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Smart City Development in Slovenia – Interview with Martin Pečar

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Slovenia is in the heart of Europe and has some of the most stunning scenery you could ever hope to see, if you doubt me then just check out the photos of Lake Bled online, it is as good if not better in person. I am not here to write a travel review about Slovenia though, that would not really be hitting my brief.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to have short conversation with Martin Pečar about the smart city scene in Slovenia. Martin is General Manager for the Strategic Research & Innovation Partnership for Smart Cities and Communities in Slovenia.

He will be speaking at Smart Cities Live in London next month and prior to the event I thought I would get a bit more detail about how the project will influence smart city development across the country.

PB: How is the smart city scene in Slovenia?

MP: Slovenia is a rather small country without huge cities, most urban areas are smaller towns rather than cities. These towns have different challenges to big cities and they also smaller budgets for investing in new solutions.

However, in the last few years there has been increased will to introduce new solutions and improve the quality of life for the citizens. Most of the biggest towns, (25,000-300,000 population) are introducing transportation and energy-based solutions.

PB: Interesting to hear that, it is not only in Slovenia where the “small giant” towns and cities are leading the way. Can you give some examples of smart city projects that are already underway?

MP: The biggest is probably the NEDO project which is related to smart grid. Part of it is providing powerful batteries for the town of Idrija, which had previously suffered power outages during severe icy weather.

Regarding energy and water distribution, Slovenia is very well covered with smart meters which offers many possibilities for more energy efficient optimisation of the system.

The capital Ljubljana also has some nice projects. One example is BicikeLJ, which offers free bike rides around the city. There are also some companies that offer mobility services, like GoOpti for on-demand long-distance transport and Avantcar for (electric) vehicle sharing.

Another important field for us is health, based on our Electronic Health Records open-standard system, which is provided by Marand, an ecosystem of start-up companies has been established to provide solutions in this area. Another company, Cosylab, is very involved in the development of proton cancer treatment.

These are just a few examples that stand out. Apart from the implemented solutions, we are very involved in research, one example is the ACCUS H2020 project, which was basically a proof of concept for an Artificial Intelligence controlled city.

Another advantage that Slovenia has is that it is rather small and many of the projects above are not confined to a single city, but are actually implemented nationally. This makes Slovenia a perfect reference country as it shows how projects are easily replicable.

PB: Sounds like there is a lot going on, what is the SRIP for Smart Cities & Communities?

It is the Strategic Research & Innovation Partnership for Smart Cities and Communities. It has recently been established with the support of the Slovenian government. It is a crucial element of the Smart Specialisation Strategy, providing the unified contact point between Slovenian industry, the government and foreign stakeholders. We currently cover 6 industry verticals and 6 ICT horizontals.

The industry verticals are:              The ICT horizontals are:

– eHealth                                         – IoT

– Mobility, Transport & Logistics     – IoS

– Energy and Utilities                      – Cybersecurity

– Safety                                           – HPC & Big Data

– Urban life quality                         – Digital Transformation

– Smart City Ecosystem                  – GIS-T

PB: Who else is involved in the partnership?

The coordinator is the Jožef Stefan Institute, which is the largest research organisation in Slovenia. The partnership has connected over 140 members in the first half year of operation. The majority of the members are companies, we also have several research organisations and we cooperate closely with associations of cities. Of course, strong involvement from the Slovenian government is one of the key ingredients.

PB: What are the main aims and objectives of the project?

MP: The main aim is to coordinate the R&D resources of the companies and help them to collaborate and provide solutions which are more complete. Also, we want to promote our members and help them find the right partners abroad. We also have a few short-term objectives.

We plan to organise a conference for Smart Towns in Ljubljana in the end of November. The aim of it is to identify the needs and challenges of towns, especially in Central and Eastern Europe and help them find appropriate solutions. We also plan two showcases:

  1.  BTC, originally a shopping district, which wants to be an “Innovative City” by providing a test-bed for new solutions, some developed in their ABC accelerator, some elsewhere, e.g. they will be allowing autonomous vehicles in the district
  2. Technology Park Ljubljana and the Novo Brdo neighbourhood.

Our SRIP also has strong ICT competences. We have many excellent scientists, there are around 300 (about 1 per 7000 inhabitants) experts in data science and artificial intelligence. However, industrial research is less common than it should be. Therefore we plan a Watify matchmaking event in the beginning of the new year regarding Artificial Intelligence. We hope this will stimulate cooperation between foreign companies and our scientists.

Cooperation and Excellence are two key points that we are striving for.

PB: Great stuff, it is always good to hear of collaboration in the smart city field, the more collaboration the better as in the long run it will mean better solutions and a better quality of life for citizens. I am particularly interested in the smart city developments around AI. It is an area that I think can add a lot of value to cities over years to come, but there will need to be a lot of engagement with citizens to make it a success because I feel there is still a lot of suspicion from citizens about AI.

Thank you Martin for some great insight on the SRIP for Smart Cities & Communities in Slovenia, I look forward to hearing more from you at Smart Cities Live and more as the partnership develops over the coming years.

To see who else is speaking at Smart Cities Live you can visit the website: www.smartcitieslive.com