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Shaping Europe’s digital future

Large-scale pilots in smart cities and rural smart communities

In recent years, the Commission has established numerous large-scale pilots (LSPs) to help drive the digitisation of industry across Europe and beyond.

    Visual of a city with icons of connectivity (wifi, mobile data) floating above it and connecting everything

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Minimum Interoperability Mechanisms (MIMs) developed and validated by EU-funded projects in smart cities and communities will soon be available on the market, some of which having already proven to be effective during various real-life trials.

Around €1 billion was made available through the Horizon 2020 programme for efforts in research and innovation under the Commission’s focus area of digitising European industry (DEI). In order to benefit from the potential that the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) can offer at local level, the Digital Europe Programme will support the federation of local data ecosystems for climate-neutral, resilient and smart communities. This will mainly target the rollout of a digital infrastructure, capacity building of federated local data ecosystems, validation through large-scale pilots (LSPs) and the deployment of AI-enabled data services across Europe.

Three LSPs – SynchroniCity, MONICA and VICINITY – received around €37 million for research into the deployment of digital technologies within sectors such as energy and mobility. Receiving another €30 million, a pair of 3.5-to-4-year pilots – AURORAL and dRural – were launched at Open & Agile Smart Cities’ (OASC) CxC Festival in January 2021. The two pilots aim to boost the development of digital service platforms in rural smart communities using results from previous EU projects such as OrganiCity and IoF2020, building on MIMs that were validated through SynchroniCity. The two new LSPs will bring innovation ecosystems, the smart village approach, and standards at the forefront for smart rural communities.

Based on over a decade of close-to-market innovation in living labs, Europe has moved from one-off pilots to more robust orchestration of smart city innovation ecosystems. Working closely with local service providers, Europe is prepared to take into account the local needs of digital development. For example, in employment, quality of service and sovereignty. Minimal interoperability allows providers to offer services in a large cross-border market, while the demand side retains the freedom to prioritise local adaptations. This lowers risk, increases investment and drives innovation. With the new projects, Europe’s rural areas are getting more attention from now on.

Two trends have been driving the technical evolution: the massive increase of data coming from sensor networks and the need for decentralised systems. While IoT progress has for years been about connecting sensors and collecting data to centralised cloud storage and analytics facilities in digital twins, the main challenges and opportunities revolve around delivering computing capabilities closer to the Edge. This approach has a range of advantages: in terms of privacy, security, energy consumption, resilience and market diversity. The projects below have all contributed to shaping and validating the steps needed to progress into Europe’s Digital Decade.


For rural communities, smart solutions have the potential to improve lives and protect the environment, in the immediate and the long term. Designing a digital environment based on openness, interoperability and decentralisation, AURORAL – Architecture for Unified Regional and Open digital ecosystems for Smart Communities and wider Rural Areas Large-scale application – aims to contribute to creating more appropriate solutions to support smart community development.

AURORAL focuses on delivering Interoperable Data Brokerage Middleware as a common framework to integrate new and existing smart products and services in a user-friendly interface. By up-taking tested open-source tools, AURORAL promotes a semantic interoperability model that facilitates the exchange of products and services within rural marketplaces and with urban markets.

The pilot’s innovation is demonstrated at a large scale, divided into targeted-domain and cross-domain pilots. Its use cases each focus on a specific sector to reach higher readiness levels of targeted smart solutions. Its demonstrators apply a cross-domains approach, using AURORAL’s Interoperable Data Brokerage Middleware to integrate and implement those targeted solutions.

The AURORAL partnership includes 25 entities from 11 European countries, selected for their expertise and complementarity to one another. They identified five use case domains – farming, energy, mobility, healthcare and tourism – as well as five demonstrator regions: Alentejo (Portugal), Penedès (Spain), Piedmont (Italy), Burgenland (Austria) and the Arctic Circle (Norway). During the project’s implementation, AURORAL has encouraged developers, researchers, companies, authorities and end-users in adopting, contributing, scaling and replicating the proposed smart solutions, under a co-design and co-development approach, to promote their market uptake in rural and urban areas across Europe.

