“This is an emerging market where the initial steps are being taken in the absorption of such technologies, but we should bear in mind that these are new products in a new market”
“Barcelona provides talent at a reasonable cost and quality of life. Besides, in the last five years, an ecosystem of small companies devoted to providing solutions for Smart Cities has arised”
With more than 10 years of experience in the geophysics sector, Ignasi Vilajosana is CEO of Worldsensing and co-founder of Sensefields, a company that has grown under his leadership to become a benchmark company in Spain in the area of technologies applied to services. The company specializes in sensor systems that try to find solutions for two emergent markets: those in the smart city area and those in the smart monitoring area. “We develop the project”, Vilajosana told us about Worldsensing, “manufacture the technology and commercialize it through a network of partners”.
Looking back at Worldsensing from its very beginning, it could be said that the company offers a full service
Our company headquarters are located in Barcelona, and we have a branch office in London. It was founded in 2008 to offer solutions to improve mobility and traffic management in two significant areas. On the one hand, Fast Prk, devoted to car park management and based on sensors installed in each car park place that detect the presence of a car in the park place and send the information to a control center that offers the information to citizens so that they may find out where the closest free places are. On the other hand, we offer the Bit Carrier solution, devoted to mobility: monitoring vehicles and people in cities in order to determine their trajectories, the most frequent pathways, the most visited places and the amount of traffic involved.
What can Bit Carrier do?
It finds out the location of the cell phones we carry around in our pockets and searches mobile devices all along by means of a set of aerials installed all over the city. This enables us to anonymously monitor the devices and draw up real-time maps depicting people and vehicle circulation (including bicycle circulation), tell apart one kind of devices from another, or even sort out information according to nationality… Both solutions, when used together, offer a real-time image of what static and dynamic traffic would be. That is to say, where cars and people come from, where they go and where they park. The whole set provides a complete picture of the city. These solutions have already been introduced in several cities all over the world, such as Moscow, Sydney, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Panama City, Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires.
Tell us about the project undertaken in Castelfranco Veneto, near Venice (Italy)
The parking space operator in the city of Castelfranco Veneto wanted to improve citizen service as well as their own way to work. Thus, they asked us to install the Fast Prk solution to detect real-time occupancy rate of car park places, so that they would be able to manage parking space in a more efficient manner as well as provide information to citizens using a mobile app. Besides, several LED panels in the city make it possible to inform about where the free places are in the nearest zone.
How would you assess the state of the market in the sector?
This is an emerging market where the initial steps are being taken in the absorption of such technologies, but we should bear in mind that these are new products in a new market. We have lived many years without a single park sensor in a city, and now it is a complex issue to take in the technology. We should take into consideration that this is a public sector where several stakeholders are involved. Nevertheless, this kind of technology generates several creative benefits for the city that make it possible to generate medium-term investment, which makes its production easier. The thing is that in emergent markets, such as the Middle East or Russia, the technology is being introduced at a much higher rate, because parking spaces are being regulated now. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, there were no parking meters or there was little regulation on parking spaces. Thus, it was easier to apply some regulations by adopting this technology there. The situation is somewhat different in Europe, because cities have their own regulations, and this is a highly segregated market that has been regulated for many years. All the aforementioned makes introducing operational changes much more difficult.
Now let’s focus on Europe. Which are the countries more open to such products?
Most probably, the markets in southern Europe, where vehicles are a normal part of daily life. On the other hand, our initiative is considered to encourage the use of vehicles in northern Europe. As an example, using vehicles in cities has been forbidden in Sweden.
Your headquarters are in Barcelona. What does the city offer that the others lack, from the technological point of view?
Our headquarters are in Barcelona because we are from Barcelona and consider it a city with several interesting features for our company. It is quite easy to attract talent to Barcelona, because it is a city with good universities and therefore good local talent, but also nice living conditions that make it easier to attract people from all over the world. Its airport has good connections and opens the doors to the Latin American market and to the southern Europe market. We have talent at a reasonable cost, quality of life and, in the last five years, an ecosystem of small companies devoted to Smart Cities solutions has arised. I think this is a further step in the evolution of architecture and urbanism in the city. It is not by chance that Barcelona is also at the forefront of these two disciplines.
Which universities do you work with?
We work closely with the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), the Universitat Autonòma de Barcelona, the UOC and the UB.
What are your expectations in terms of the Smart City World Congress?
Our expectations are to show our technological capacities and showcase the projects we have been developing in the last few months. Above all, we consider it to be a meeting point with our partners. For me, this a very important networking event.
Have you taken place in other trade shows abroad?
Yes, we regularly attend several trade shows in the countries where we are present. Each one has its own characteristics, but the one in Barcelona has a special value-added feature: its international nature. I think it is somewhat a Mobile World Congress smaller in size, focused on a global strategic vision and setting the trends. This is why we should be present.
Where do you think the full swing in the Smart market will lead us?
I think we just went over the first peak, and we are now in the phase where technology absorption is rationalized to set up smart services. Cities and companies are learning to work together in the new model (because this is a new model after all). This is similar to what happened 25 years ago, when city councils introduced computers, CRC or CRN (or internal management systems), or specific departments for computer science and specific information technology departments were created. I think we currently find ourselves in a similar context 20 years later.
As with all innovative processes, some time is required for it to be introduced…
Yes, indeed. Besides, we are currently witnessing a clash between technology, highly dynamic in nature, and the capacity shown by the administration to asorb it. In other words, the clash between “administration times”, which may be very long, and “technology times”, which are made up of very fast, constant changes.
Don’t you think there is an issue when it comes to informing citizens of the benefits provided by the Smart philosophy?
Yes. Nowadays, it makes much more sense to engage citizens so that they may give their opinion. Technology introduction should be democratized, and project development models should be changed. For example, a city in Silicon Valley is engaging local small industries and citizens to create their own Smart Lighting. They are doing so in a consortium where solutions for the next 20 years are being developed. ¡They certainly did not run to Philips to buy a lamppost!