During the last decade, 3D-printing has become available to consumers. This technique, also called additive manufacturing, has already been used for many decades in various industries to produce complex products or product parts that cannot be manufactured in any other way.
Consumer-level 3D printers only use plastics, but industrial 3D printers are capable of using other materials, including metals and materials such as ceramics that are stronger than steel. Some of these printers use laser-based systems to produce materials with very fine details.
The ceramic materials research group, lead by Professor Erkki Levänen at the Tampere University of Applied Sciences, is taking these 3D-printed materials to the next level by incorporating active compounds that can perform chemistry in air and liquids. Applications include high efficiency catalytic convertors in buildings or on top of chimneys to reduce pollutants.
During the Tampere Sustainability Startup weekend organised by the American TechStars seed accelerator, UrbanZee’s CEO Aschwin van der Woude participated as a mentor, and met Setareh Zakari, one of Professor Levänen’s doctoral students. “When I talked with Setareh about her research, the huge potential of active 3D nanomaterials on air quality were immediate clear”, explained van der Woude, “as her research showed that active materials can be incorporated, such as those reducing Nitrogen dioxide, I understood 3D-printed materials can potentially improve efficiency by several magnitudes”.
After the event discussions continued, and professor Levänen concluded: “as our research is at an exciting cross-roads of ceramic nanomaterials, chemistry and environmental engineering, and we always look for commercial partners, it became clear the approach taken by UrbanZee is a good fit with our focus”.
UrbanZee and Professor Levänen’s research group started a preliminary study on the viability of some initial product ideas that could become part of UrbanZee’s offering in the future. As the research continues, the business potential will become more clear, which might include adding additional business partners to the project.
Last year, UrbanZee was qualified for the EU Copernicus Accelerator programme when its team won the main price at the AtmosHack hackathon in Helsinki.
The Copernicus programme is one of the two major satellite programmes run by the European Commission, its Galileo programme providing the next generation global position alike GPS, and its Copernicus programme consisting of various Earth observation satellites.
As all the satellite data is freely available and to get the maximum benefit out of these satellites, the Copernicus accelerator programme is an annual programme facilitating start-ups to develop new services using satellite data. UrbanZee was one among the best 50 start-ups from across Europe to qualify for the 2018-2019 programme.
“Many accelerator programmes have similar content, but what made this accelerator unique is that they paired us up with our own personal mentor”, explained Aschwin van der Woude, CEO of UrbanZee. “Our mentor, was crucial to UrbanZee as his expertise in building communities around satellite data help us develop the right business models”, continued van der Woude.
UrbanZee’s mentor, Hans van ‘t Woud is an experienced entrepreneur with a successful company using satellite data and the power of crowds to identify features on maps, which can help disaster relief or detect illegal rainforest cuts. “As a an entrepreneur I endured ample failure while success is rare but worthwhile. Hence, it has taken me a lot of willpower and a blind belief in my concept to be able to keep up”, says mentor van ‘t Woud, “and I see similar characteristic skills in Aschwin, and he has what it takes to see his platform to come alive”.
Within the start-up industry it widely known that failure rates are high, and while there are many reasons for failure, often it is because a new product or services has no market or the market is not ready to adopt novel innovations yet. “Connecting the crowd to space assets and providing them with tools to do something about our environment is just one of these things that must succeed. This, along with sellable data, in the end makes it a perfect combination”, concludes mentor van ‘t Woud.
UrbanZee is developing several services with business models that fit with the costs of measuring cities in fine detail. Building communities that have a measuring capability is one such business model, and satellite data provides the initial data to identify where in a city detailed measuring should take place. “It is for innovative ideas such as those developed by UrbanZee that the Copernicus programme needs to exist”, explains programme coordinator Tamara Naydenova, “as it is not just about using satellite data but it is also about creating meaningful impact in our lives”.
UrbanZee’s next steps are to test the concepts developed during the accelerator programme. Even though the programme has ended, CEO van der Woude and mentor van ‘t Woud intend to continue to work together, and that in itself has been the biggest success of the programme for UrbanZee.
During Summer last year, in 2018, UrbanZee measured specific areas of Salo for nine weeks, which included Tupuri, Halikko, Viitannummi, Vanutehtaanmäki and the centre area.