By increasing interoperability and delivering a common platform, AURORAL will enable communities to succeed in innovation and smart transformation that will bring them long-lasting social, environmental and economic benefits.

Visit the AURORAL project website.


Launched in January 2021, dRural’s main goal is to co-develop and implement a digital solution, more specifically a marketplace, to deliver multiple services to rural citizens while creating opportunities for economic growth and improvements to their quality of life. Its secondary goal is to ensure successful exploitation and sustainability after the project’s lifetime and its replication in other European territories.

dRural – the service marketplace for European rural areas – will build a service network for rural areas and communities based on four rural regions of Europe: Extremadura (Spain), Dubrovnik-Neretva County (Croatia), Region Gelderland Midden (Netherlands) and Jämtland Härjedalen (Sweden). As is the case of the aforementioned AURORAL, each of these settings are known as regional demonstrators.

The solution building will follow agile methodologies, ensuring co-creation with end users as well as validation in each regional demonstrator. Besides this, dRural will be developed with a by-design approach to ethics, privacy, and data protection. An internet coverage optimisation in the demonstrators will be done to guarantee a smooth deployment. The solution will then be set up in each region, guaranteeing its personalisation and customisation to regional needs, and integration with the local service providers.

In parallel, an ecosystem of relevant players surrounding the dRural solution will be created in each region by identifying the key stakeholders, their current problems and designing a value proposition for each of them. The ecosystem-building exercise will be supported by an open call in each demonstrator, leveraging financial support to third parties to incentivise the solution up-take and expand the ecosystem of players involved. This will offer opportunities for entrepreneurs by promoting new market openings, allowing small and new players to capture value. An evaluation of usage and impacts will be performed to ensure ongoing support in each region after the project is completed.

Contributing to the shift from rural isolated regions to truly smart communities whilst empowering people through digitisation is at the very core of the project. dRural's aim of becoming the service marketplace of reference for European rural areas is aligned with it.

Visit the dRural project website.


SynchroniCity was the first attempt to deliver a “single digital city market” for Europe by piloting its foundations in initially 11 reference zones – 8 European cities and 3 others worldwide – connecting 34 partners from 11 countries spanning 4 different continents. Launched in January 2017 and receiving around €15 million, SynchroniCity built on a European knowledge base derived from initiatives such as OASCFIWAREFIREEIP-SCC, and partners with leading roles in standardisation bodies such as ITUETSIIEEEOMA and IETF. SynchroniCity delivered an interoperable ecosystem for AI- and IoT-enabled smart community solutions, where IoT device manufacturers, system integrators and solution providers can innovate and openly compete.

With an already emerging foundation, SynchroniCity has established a reference architecture for the envisioned IoT-enabled city marketplace. It has identified interoperability points and interfaces, and data models for different verticals. This includes tools for co-creation and integration of legacy platforms for urban services and enablers for data spaces, including discovery, access and licensing, lowering the barriers for participation on the market.

SynchroniCity piloted these foundations in reference zones together with a set of citizen-centred services in three high-impact areas, showing the value to cities, businesses and citizens involved, linked directly to the global market. With 50 service deployments across 20 municipalities, large and small, SynchroniCity has served as a lighthouse initiative to inspire others to join the established ecosystem and contribute to the emerging market place, leading to the creation of the Living-in.EU platform. This platform will provide MIMs – minimal interoperability of data, systems and services – between smart communities and their suppliers, through LSPs like AURORAL and dRural.

SynchroniCity took an inclusive approach to growing the ecosystem by inviting businesses and cities to join through an open call, allowing them to participate on the pioneering market place enabling a second wave of successful pilots. They strengthen the ecosystem by creating a positive ripple effect throughout Europe, and globally, to establish a momentum and critical mass for a strong European presence in a global digital single market of IoT-enabled solutions.

