Innovative Sweden continues to glow in the winter darkness. An intense light radiates from the cleanroom in Kista, where you can envision the legacy of this year’s Nobel Prize winner in Physics articulated into a superconducting, future quantum computing reality. Only one block away, technology for the Internet of Things is being developed and is instrumental for building future smart and sustainable cities. Not to mention that just a couple hundred meters from there, the next generation of mobile broadband is being developed.
Now we are moving forward with the next step in Kista Science City – an ‘In Real Lab’, where we seek to bring research findings and innovations closer to their future users by creating an open arena for co-creation and technical development in an urban environment. We call our ‘In Real Lab’ Urban ICT Arena. Urban ICT Arena is Sweden’s first large-scale digital testbed where companies, the public sector and research institutes can test, develop and present their ideas for the future in an urban environment.
“But what is a testbed? And what will be tested?”
First: Tests are at the heart of a testbed. It serves as a platform and environment where we can develop and test various prototypes in an exciting research and development environment. We are often asked what people will see in the testbed: “Lots of things, but we don’t know exactly what” is the slightly confusing answer. But that is the point because we will roll out projects in different stages of their development. A testbed is a place where you test things. That is its main purpose. It is not an exhibition, a showroom or a demo environment, although these can be a welcome addition to the environment.
Second: A testbed forces us to put our money where our mouths are. Are we brave enough to be as innovative as would like to be and often say that we will be? Those who want to test technology and services in our testbed see the value of being brave enough to try, as well as brave enough to fail, learn something from it, and then try again. This requires courage and creativity – both from them and from us. Most people nod in approval when we say this, but it is nevertheless hard to transform into accepted practice. It is often the case that people want to know the expected results of a test before they are even willing to take a chance on it, but this in fact entirely defeats the purpose of using a testbed.
Third: The devil’s in the details. The major challenge is not in establishing and organizing a testbed, it is getting relevant projects started. But what is relevant and for whom? This requires getting the details right and not simply choosing the large, well-known and well-trodden path. More should be done to encourage and enable companies, the public sector and research institutes to participate in testbeds and other innovation environments. And last, but not least, more needs to be done to include opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises that will encourage them to test new and previously untested things.
It’s time to take a stand. Establishing a testbed has given us many valuable insights into what a testbed is and what it is not. We now know more about what is required for a testbed to catalyze innovative co-creation in the way many people want and hope. But we also realize that it is time for decision-makers, together with industry, to take a stand in several key areas.
Give testbeds access to considerable resources and provide support in particular to small and medium-sized enterprises. It is important that the resources pumped into testbeds are used to conduct projects, not build organizations. And remember that the resources are about more than just money for the testbed organization. Most important of all – give testbeds resources to lower barriers so that new and small companies can get in quickly and easily.
Give us greater opportunities to collaborate with others. Sweden is no larger than a medium-sized metropolis, which means it doesn’t cut it to just compete on the national level anymore if we are to have a chance globally. We can and will collaborate with others, and our working methods enable us to link up testbeds and ensure that the right project takes place at the right time and in the right testbed. We are aware that interest for this is increasing in Sweden, but the fact of the matter is that interest so far has been even greater internationally. Here in Sweden we need to constantly monitor how we can be even better at enabling horizontal collaboration, joint development and smart resource utilization.
Let’s be brave and innovative! Testbed has become somewhat of a buzzword among politicians and decision-makers. This was especially apparent at Almedalen Week when it was frequently used during seminars on innovation and the future. Now it’s time to take the next step and put our money where our mouths are. It’s time to show our true bravery and innovative spirit. Urban ICT Arena has the will, the capability and the courage to test new things. Who is brave enough to follow us down this path?
For more information: www.urbanictarena.se