Trikala trials the future as Greece’s first smart city

Trikala is Greece’s first smart city, showcasing how tech innovation could lead the country out of financial crisis.

The unlikely high-tech city – set in the agricultural heartland, population 82,000 – has cut its debt by €20m through participating in EU-funded projects and offering up a test site for local tech companies.

Trikala first earned a reputation for innovation in 2004 when Greece’s Ministry of Economics named it the nation’s first digital city. It was later shortlisted as one of the top 21 smart cities in the world for its adoption of technology to improve services, increase transparency and become more efficient.

This ranges from tech monitoring the availability of parking spaces, the status of traffic lights and water pipes, to the location of rubbish trucks, and the town hall’s monthly budget. The city’s e-complaint system has received about 4,000 requests and comments since the start of the year. An experiment with sensor-equipped streetlights slashed electricity usage by 70 per cent.

Infrastructure and an impetus to embrace technology have been introduced through collaborations with Greek companies like telecomms leader Sieben and mobile parking tech Parkguru; and partners including the European Commission, which funded a driverless bus pilot.

Elsewhere, e-Trikala, a company created in 2008 to fund local innovation that is majority-owned by the municipality, has supplied Lego and Raspberry Pi robotics kits to all its 120 public schools to encourage STEM learning. ICT teacher Vassilios Spachos told The Guardian: “Tech is the only sector that gives young people the tools to succeed in life nowadays, just look at the wealthy people in the world. If our country could follow the example of this municipality, maybe we could get out of this crisis.”

The hope is to increase opportunities and jobs and prevent brain drain: some 420,000 Greeks, mostly young graduates, have emigrated since the financial crash in 2008. The youth unemployment rate is still hovering around 44 per cent, the highest in the EU.

The Information and Communications Technology sector has been earmarked as one of the most promising in the Greek economy, driven mostly by the demand for automation and digitalisation in the Greek public and private sectors.

A skilled workforce, high-quality technical institutions and a solid ICT infrastructure are seen as enabling factors towards this development, as is the quick adoption of new technology by the Greek public.

There has been significant growth of technology clusters, incubators, accelerators and VC activity focused on new ventures in ICT. Investments in the Greek technology market can also benefit from funding opportunities provided from public sources such as EU structural funds, and Public-Private Partnerships initiatives, which allow for the realisation of bigger projects in the smart city field, including automation of state processes, homeland security and ICT infrastructure for the public transport system.

Trikala now wants to join the EU’s Activage programme, which tests smart houses that monitor elderly residents’ health by detecting movement and food consumption. Future plans also include the development of a farming project which uses technology to grow ancient medicinal plants for the pharmaceutical industry.

Featured image: Trikala’s Mayor Dimitris Papastergiou inside the smart city control room. Photograph: Venetia Rainey via The Guardian

(via Smart Trikala, The Guardian, Enterprise Greece)