Visit the SynchroniCity project website


The MONICA project – Management Of Networked IoT wearables: very large-scale demonstration of Cultural societal Applications – demonstrated multiple IoT solutions for smarter living, deployed in six major cities across Europe: Lyon (France), Bonn (Germany), Turin (Italy), Copenhagen (Denmark) Hamburg (Germany) and Leeds (United Kingdom). Launched in January 2017 and receiving €15 million, MONICA established a large-scale IoT ecosystem that uses innovative wearable IoT sensors with closed-loop backend services integrated into an interoperable, cloud-based platform, capable of offering a multitude of simultaneous, targeted applications.

All ecosystems were demonstrated in the form of large-scale city events, and could be used for dynamically deploying smart community applications in locations such as airports, traffic arterials, and construction sites. In addition, it was inherent in the MONICA approach to identify the official standardisation potential areas in all stages of the project. MONICA demonstrated an IoT platform in massive-scale operating conditions, capable of handling at least 10,000 simultaneous real-end users with portable sensors, using existing and emerging technologies based on open standards and architectures.

The pilot designed, developed and deployed a platform capable of integrating a multitude of interoperable IoT-enabled sensors with different data capabilities (video, audio, data), resource constraints (wearables, smartphones, smartwatches), bandwidth (UWB, M2M), costs (professional, consumer), and deployment (wearable, mobile, fixed, airborne) as well as actuators (lights, LED, cameras, alarms, drones, loudspeakers).

MONICA has been successfully demonstrated in 22 events and four replications across Europe. For example, police in Turin were equipped with devices such as cameras, sound level meters and wearables to monitor and detect possible security incidents occurring in crowds in the San Salvario district’s “Movida”. As a tool to handle such incidents, the local police tested the use of smart glasses to record and communicate from the streets. The ultimate goal of the demonstrations was to use the results to develop a local business model for the overall management of a city’s open space affected by crowd gatherings for leisure purposes.

A set of software tools and technical guidelines for developers and system integrators complete the package of results from the MONICA project. Finally, the project validated a range of new business model proposals based on new value propositions for involved actors to explore.

Visit the MONICA project website.


The lack of interoperability is considered to be the most important barrier to achieving the global integration of IoT ecosystems across borders of various disciplines, vendors and standards. Launched in January 2016 and receiving over €7 million in EU funding, VICINITY presents a virtual neighbourhood concept: a decentralised, bottom-up and cross-domain approach that resembles a social network, where users can configure their set ups, integrate standards according to the services they want to use and fully control their desired level of privacy.

VICINITY – the open virtual neighbourhood network to connect intelligent buildings and smart objects – automatically creates technical interoperability up to the semantic level. This fulfils the consumers’ needs by allowing users without technical backgrounds to be connected to the ecosystem in an easy and open way. Furthermore, the combination of services from different domains, together with a privacy-respectful user-defined share of information, enables synergies among services from those domains and opens up a new market of domain-crossing services.

VICINITY's approach was demonstrated by a large-scale demonstration connecting eight facilities across seven different countries. The demonstration covers various domains including energy, building automation, healthcare and transport. VICINITY's potential to create new, cross-cutting services was shown by value added services such as micro-trading of Digital Single Market capabilities, AI-driven optimisation of smart urban districts and business intelligence over IoT.

Open calls were used by the project to integrate public IoT infrastructures and deploy added-value services. One of VICINITY’s eHealth use cases in Pilea-Hortiati (Greece) focused on promoting a healthier lifestyle to middle-aged citizens. Dieticians measured participants’ weight as well as their exercise data – respecting GDPR – using wearable fitness trackers, weight devices and beacons placed at the municipality’s athletic facilities to monitor data during visits. Citizens then participated in a municipal-scale competition known locally as the urban marathon, competing with others on health achievements, such as, “citizen A ranks in the top 10% of citizens for kilometres walked this week”. Participants were informed of the status of their activities over a mobile application, which was also used to sign up for the marathon itself. This use case is an excellent example of using digital technologies to improve the general wellbeing of the local community.

