Image credit: Forum Virium Helsinki
By Juho Kostiainen, Coordinator of the Jätkäsaari Mobility Lab
City Voices is a new Urban Mobility Weekly initiative highlighting the work that our city partners are doing to improve and advance the mobility landscape for their citizens. Talking with key city officials, the series will focus on how urban communities are overcoming challenges, finding solutions, and seizing the opportunities to render mobility more sustainable, accessible, intelligent, and inclusive.
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Helsinki, the capital and most populous city of Finland, is a place for testing and experimenting with new business models in transportation. As the birthplace of MaaS, the city is working constantly to improve mobility. It strives for digitalization, data use and sharing, automation, artificial intelligence, and embraces a policy of gathering and analyzing all sorts of data to make more informed decisions. The city encourages transport operators, such as bike and ride sharing, MaaS, and micromobility providers, to share data in order to to enable multimodal service development. Via the Jätkäsaari Mobility Lab, the city of Helsinki provides a platform for innovation, making it easier for big companies and startups to try out new products and services in a real urban environment.
What is the mobility lab all about?
The Jätkäsaari Mobility Lab – Helsinki’s testbed for smart mobility – is a project funded by the city of Helsinki’s Innovation Fund. Its main activity is to be a platform supporting companies and startups with the process of testing pilots in a real urban environment. The lab covers a broad range of innovations – anything that tackle smoother, safer, and more sustainable transportation, but in particular, digital solutions and services that can be replicated and eventually scaled-up in different places around the world. It is a contact point for any company that wants to test smart mobility ideas in the city. The lab assists its partners in a variety of ways, from helping them understand business models to the permits that might be needed for operations.
Putting projects in motion
The autonomous street sweeper is one of the several pilots tested in the lab. Finnish winters can be rough and ensuring that the city runs smoothly during the cold months is a constant challenge. To keep up the share of commuters cycling to work during the winter, the city provides a robust cycling infrastructure, connecting all the main origins and destinations. The cycling network of Helsinki is still growing, with 1500 km of bike lanes and a budget for biking infrastructure that increases by roughly 30% each year. Added to that, the city has a very successful station-based bike sharing system, with roughly 250 docks. The system is also interoperable with the neighboring city of Espoo, making up a combined fleet of 4500 bikes and around 450 stations. As with many other regions, e-bikes are also becoming a lot more common. Last year, e-bike sales grew 94%!
But having good cycling infrastructure and services is not enough. Helsinki’s City Strategy from 2017 to 2021 is to be the most functional city in the world. To make sure that streets and bike lanes are functional, Helsinki must clear the dirt and debris – what better way to do that than with an autonomous street sweeper that also happens to be silent, allowing it to be used even at night time in residential areas?
Regarding CAV technology, the Finnish legislation is very supportive. In the past 6 years, several pilots based on this technology were tested in the country. The most recent one involves testing smarter and more convenient ways to clean the streets. The autonomous street sweeper sweeps street dust quietly and without emissions during the night. Built in Finland, this electric CAV consumes 85% less energy than a conventional brushing vacuum cleaning machine, and much less water as well. These aspects are of great importance, as Helsinki is aiming to meet its carbon neutrality objective by 2035. This street sweeper was tested in April in the Jätkäsaari area, and was one of the pilots supported by the lab.
Electric cargo bikes, drone delivery services, last mile autonomous delivery, last-meter routing for delivery logistics, and micro-hubs for logistic providers are some of the lab’s pilots for urban logistics. In terms of road safety, traffic safety monitoring and management initiatives are tested in the lab, such as a smart pedestrian warning system for the visually impaired, a near miss detection system at pedestrian crossings, and smart junctions to optimize traffic flow and traffic lights. The lab shows that a lot of these initiatives are paying off – a combination of smart technology and robust road safety policies have resulted in only one pedestrian death in the last few years.
Helsinki officials want to offer the city as a testbed, a platform for innovation to see how smarter solutions can be developed, how the population engages with them, and how these pilots affect their lives. Helsinki breaths innovation and it is not only in transportation. Pilots in several other areas, such as EdTech, the Built Environment, and Health & Wellbeing can be tested in the city. The supportive Finnish legislation, quality infrastructure, and open data approach are essential elements that facilitate the development of groundbreaking ideas. But, at the end of the day, it is the people of Helsinki that ultimately create this fantastic ecosystem of innovation, enthusiastic about providing the opportunity to test and experiment with new ideas, which we hope will eventually benefit other cities around the world.
To learn more about the Jätkäsaari Mobility Lab, visit https://mobilitylab.hel.fi/