Think of the huge volume of data that cities are generating every day: garbage collection, traffic, transportation users. Where does Europe host this large volume of numbers, values and parameters? In a server on the Amazon cloud? Shall it develop a mobile app with Google software to check it out? Or develop its own alternative?
The answer is called Fi-Ware -like software, but in the cloud-, an open platform for the use of large public data to create applications for smarter cities. Brussels and a consortium of European private companies have put 600 million euros on the table (300 million by the EC and 300 million provided by the industry) to develop this project, which is quite ambitious although tiny if we compare it to its American competitors.
And yet, Fi-ware could shake the status quo. During 2014-15 the EU will allocate EUR100 million to finance SMEs with special emphasis on startups that develop apps based on fiware. An event to present the project to entrepreneurs in Seville this week raised high expectations- after the crisis nobody can afford to lose time nor money.
“I’ve seen some interesting apps like one focused in energy saving, putting sensors in street lamps and controlling them through a remote system,” said Antonio Parrado, sales manager at Grupo Arelance, a software developer SME in Málaga. “I’d like to send a project to the Fiware team but we’ll see if my bosses want to invest. We’d need to find some local government or university to cooperate with first,” he explains.
The idea looks nice on paper, at least: through the so-called “challenges”, Fiware will reward the best apps using this platform with more than EUR340,000. Still critics insist that Europe will have a hard time to compete with the U.S. since innovation too often depends on public funding.
“If European SMEs and startups see Fiware as the way to launch innovation projects, it will be great; however, if they think of it as the way to get some revenue, then forget about it,” an entrepreneur who preferred not to give his name pointed out.
Big companies that have invested big on Fiware admit that even if Europe is in a weak position compared to the Americans, it’s better to do it late than never.
“The EU is now deciding its position in the future Internet and telecom market and in the coming years we are going to see a lot of movement,” explains Ignacio Ochoa, from Telefónica. “If the administration starts to think big and bet on global projects instead of focusing on local tasks; if big companies support innovation… then we can see something happen. It is a challenge, indeed, but we need to give it a try. May be Europe has lacked of leadership or strategic approach for a long time compared to the U.S. but for example in GSM technology we were a global example because we got to an agreement.”