Visit the VICINITY project website

Other projects supporting the digitisation of cities and communities


The aim of SELECT4Cities is to design, research and develop a data-driven, Internet-of-Everything (IoE) platform for European cities to enable large-scale co-creation, testing and validation of urban IoE apps and services. 

Launched in December 2015 and receiving around €4 million, the SELECT4Cities pre-commercial procurement project was built on the premise that cities around the world seek new methods, technology and tools to foster open innovation to solve challenges, create value for their citizens and business, and to become truly smart cities. This new connected approach involves physical spaces as well as objects and provides a massive opportunity for the creation of new smart services and businesses especially in the areas of logistics, transport, environment, security and wellbeing.

IoE is one of the dominant drivers transforming the way people manage and live in urban environments. However, IoE progress to date has been slow due to a number of barriers such as the lack of common standards, a fragmented marketplace, and lack of ways to systematically test and introduce new solutions in the cities. To combat this challenge and accelerate innovation, the SELECT4Cities project laid forth a competition open to all European companies to develop an open, standardised, data-driven, service-oriented and user-centric platform that enables large-scale co-creation, testing and validation of urban IoE applications and services.

Portuguese SME Ubiwhere successfully grew its business in smart city solutions following its participation in the SELECT4Cities pre-commercial procurement. This procurement implemented by the cities of Antwerp (Belgium), Helsinki (Finland) and Copenhagen (Denmark) helped Ubiwhere win new contracts with cities all over Europe, in order to deliver solutions that can improve environmental sustainability, citizen engagement in public service delivery and 5G-enabled use cases. Thanks to the procurement, the company’s business has grown, not only doubling its financial turnover but its staff headcount as well.

Visit the SELECT4Cities project website


The increased networking capabilities of digital technologies mean that personal data is being produced, analysed, monetised and connected to data streams in ways that hold huge potential, but it also poses great challenges for European society. Recent policy, such as GDPR, reflects mounting public concerns around emerging data practices, responsible research and innovation, data ethics and privacy.

Launched in January 2017 and receiving around €2 million in funding, VIRT-EU – Values and ethics in Innovation for Responsible Technology in EUrope – addressed these concerns at the point of design through researching and intervening upon the development cultures and ethics of the next-generation IoT innovators. The project asked how European IoT innovators and developers make ethically consequential decisions – about code, hardware and data – for new connective devices, and what assumptions about human behaviour, privacy and freedom underpin European cultures of IoT innovation.

Leveraging state-of-the-art collaborative secure shell and ICT methodological innovations, VIRT-EU analysed and mapped the ethical practices of European hardware and software entrepreneurs, maker and hacker spaces, and community innovators. The aim was to understand how IoT innovators enact ethics as they design future devices, and generate a new framework for privacy, ethical and social impact assessment, proactively positioning ethical self-assessments in the development process of IoT technologies. These tools, informed by legal approaches, data mining, quantitative and qualitative social science and design research, serve to secure a place for societal concerns in the next-generation of digital technologies. This was done by engaging societal stakeholders to ensure a future that is populated by innovative devices and services that are explicitly aligned with the ethical and social values held by EU citizens.

Much like the premise of the IoT catalogue, VIRT-EU released a service package toolkit in December 2019 to offer help to projects developing ethically informed technologies. This includes an ethics primer, a review of relevant regulations, workshops and educational resources, and an innovative impact assessment questionnaire. Rather than providing a standard checklist, these tools offer a way for developers to gain the necessary language, structure and authority to convene and engage in conversations about ethics.