Salo requested to measure pollution in these areas for two reasons. The centre, Tupuri and Halikko were known to contain larger amounts of traffic than other areas. And the second reason was Viitanummi, which houses the powerplant and it was expected that under common wind conditions its pollution would descent in or near Viittanummi.
Furthermore, Salo city was interested in measuring the difference between week- and weekend days, and patterns within data taken in the morning, noon and afternoon. Based on these requirements, UrbanZee planned a standard route to visit each area with its mobile sensor over the nine weeks of the project.
The data found that the areas with busier streets did some some observable somewhat elevated patterns of air pollution for some days, specifically Nitrogen Dioxide, but in most cases air quality was good. As for the power plant no clear air pollution patterns were found near the power plant nor in the areas were pollution would descent.
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The Copernicus accelerator is an initiative by the European union to accelerate the use of earth observation satellites launched by the EU. The accelerator hosts fifty teams from countries across Europe. Each team either won a Hackathon, got selected based on a open call or won a challenge in the Copernicus masters programme.
This ten month mentoring programme was kicked off during a boot camp in Marseille, France on the third and fourth of December. Each of the teams was paired up with a mentor who had previously been through the same programme and now have successful businesses. The teams will be mentored for ten months with another camp at the end of the programme.
After winning AtmosHack in Helsinki, UrbanZee, a small air-quality related start-up in Finland, qualified for the Copernicus accelerator programme. They were paired up with Hans van ‘t Woud, who is a past Copernicus overall winner and the founding director of BlackShore. His business is successfully using the power of the crowds to analyse satellite imagery.
“Our ideas use a crowd-based approached to create impact on the air quality in cities”, says Aschwin van der Woude, CEO of UrbanZee, “so I am excited to work with Hans, especially as we have already evolved our initial ideas to the next level during the boot camp. The next ten months in the programme promises to be interesting”.
“I have mentored several other teams in the Copernicus accelerator programme, after my own successes”, explains mentor van ‘t Woud, “as a conceptual designer, I always look for ways to integrate and innovate ideas. And as an entrepreneur, I seek to create a positive impact in the world. UrbanZee’s ideas are very interesting and I am keen to help them succeed”.
During the second day of the Copernicus accelerator boot camp all fifty teams had the opportunity to pitch their business ideas within one and a half minute. The teams were spread over four separate pitching sessions with different juries. UrbanZee became the winner in one of these sessions, earning them an opportunity to pitch at another European start-up/investor event.
“AtmosHack and the Copernicus accelerator boot camp provided us not only with some validation on our direction by the judges, but we also gained access to a wider range of experts to help us succeed”, concludes van der Woude, “we’ll continue going forward to impact the air quality of cities around the world”.
Last weekend ten teams competed in the Copernicus AtmosHack, where they came up with innovative ways to use and visualise Copernicus satellite data on air quality. UrbanZee, a Turku-based start-up, won the challenge with their real-estate service.
The teams were selected out of 35 project applications and competed for prizes worth 30.000€, with the top price including entry into the European Copernicus Accelerator programme. Other prices awarded to the top six teams included tickets to Slush and continued access to the WEkEO satellite data platform so teams could continue developing their ideas.
“We, and other teams, faced many challenges during AtmosHack working with satellite data for the first time”, remarked UrbanZee CEO Aschwin van der Woude. Aschwin continued: “we were fortunate enough to have domain experts available from the sponsoring organisation to help us overcome these challenges”.
UrbanZee had developed their real-estate service prior to AtmosHack and sought to improve the service by combining open data from satellites and ground stations with data from UrbanZee’s own devices.
“I believe that UrbanZee had the best business plan, that made innovative use of satellite data by merging them with ground-based air quality observations and data from hand-held sensors. They were a great team, combining business acumen with expertise in web design and statistics” said Johannes Flemming, Principal Scientist at ECMWF.
AtmosHack was arranged by Ultrahack, an expert organisation focusing on encouraging innovation through Hackathons. “I have seen Aschwin compete in other Ultrahack events and he was even elected best mentor in one of the events we organised in Turku last year”, noted CEO and co-founder of Ultrahack Mikko Järvilehto, “it is a pleasure to see him succeed in AtmosHack, especially as the topic relates to his Startup business”.
