8. FROM BARCELONA TO HELSINKI: CONFERENCE REFLECTIONS
Business mixes with pleasure in Barcelona
As one of the estimated 25,000 visitors to the Smart City Expo in Barcelona from 19-21 November, I was privileged to witness a veritable showcase of the latest innovations that address the challenges faced in the Smart Cities domain. From breaking down information silos or deploying connected services, enhancing mobility or optimising energy consumption and quality of life in cities.
Reporting for ITEA, a Cluster of the EUREKA platform in which projects are driven by the needs of industry and society, I had the opportunity to taste life in the future and talk to some of the people shaping it, including people I had previously interviewed for magazine articles and with whom I was able to meet face-to-face. This was a bit of a first for ITEA - reaching out beyond its own Community and engaging with the wider Smart City environment. But a logical step for a platform dedicated to solving the challenges shared around the increasingly smart and urban world where health, energy, mobility, connectivity and other such issues need solutions.
But it wasn't all work. When I asked one of my phone/mail/skype contacts, Martin Treiber, CEO of Ikangai and leader of the ITEA SOLOMON project, why he was there, he was quite candid in his answer: "It's fun for us." And I was happy to give him a good tip for fun eating at a restaurant near Montjuic, where I stayed before and during the congress.
One of the perks of the job! Gaudi, Güell and gastronomy, to name but a few! Innovators in every respect. To walk through Casa Battlo, the Sagrada Familia and Palau Güell was to become intimate with the revolutionary minds that have quite literally shaped Barcelona with its organic forms. And to stroll around the Montjuic district with its cosy eateries where tapas take you on a sensory journey through all that is best about local produce. I love my job!
Shaping new narratives in Helsinki and Tallinn
If I have one overarching takeaway from EFECS 2019 (no easy task, given the record number of attendees and countless booths), it's that there's a lot of different ways to tell a story. Between 19 and 21 November, I watched and recorded 16 sessions on topics as diverse as lifts and escalators, digital agriculture, semiconductor chips and the world's first pacemaker, yet the same key points emerged time and time again: ethical and sustainable technologies should be Europe's focus, realised via collaborations across the continent and beyond.
Given that my presence at the conference was to write much of the latest ARTEMIS Industry Association Magazine, the opportunity to make these connections was highly gratifying - after all, such stories are what will help spread awareness of the latest breakthroughs beyond the walls of Helsinki's Finlandia Hall. On a personal level, it was nice to also see connections being made between individuals and to become more familiar with some of the key players who I wrote about at the ARTEMIS Technology Conference in April. I even met somebody from the other side of Europe who was intimately familiar with the tribulations of my local football team in the 70s and 80s (Plymouth Argyle, perhaps the least successful representatives of a larger English city ever). There really was an expert for everything.
I had a lot of time to ponder these stories while wandering the streets of Helsinki and Tallinn, which I visited following the conference's end. On the face of it, both places have their similarities: Russian Orthodox churches, active seaports, bilingual signs and the kind of weather that made me wish I hadn't forgotten my gloves. Their respective museums were even both concerned with the question of what it means to be a modern Finn/Estonian. Their stories, however, were told in very different ways: Helsinki began with the process of nation building in the 1800s, whereas Tallinn jumped back to the identity of the area's first settlers 1100 years ago. For now, both museums conclude with EU membership, wider connections to the world and concerns for sustainability. I'll be interested to see how collaborations like those at EFECS shape these stories in the decades to come.