay area?
UK-Estonia TechLink. How do you view cooperation betweeen the two countries and has there been any specific projects so far?
It´s a great idea and there are definitely many common areas for Estonia and the UK to work on together in Smart Cities. We recently had our first roundtable discussion between our core cluster members and the TechLink project managment.
Some of the potentail areas of cooperation that came up at the roundtable were internet of things, mobility, or developing an X-Road platform* for SmartCities.
Also, one option that I mentioned earlier is that Estonia could become a testbed or living lab for SmartCity solutions. In other words, Estonia could offer its infrastructure, with all its e-solutions for larger corporations in different areas in the UK to test their solutions. Of course, in this case we are rather speaking of smaller 1-million cities rather than larger. There are several avenues to explore and I hope to see this cooperation grow.
* X-Road is the backbone of e-Estonia. It’s the invisible yet crucial environment that allows the nation’s various e-services databases, both in the public and private sector, to link up and operate in harmony.