'Providing solutions to wicked logistics problems' – Dries Van Bever of imec
Imec has become much more than a globally renowned creator of microchips and nanotechnology and, thanks to the range of R&D hubs, it is also an engine of Flemish innovation. As a supporting partner of Log!Ville, imec today plays a leading role in the digital transformation of public agencies and companies by studying solutions to complex challenges that require a multidisciplinary approach – the 'wicked problems'. Dries Van Bever, Business Analyst Mobility & Logistics at imec, tells us more.
Imec was launched in 1984 in Leuven as a superlab for microelectronics research and development. The work and complexity associated with improving chip technology have by now grown exponentially, in part thanks to the arrival of big data, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. Throughout that growth, imec has evolved from a lab that supports the industry into an R&D hub around which a worldwide ecosystem for technology and electronics has gravitated.
In 2016, imec merged with iMinds, a strategic research centre that focuses on digital technology and applications. Thanks in part to the contributions of iMinds and a number of ongoing projects, imec extended the support it offered to companies. Aside from its principal activities in the field of microchips, this included the launch or upgrade of a number of departments, such as imec.icon (demand-driven customised technology), imec.istart (support for startups and scaleups) and the imec team that houses digital transformation expertise.
'At imec we support the digital transformation of Flemish cities and municipalities, ports, logistics ecosystems and companies through public-private partnerships,' says Dries Van Bever. 'That involves focusing on various application areas, such as sustainability, health, mobility, logistics, energy, education, and so on.'
Imec plays a prominent role in creating a social and economic impact in Flanders by performing demand-driven research. It does this together with public agencies, other imec divisions, research institutes, companies and others. 'Our mission is to focus on creating solutions for the wicked problems – the major challenges in our society that require a multidisciplinary approach,' says Dries. 'That implies that a given decision at one level can have a huge impact at another level or for another target group, which is why we gather and process huge quantities of information and data that provide a deeper insight for all levels and all concerned parties.'
An excellent logistics-related example of this is the synchromodality project, as a modal shift from road freightage to railway and inland shipping can significantly reduce road congestion, but also requires the exchange of data between parties in the logistical chain that are not necessarily contractual partners. Even though these parties benefit from sharing information, at present it is not a common practice, which is why there are a number of ongoing projects in imec that concentrate specifically on that issue.
Three core competences
'To find smart solutions for those complex challenges and wicked problems, the mobility and logistics expert team relies on three core competences,' says Dries, 'artificial intelligence, digital twins and dataspaces. We use all of these to perform projects for both public agencies and companies.'
Such projects revolve around matters such as urban logistics, ports and the links to inland regions, with one example being PIONEERS (Dutch Article) , a Horizon 2020 project that is studying options for increasing the sustainability and reducing the CO2 emissions of ports. Imec is part of that consortium and is working on a digital twin that will help to improve decision-making on operational port processes for cutting emissions, as well as other aspects. Another example is the SYTADEL (Dutch Article) project, in which imec is examining opportunities for using a dataspace for encouraging multimodal transport, on behalf of the Flemish logistics sector. Yet another project, this one being run together with VIL, is the further development of the Dynamic access control concept, with the aim of opening up data silos between municipal services and logistics companies.
Data spaces and digital twins
Dries believes that the complexity of logistics makes it a field that is only becoming more important in terms of the solutions that will take effect in the near future. 'A digital twin that is fed with a great deal of data means we can move away from decisions based on evaluations and gut feelings and base that process on simulations with real information. Much of the data for such applications is sensitive, in view of privacy concerns or commercial interests, which is why dataspaces can play such a large role in this respect, allowing for the secure exchange of data.'
A dataspace is a solution for exchanging personal and non-personal data in a secure and decentralised manner between parties. There is a fixed set of rules and standards within a dataspace for exchanging information, and stakeholders can make use of the data provided by the community under those predetermined rules.
The role of Log!Ville
The market is developing at a rapid pace and it is essential that the right data is collected. 'Connections with companies, technology developers and startups are consequently likewise crucial,' says Dries. 'Log!Ville gives us the opportunity to further expand our network and improve our knowledge of what companies and public bodies need. Through Log!Ville we aim to maximise synergy and cross-pollination.'