As the winning team, UrbanZee will participate in a bootcamp in December, which is the start of the ten month intensive Copernicus Accelerator programme. “We are very excited to enter the Copernicus Accelerator and join the other 50 teams from across Europe”, says Aschwin van der Woude energetically. “We hope not only to use satellite data to develop and implement our ideas, but also gain some visibility to help the success of our business. Our aim is to reduce pollution world-wide through a platform of economies connecting all the necessary actors, and we will need all the help we can get to succeed”.
The City of Salo and UrbanZee have agreed on a pilot during summer 2018. Specific areas in Salo will be measured twice a week, such as the centre area, Halikko, Tupuri, Viitanummi and Vanutehtaanmäki. A mobile app will be released later to provide citizens with access to this information.
Salo is one of the most active cities in south-west Finland. It is continuously evolving and is somewhat unique in that it is developing excellent facilities from former Nokia factory and R&D center, into the Salo IoT Campus. Not only does this provide companies with excellent infrastructure; but highly skilled engineering workforce also provides unique opportunities. Not surprising, Salo is quickly rediscovering itself as an innovative city, attracting both startups and growth companies, and even initiatives such as Elon Musk’s Hyperloop.
Additionally, Salo as a smaller city has very clean air. While Finland itself is in the top 10 of countries in the world with the cleanest air, there are benefits to living in a city, such as Salo, with even less pollution than larger Finnish cities.
“Salo wants to be attractive to startups so when we talked with UrbanZee we saw opportunities to work together” said special advisor Peter Nisula from the City of Salo, “UrbanZee is a smartcity company, which made it even more interesting to Salo”.
Earlier this spring performed a pilot on measuring the air quality within Salo to show UrbanZee’s capability. These initial measurements were only snapshots, but showed clean air overall.
UrbanZee is a startup aiming to measure the air quality of entire cities in hyper-local detail. Its services include access to air quality information and measuring areas in detail and a platform for people to participate in making a lasting change. “Salo as a city is interesting for us, because an early small-scale survey showed that even in a city like Salo people are concerned about air quality” explains UrbanZee’s CEO Aschwin van der Woude, “This is not entirely surprising as air quality can on average be good, but in some specific areas of a city one might find elevated levels of pollution, such as next to a busy road”.
“Salo has not been actively measuring air quality as it has not been needed nor required”, says director of environmental protection Pirkko Paranko from the City of Salo, “We are nevertheless curious about some areas that are under development and look forward to seeing the effects of, for example, the power plant might have on pollution levels in some areas of Salo”. UrbanZee is closely collaborating with Salo city to ensure the data produced can provide meaningful conclusions.
During the pilot, UrbanZee will also conduct several surveys to further measure concern among citizens, and allow people to sign up for early access to the mobile app.
Education in Finland has for a long time ranked high among all other countries in the world, and was even number one for many years. Finnish education continues to evolve, and the latest trend is involving students in real-world problems by connecting students with companies that pose a challenge. The solutions to these challenges can provide participating companies with new innovative ideas to evolve their own products.
“Our Hackathon format allows students to focus deeply on a chosen challenge for several days,which teaches them to work together and use their creativity and develop design thinking to hack together innovative solutions” says Juhani Koivuviita, leader organizer of EduHack and COO of Educraftor, the company behind EduHack, “not only are these valuable life-lessons, it also helps them choose the right education and career path for themselves” .
From the 17th until the 19th of May, Educraftor organised its third EduHack event, which had eleven teams participate with high-school students from schools in Tampere and Huittinen, Vaasa, Helsinki and Turku. Students had access to the latest technologies, such as Virtual Reality, Augmented reality and 3D-printing and were encouraged to use these technologies in their solutions and presentations.
This third EduHack focused on challenges of using geoinformatics in education and Sixth wave thinking, which is about creating solutions for our resource-limited future. Challenges in these categories were provided by SYKE, the Finnish environmental centre, Paikkaoppi and ESRI Finland, a geo-informatics company.
“We asked UrbanZee’s CEO, Aschwin van der Woude, to participate as a project management mentor and judge. He participated in the first EduHack and brought a lot of energy and expertise“ added Koivuviita.
During the first session of this third EduHack, van der Woude focused on helping to define the purpose for each team, which answers the question of “Why”, and also covered the basics of project management. “As I had seen the first EduHack, I understood what the teams needed, so I tried to provide them with some of the basic team tools they needed for this. “, explained van der Woude, “a clear purpose helps the team and the solution, so I spent most of my workshop on answering Why. I was very impressed when most teams delivered a fairly clear purpose statement in half an hour”.
