Sharing rather than owning. Protecting the environment.
Almost all of the 129 startups that took part in the EDF Pulse Awards in the Smart City category included these two pillars in their projects – and mobility and waste management featured as major urban trends.
The concept of ownership is undergoing profound change. Olaf Maxant, EDF's Innovation Hub
The sharing economy and collaborative models
City-dwellers are increasingly abandoning their cars and using alternative ways of getting about. And they don't necessarily want to own these alternatives. The startups that took part in the EDF Pulse Awards understood this fact, providing a range of solutions to a major urban challenge – creating the conditions for sustainable, easy-to-access transportation. Inspired by Vélib, Paris's bicycle sharing system, and by peer-to-peer car rental, startup after startup set out their own vehicle sharing apps. "There are services for bikes, electric bikes, scooters, electric scooters, self-balancing scooters, electric unicycles," says Olaf Maxant, deputy head of innovation at EDF's Innovation Hub, reeling off the list with a smile.
As cities turn away from cars, the concept of sharing has spread unexpectedly, now even being applied to parking places. So why not rent out spare places in a town hall or company car park – or even residents' spaces? The underlying system behind a number of smart parking projects is the same: an app puts parking place owners in touch with those who need the space. But in general, it was practical issues – such as the existence of a universal door control or appropriate payment collection software – that made all the difference in the selection committee's view.
Following in the footsteps of the pioneers of these models, the projects either focused on making vehicles available at public stations or, more commonly, peer-to-peer rental. But are citizens ready to rent out their property for others to use? It was a debate that arose from time to time among the jury. Thinking back to the reluctance surrounding the very popular Blablacar, Drivy, AutoLib and AirBnB when they first started out was enough to allay concerns. "A lot of applications are centred around users sharing knowledge, objects, and space at home," Olaf Maxant says with satisfaction. "The concept of ownership is undergoing profound change."
Total waste recycling
Shared mobility solutions are an obvious way to achieve a more sustainable city. But to protect the environment, startups are also looking to waste. And the reason? "Waste management and recovery are big topics for cities," says Olaf Maxant. It was the solutions that addressed the most obvious needs that most often won over the jury, at least in principle. Examples include waste sorting, collection and recovery systems aimed at restaurants and company canteens – which are not always able to organise this themselves – coupled with tools to analyse the results.
There are huge fields of research in recycling, materials and energy that are just waiting to be explored. Fabien Cauchi, Métapolis Founder
Thinking smart outside of the digital sphere
But making cities more eco-friendly also involves innovations without the slightest hint of digital technology. It isn't always an easy thing to hear, even for the privileged members of the selection committee. Is this new insulation that can be used on all materials smart or isn't it? Are these projects that reinvent concrete or rethink wood – adapting the materials to new challenges in terms of resistance, security and sustainability – smart or aren't they? Fabien Cauchi, founder and MD of consultancy firm Métapolis, has no doubts about it: "There are huge fields of research in recycling, materials and energy that are just waiting to be explored. We had a few interesting proposals in these fields, which were so innovative that we had long debates on whether they were really feasible. But it's reassuring to think that there are still fields to be explored, to be industrialised, that need hard research." Perhaps, as Fabien Cauchi and Olaf Maxant suggest, we should be talking about clever or ingenious cities rather than smart cities.