Amsterdam is well-known for its canals, the famous canal belt is recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The bridges and quay walls of Amsterdam are, besides remarkable, essential to keeping the city safe and accessible. For a long time, too little attention was paid to the management and maintenance of the infrastructure of canal walls and bridges, resulting in degraded structural integrity. The municipality of Amsterdam can renovate a single kilometre of quay walls every year. With a total of more than 600 kilometres throughout the city, 200 of which are estimated to be in poor condition, knowing which kilometres to prioritize is essential to the municipality.
In mid-2020, the City of Amsterdam and RVO (Netherlands Enterprise Agency) invited Dutch companies to submit an innovative proposition to measure the area of quays and bridges more often, faster and cheaper. Of the 43 submissions, eight companies reached the second phase of the SBIR competition (Small Business Innovation Research).
Second phase competition
Each company will receive 12,500 euros to conduct a feasibility study and further develop their concept. According to the assessment committee, the eight winning entries were all promising, highly innovative and achievable. Althen started this innovation tender with the development of a new IoT sensor that is specifically suited for the affordable monitoring of quays and bridges under the name: Smartbrick. The concept of an Iot monitoring system for quay walls was initiated by Richard Zwakke of Metesco Nederland and is being developed by Althen Sensors & Controls.
The eight winning companies that will conduct the feasibility study are, besides Althen: Antea group, Bam Infra + Rezzona, Fugro, IV Infra, Sensar, SHM Next and Villari.
The Smartbrick sensor solution detects and monitors the movements of a quay or bridge and sends this data directly wirelessly to an online control center. This makes it possible to set the right maintenance priorities. Althen has currently realized the first prototype and continues the development in order to contribute to a safe and accessible Amsterdam.
Technical soundness and innovative impact
Criteria for the selection were, among others, promising, feasible, innovative and applicable in an urban environment. Frits van Loenen, rail systems engineer at ProRail and member of the assessment committee, explains enthusiastically: "I was pleasantly surprised by the high level of the proposals and the expertise. All the proposals were strongly focused on data collection.
What is really innovative is that far-reaching techniques such as photogrammetry, 3-D laser scanning, distance measurements from a floating platform, satellite images are used to go a step further than just managing a large amount of data. The data contributes to technical inspections that should lead to a constructive assessment, an opinion and the prediction of risks'. My colleague on the assessment committee Agnieszka Bigaj-Van Vliet put it very aptly with 'deepening the risk profile, sharpening it and assessing it better'. I can only agree wholeheartedly with that. The challenge lies in translating the technology so that others can make an informed decision about, for example, measuring, frequent monitoring, repair or renovation."
Sharpening the risk profile
Indeed, that is one of the aspects on which Agnieszka Bigaj-Van Vliet, senior scientist integrator at TNO-TU Delft, also assessed the proposals. "It goes beyond just measuring," she explains. "The solutions have to support the municipality of Amsterdam to be able to make statements about the acreage. The data must become meaningful and contribute to the assessment of risk." She says she was impressed by the diversity of the proposals, the extent to which the companies really delved into the Amsterdam context and the power of innovation. "I also saw that they have thought carefully about what is realistic and what are critical components. That inspires confidence in the innovative power and professionalism of the teams who will now be conducting the feasibility study."
Interaction of market and science
These new solutions are an extension of applied scientific research. "Sometimes academic innovations do not find their way to the market so quickly and it is difficult for market participants to take knowledge from science, "says Agnieszka Bigaj- Van Vliet. "This competition has achieved precisely that the market takes steps to take knowledge gained in science further. And you see an interaction through the knowledge transfer that takes place between the knowledge institutions and the market. I think that is very positive. "
Early 2021, the contestants have started their feasibility studies, supported by the municipality of Amsterdam and the RVO. Halfway through April they will finalize this study and make a proposition for the further development of their technologies. Then follows another assessment-round, where four teams will be selected to continue testing their solutions and validate them on a trial location in Amsterdam. For this, they will each receive a max-budget of € 100.000,- (Including tax). This will be phase 3, which starts June 2021 and will proceed for a year until June 2022.