The cities of tomorrow will have us working, living, relaxing and moving around like we always do. But if it is up to these experts on innovation, it’ll all be done more efficiently, more sustainable and more swiftly than we are doing now. Debby Woesthuis and Mark Giesbers are jury leads for this year’s Blue Tulip Awards in the themes of respectively Mobility and Living and Working. Both are actively working towards that future. They see innovation wherever they look, but their main challenge is to bring it all together.
Sustainability in mobility
There’s no doubt for Debby Woesthuis about what the main innovation is in the area of mobility. “Sustainability”, she answers without hesitation. Woesthuis is at the forefront of innovation in how we get around. She is the division manager of buses with Amsterdam municipal public transport operator GVB. The company has the ambition to operate carbon-neutral by the year 2025, so there is a lot of work to be done. “We’re looking at sustainability in the broadest sense. Think about electrifying transport, stimulating cycling, hydrogen as an energy source. There are a lot of investments in e-transport. Battery technology is advancing rapidly. These are massive developments.”
Woesthuis has been a judge for the Blue Tulip Awards for four years now, and has seen her fair share of innovation. She can tell that sustainability is on everyone’s mind. “This topic has grown immensely when it comes to mobility. “When I started as a jurylead four years ago, maybe a quarter of the ideas that entered the competition were about sustainable transport. Now, it is closer to eighty percent.” GVB follows suit, as they plan to have their first 30 electric buses on the road later this year.
Changing the entire system
However, moving society to an overall green mode of transport is not as straightforward as it seems. “Little has changed over the past couple of years. Innovation mostly takes place on a larger timescale, like ten years,” says Woesthuis. Simply moving to an electric fleet means completely changing the way public transport works. Woesthuis explains how everything needs to come together, for one thing to work: “Our current bus stations are not designed to facilitate charging. We need more vehicles, to allow for longer charging times. That means we also need a completely new schedule for the buses to run on. But we’re also talking about the infrastructure and the electricity grid needed to facilitate buses. This means we need close cooperation with the city of Amsterdam. And then the question arises if the energy suppliers can keep up with the rising demand for electricity? As a human being, I’d like to innovate faster within the area of mobility, but therefore we have to break through some persistent barriers.”
Smarter homes, offices and cities
Bringing innovations together is also the main challenge Mark Giesbers is facing in his field. As the Managing Director for Products at Liberty Global he is responsible for product development for all the cable operators in Europe in the Liberty Global group. His team designs and produces the wifi modems, TV boxes, streaming apps and online services for millions of Europeans, as well as the company’s network services and platforms for the B2B market. With multimedia and online services at the core of the push to make our homes and workplaces smarter, Giesbers knows which innovations are making their way into our living rooms and offices. But for the Blue Tulip Awards Living & Working category, he’s also looking for broader applications, to make our cities smarter and improve our digital well-being.
Just as Woesthuis, the main challenge Giesbers faces is that no innovation can work on its own. It needs to be brought together somehow. “The market is now at that stage where almost endlessly different smart devices and applications are being introduced. There is no standardization and quite a few of these solutions are not really easy to use. At home, some early adopters may already switch their lights on and off using their voice, for example. But for most users, smart home solutions are just still too complicated.” The workplace also sees a boom in innovative new solutions, says Giesbers: “Remote working is on the rise. So is smart energy management for office buildings. We see apps that help people find a free desk in a co-working office, and buildings that monitor attendance to optimize energy usage. The era where everyone was doing the same thing in the same place from nine-to-five is really behind us. We need truly smart solutions to account for the changing behaviour of the workforce.”
Move closer together
But all the current options are fragmented. There is not one single solution to bring all the current innovations in smart homes or offices together on one platform. One that makes them work together, learn from each other or make them easier to use. Will there be one such innovation that ties everything together? “That is the million dollar question,” says Giesbers. “However I don’t think it will be one single company or one single product. Everybody has to equally move closer together. There will be enough room for multiple players.”
Overall impact on society and wellbeing
At the Blue Tulip Awards, both Giesbers and Woesthuis will be looking for that one thing that can put mobility, smart homes, modern offices or cities into the future. Giesbers has a pragmatic approach for dealing with new innovations in his field: “We judge an idea on multiple points. How disruptive and unique is it, for example. Can you make a proper business case out of it? What about the team behind the innovation? Those are all important factors.”
He also looks at the team and the overall impact an idea can have on society and wellbeing and adds: “We are not looking for ideas that involve technology, just for the sake of technology.” For Woesthuis, judging a new idea in her field, means looking at multiple factors: “The innovation level of the idea is important and if it is feasible and scalable or not. But for me it is also important to look at how someone pitches his or her idea. Do we understand what is being said and does it excite us? How much one believes in his idea is usually an indication of whether or not it will succeed. But I also usually take a peek at their website. Does it make me greedy? Is it something I want to have?”