Wireless wisdom: Intelligent housing makes Oulu’s Smart City goals a reality

The regular way of life and the world we live in are constantly changing nowadays. New kinds of challenges are on their way: climate change, energy issues, sustainability, waste management in a shrinking environment. These issues – and many others – are being tackled in the Innovative Cities program, in which Oulu is a part of. Although the idea varies depending on the speaker, the idea of an Innovative City often rotates around ICT and construction technologies. But in the middle of it all is not technology, administration or the project itself, but the person living in the city.

”One of the main factors changing the game is not just the effects of digitalisation on us all, but also how the society itself changes. For subjects like this we need to act as a consortium instead of going at it on our own”, says Matti Tarkiainen, Lead Constructor at Hartela Forum. He’s visibly psyched about the Hiukkavaara and Karjasilta areas, where Hartela has a strong presence in the new construction. In Karjasilta, a district in the city of Oulu, alone, we’re building some 35000 square meters of new housing. In this, we’re looking at services infrastructure, digital assets including online services and household monitoring, and much more.”

Defining intelligent housing

The idea of intelligent housing is still relatively new to the public at large. ”If you consider that usually, a 30 000 euro car contains more sensors than a 200 000 euro flat, we could do much more”, says Mr Tarkiainen. But of course, the idea behind a smartcity region isn’t just about how carefully you measure the temperature on a cold day, for example. ”We’re going to create inhabitant specific housing based on individual needs with the service infrastructure adapted to those needs as well.”

A perk in the participation in a vast building project so rooted in the technology, community and _ preparation for the future could be that the need specifications are direct and coming from the users themselves.

The research comes from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd and University of Oulu, and Hartela Forum and their constructor colleagues implement the results of the research with focus on the needs of the people living in the houses.

”The concept and its implementation is something quite novel in Scandinavia, and I have a feeling that we are not letting others know how good we are at this – not as much as we could, anyway.”

A brand new set of tools

Even though designing areas and houses in such level of detail, Mr Tarkiainen is not ready to make the 2.0 approach the default set. ”It’s definitely going to be in the toolbox from now on, but all clients don’t necessarily want the high level of intelligent urban design. The trick is to know the needs of the inhabitants and the people who use the space around the homes. We need feeling, courage and ability to take risks in order to find new innovations for services and products.” For instance, in Karjasilta wireless connectivity services are being considered for added well-being.

The possibilities are huge, and some ongoing developments are of such basic nature that they make you want to slap your forehead for not thinking about them before. ”One of the things we’re thinking about is zero bullying tolerance in daycare centres, which is possible to achieve through a simple digital service.”

All in all, Mr Tarkiainen sees the northern connection as an easier way to work. ”For some reason, the B2B dealings are much more straightforward and easier to accomplish. There’s a lot of mutual respect, and that makes things easier.”