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Eindhoven wants to become a smart society. But how does that work? What’s going on in a society like that? Are there any good examples to learn from? DataStudio Eindhoven explores the transition a city has to go through to actually become such a smart society. Each week, we present a new contribution on E52. This week: Richard Ponjee about Citybeacons. Read all the articles here.

From his control room in brasserie De Oude Rechtbank, Tinus Kanters oversees his domain. Looking outside through the window, he sees Stratumseind, the pub street of Eindhoven. Inside he sees a wall full of screens and computers. Data is thus collected. A lot of data.

Kanters is the project leader of the Living Lab at Stratumseind. “The lab is part of the Stratumseind 2.0 project, which started a few years ago”, he says. “We noticed at the time that there was a lot of decay.” Fewer and fewer people wanted to come to the pub street. A consequence of all too many stories about aggressiveness on the street.

The municipality decided to intervene. It sought contact with bar-owners, police, local residents, and breweries. One central question was: how can we keep things going here?

The answer was a living lab for crowd control, looking over large groups of people. The street is now full of high-tech material for collecting data. There are five telephoto cameras, as many sound meters and 22 LED lamp posts that can influence the mood of the audience with their light. There is even a small weather station.

All these devices collect data. They measure visitor numbers, where visitors come from and go to, the effect of light and different kinds of sound. “The sound cameras – from the Eindhoven startup Sorama – are now so advanced that they know the difference between a gunshot, fireworks and breaking glass”, says Kanters. “The more data we have, the more precise we can make the software, the more accurate it is.” That software is now so precise that Kanters and the police are ready to test applications in real life.

Already now, the police can control the brightness of all the lights in the street. In this way, they can easily identify possible troublemakers. This autumn, two police officers received an application on their phone. If the smart sound meters in the street predict an imminent fight, the agents will be notified automatically. “They are going to run for me”, Kanters laughs.

Because no matter how clever the cameras are, they are still far from being perfect. “The system recognizes certain characteristics of loud and high noise associated with aggression”, says Kanters. “But that same sound is also part of a very enthusiastic bachelor party.” A new test is designed to ensure that the sound cameras also get that distinction.

The project is now entering its final phase. The time of data collection and writing algorithms slowly passes into the period of actual use. Yet Kanters is not satisfied. Not by a long way yet. “Most of the bar owners now know that we are here”, the project leader is humming. “They especially like the fact that they can turn on and off the lights on the street.” According to him, they underestimate the potential of data: “I have demographic information, I can make relationships between temperature and visitor numbers. All this is concrete and valuable information. But nobody makes use of it.”

According to Kanters, the visitors are ignorant as well. “I think that almost no one has any idea at all. They don’t know what we are doing here.” That frustrates him. How do I show all those people the importance and possibilities of data?”

According to Kanters, Eindhoven still has to change from a Smart City to a Smart Society, a community that is actively shaped by the inhabitants themselves, using big data. “Technology should not be central”, he says. “Questions from citizens and their own ability to resolve them must be at stake. Technology and data are only supporting.”

According to the project leader, this is his biggest challenge for the coming years. Another challenge lies in the area of privacy. How can the Living Lab continue to collect data and at the same time guarantee the privacy of pub visitors? According to Kanters, it is not only a challenge, it is also a potential pitfall. “I think that over the next few years there will be an enormous debate about privacy and security”, says Kanters. “Now many people say: ‘I have nothing to hide’, so the government can know everything about me. Especially if this prevents bomb attacks. Not a strange thought, but perhaps short-sighted”, he thinks. “People need to think more actively about what data they share and why. The Living Lab can also be a test environment for this.”

But then visitors need to know what is happening here. According to Kanters, this cannot be shared often enough. “We are doing quite well in Eindhoven. But we should shout it out a lot more.”