Visit the VIRT-EU project website


The predecessor to SynchroniCity – OrganiCity – launched in January 2015 and receiving over €7 million, offered a new paradigm to European digital city making, much like an interdisciplinary co-creation Bauhaus. Built on and extending the Future Internet Research and Experimentation (FIRE) legacy, this project sought to build the foundation for future sustainable cities through co-creation by a wide range of stakeholders. Europe is a champion of sustainable, inclusive and open societies. The digital age has enabled us to push this position further and to rethink the way in which we create cities and facilitate living by integrating complex systems.

OrganiCity combined top-down planning and operations with flexible bottom-up initiatives where citizen involvement was key. Previous attempts to scale informal one-off projects or broaden single community projects have failed. By focusing on the city as a sociotechnical whole, OrganiCity brought software, hardware and associated human processes together into a new living city that was replicable and scalable, as well as socially, environmentally and economically sustainable.

Three clusters – Aarhus (Denmark), Santander (Spain) and London (United Kingdom) – recognised for their digital urban initiatives, brought stakeholders together in a coherent effort to develop an integrated Experimentation-as-a-Service facility, respecting ethical and privacy sensitivities in the aim of improving the lives of millions of people. The OrganiCity consortium created a novel set of tools for civic co-creation, beyond the state-of-the-art in trans-disciplinary participatory urban interaction design. The tools were validated and integrated across the three cities.

In addition to citizen-centric join of testbeds, partner technologies and enhancements, two open calls with a budget of €1.8 million permitted 43 experiments to use the new facility and co-creation tools. The aim was to grow sustainable digital solutions for future cities that are adjusted to the culture and capacities of each city unlocking amended services and novel markets.

The iRecycle use case carried out by WasteHero (formerly IoTeelab) saw an IoT-based dynamic waste collection system built to optimise the current methods of waste collection in the municipality of Herning (Denmark). The goal was to eliminate as many of the unnecessary pickups as possible, while saving costs and decreasing pollution. The project showed 71% annual savings of the total collection cost in the glass containers, which lead to scaling up to all 412 bins.

The project’s use of market-leading IoT, AI, machine​ ​learning and big data products optimises and removes unnecessary processes, allowing organisations and cities to save up to 50% on their existing waste management.

Visit the OrganiCity project website

Data will be what the smart city of the future runs on. In order to make this a reality, cities need a platform where data from a variety of sources (IoT sensors, open government data, social media, third party data providers) can be processed, linked, and analysed in order to extract information that can also be provided as linked open data, and with which new types of services are created and provisioned. Both cities and private service providers can build novel applications and services on top of this platform; the platform therefore becomes an economically valuable driver for smart city innovation.

Launched in July 2016 and receiving €1.8 million, this EU-Japan project developed a City-Platform-as-a-Service (CPaaS) that could be federated to support regional or global applications, and that formed the basis for a smart city data infrastructure. Technical challenges that were addressed included data provenance, data quality, adaptive privacy levels, policies and adaptive processes for distributing and deploying processing intelligence to the cloud or the edge. Other important aspects included data governance, data management and the empowerment of citizens to control access and sharing of data.

In addition to the development of the platform, several use cases in the domains of event management, water management, mobility and healthcare services were implemented and validated with cities in Europe and Japan. Blueprints for these domains that could easily be transferred and adapted from one region to another were developed. This allowed the transfer of knowledge from the Asian Winter Games 2017 to the Tokyo Olympics.

Finally, the results from the project have been used to develop standardisation proposals in the related areas to ensure further development beyond the project, such as in FIWARE, OASC, SynchroniCity, AUTOPILOT and IoTcrawler.

Visit the project website

Smart cities and communities initiatives

Open & Agile Smart Cities (OASC), active in EU projects such as SynchroniCity and dRural, brings together smart cities and communities worldwide to shape the global market for digital services.

The Living-in.EU movement is building “The European way of digital transformation in cities and communities”, based on the Declaration launched for signatures by the Finnish EU Presidency in 2019.

In addition, the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC) is bringing together work from cities, industry, SMEs, banks, research and other smart city actors.

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