Throughout the Hackathon, students were exposed to many other types of workshops and coaches to help further develop and implement their solutions. Some teams even worked deep into the night on their challenge.
By the end of the EduHack event, five teams out of eleven participating teams received one or more prices. Prizes were provided by the various partners, and all gave winning teams an opportunity to continue developing their ideas.
During the past few years Turku university has been developing a more entrepreneurial focus. Kasvupajat.fi is one of the projects combining the extensive expertise of the region’s higher education institutions to meet the needs of different industries in ways that benefit everyone: companies, teachers, researchers, students and other people.
Kasvunpajat.fi is an interregional initiative in Finland, and aims to bring together growth companies with graduating students and university-educated unemployed. This initiative is funded by the European Union’s 6Aika Program, and the City of Tampere is the main actor. It started in September 2016 and will continue until the of December 2018, and founded by the Tampere University of Applied Sciences, Turku University, Turku University of Applied Sciences, Turku Science Park Oy and Metropolia Polytechnic.
“We believe the best way to help local growth companies is to show them the talent that is available and help them solve their initial growth problems by applying an innovation process” explains Antti Tuomisto, lecturer and project leader for Kasvupajat.fi at the University of Turku.
“Innovation camps allow participants to interact with companies and work on real-world problems and show their skills” continues Tuomisto, “we approached UrbanZee as they have global growth ambitions and could benefit from access to local talent”.
UrbanZee is a young startup and alumni of the Turku Business region BusinessUp accelerator, and is focussed on addressing the global problem of air pollution. A problem that, according to the World Health Organisatio, is affecting 92% of the world population.
“Our focus is on measuring the air quality of entire cities in detail and developing a platform for air quality information and lasting change”, explains Aschwin van der Woude CEO of UrbanZee, “already during our discussions with the Kasvupajat team did we evolve our thinking, and we are keen to see how their innovation camp will help us make a further leap”.
UrbanZee’s platform aims to enable concerned citizens of polluted cities to collaborate with other citizens, companies and local governments, and form “hack the city” communities to find solutions to local air pollution problems. Crowdfunding will be one of the tools available to jointly afford lasting solutions.
The two week long innovation camp organised during May 2018. In addition to good experience and potential credits for all participants, the best team will be rewarded with an escape room experience kindly provided by local CLU TKU (clutku.fi). During the camp participants will be challenged to find innovative ways to make UrbanZee’s platform approach work in the wildly varying localities around the world.
“For this particular challenge we hope to find a strong mix of Finnish and international students, and other people interested in participating in this important and interesting problem. Globally, the topic is very important and even alarming in the larger cities of China and India. It is time to find innovative solutions to help create change”, concludes Tuomisto.
Well-being and health-care have traditionally not been supported by technologies other than those found in hospitality. With the ubiquity of mobile phones, and the rise of wearable computers, the combination with health-care and well-being has a tremendous potential.
With funding from the Asia programme within the ministry of education, the Turku and Tampere universities of applied sciences and Miyagi university in Japan are organising four well-being hackathons during 2018 and 2019.
“We are aware that air pollution is major problem in many parts of the world and especially in Asia, which directly affects well-being”, says Päivi Oliva from the Turku University of Applies Sciences, “as we had worked with a local startup focussed on the problem of air quality, we were interested in having UrbanZee involved”, she continued.
UrbanZee, a Turku-based startup, is developing a platform to measure the air quality of entire cities, and provide a participation platform for lasting change. “One critical component in providing air quality information is helping people to understand how this impacts their health and well-being, which differs per person, so they can make the right decisions” explains CEO Aschwin van der Woude.
UrbanZee provided the challenge to students to design a part of an App to track health symptoms in relation to air pollution and find a way to make this meaningful and interesting. “In our experience participating in these types of hackathons can generate a good amount of new ideas that we can use to further develop our services”, concludes van der Woude.
The first hackathon is organised in Sendai during May 2018, and UrbanZee has already indicated they might be interested in joining one of the other Hackathons organised jointly by the three Universities in Finland and Japan.
Aschwin van der Woude
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International Relations Coordinator