The Smart City sensors in Tallinn collect valuable information on noise in the city and its sources. Based on this data, the municipality can implement adequate policy to improve environmental conditions in the city. This system is certainly replicable for other cities.
Tallinn University of Technology and its private partner organisation, Thinnec, approached the city with the idea of installing more than 800 sensors all over the city. The outcome was to measure the city environment with different in-box tools, to provide data for real-time overview and for later analytics.
This project was initially planned as a research and development project for sensor communication technologies and a new set of sensor devices. Public communication was not part of the agenda, but the possibility to know more about the city’s environment was of interest to stakeholders across the city. Until then, the available information was provided through past studies and research reports, without a real-time overview.
The City of Tallinn has been one of the global leaders for e-governance. The Smart City sensor initiative adds a new layer of smart city to the urban environment by using the potential of the internet of things (IoT). Simulations of different sensors were established in the Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol, the university campus area and private offices and homes. This was the basis for moving on.
The Smart City sensors are autonomous and weatherproof, designed to work in a Nordic environment. The sensors are equipped with a battery and a solar panel, which makes their installation easy and fast. The sensors have been developed in cooperation between Tallinn University of Technology and Thinnec. The sensors were pre-tested in Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol.
In 2019, the Tallinn city government approved the project. Additional approval from city officials and infrastructure maintenance companies were required and permissions given. The sensors were set up in eight patches across the city.
There was a clear interest to see the noise and mobility movement information on a dashboard. The new data integration city portal was acquired in 2021. (Link below).
There were several challenges for the project. There was uncertainty about the outcome of the project and the usage of the results later. The technical set-up and maintenance for real-time data, the approval process and getting stakeholders to a common understanding to complete the project in the expected timeline was difficult as well.
A dedicated and motivated team is the key factor to implement innovation. Regular meetings and lots of communication between the stakeholders were important for success.
The current situation allows Tallinn to collect data measured by the sensors and to improve the stability of the process. The initial plan to collect different data has been revised to concentrate on noise data only. In addition to the city’s data, some private parties have used this technology for improving the customer/local neighbourhood quality of life such as the noise around shops.
There are several new projects in the works. The city innovation co-financing fund for the 2021-22 season will invest in a project to improve the local area of Kalamaja by noise and mobility measures. New sensor devices will be introduced soon to measure the vehicle or noise type.
The main benefits have been the understanding of noise level across the city (especially traffic related) and the low financial strain, as the project was established with minor costs for the city.
The City now has an additional source of online information about the city’s environmental quality. This information can be combined and used with other data available for more comprehensive decision-making.
Learnings and recommendations
Novel technology projects can be implemented in a city environment with real-time data provisions. The understanding of the project outcome is crucial for later development and providing required resources.
The project timeline was quite tight so the on-time completion was a success itself. The results expected from other data collection (pollution) were not inline with the initial plan and mostly failed.
We would encourage other cities to try something similar, but first one must answer the classic question about becoming a smarter city: “Technology is the answer, but what was the question?”
A large scale approach and concrete key success metrics will help achieve the expected results. The combination of collected data with other sources would be beneficial for the later improvements.
Visit the Tallinn Smart City sensor dashboard.