Estonia’s capital Tallinn as a testbed for smart city solution providers

Tallinn smart city

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Almost a year ago the city of Tallinn employed its very first CIO, Toomas Türk, who rolled up his sleeves and created its Smart City agenda for the next few years. The main goal is to dream, and act, big. “We want to become the leading center of smart city and innovation among the smaller capitals in the world,” Türk says. 

One of the first fruits of Türk’s labour is an engagement platform for startups, smart city solution providers, and seekers called Tallinnovation. “The concept behind Tallinnovation is – think globally, test in Tallinn. Our network varies from industrial parks to incubators, from global events to world-known universities. I see the future potential of cities by focusing on data, health, education, and cybersecurity,” Toomas Türk says.

Tallinn’s first-ever CIO reveals his ambition to become the leading centre of smart city and innovation among the smaller capitals in the world. “We aim to set an example for other cities as the most awesome and digitally liveable city in the world,” Türk says, adding: “The focus is now on data management for better decision making and capacity building for all the smart city initiatives we have in the works.”

Pandemic digitalised the City Council meetings

Of course, the global healthcare crisis highlighted new needs that were not normally worth thinking about, in the city management, too. One such example was the development of digital solutions necessary for the electronic organisation of Tallinn City Council meetings. It was clear at the very beginning of the emergency that the work of the Council as the highest political body in the capital cannot be stopped, because many issues that needed to be decided quickly fall within the exclusive competence of the council. Be it a temporary exemption from the location of a kindergarten, a free right to travel for non-residents during an emergency, or other measures that the city government proposed to alleviate the crisis. It was not possible to start holding electronic sessions immediately due to the lack of the necessary technological solutions. They hadn’t just been needed before. It was also unclear at the outset whether holding sessions electronically was legal.

Therefore, at the end of March, it was agreed with the political groups represented in the council that, in order to prevent the spread of the virus, only one representative from each political group would initially attend the meetings. The electronic voting system, which was introduced merely a month later, now allows for the full organisation of council meetings electronically, if necessary. Council members who have logged in to the road with an ID card or mobile ID can register their wishes to speak at the agenda items, vote securely on all decisions and verify the correctness of the vote.

Snowbots, self-driving buses, and autonomous delivery boats

There are already quite a few cool smart city projects implemented in Tallinn. For example, city planning uses a very large number of state-of-the-art geo-information solutions. The entire planning process is integrated with high-quality map applications, online databases, and analytics capabilities. BIM (Building Information Management) and VDC (Virtual Design and Construction) methods and technologies are used to carry out the city’s own construction.

Last year, TalTech Institute of Software Science and OÜ Thinnect developed a technology to monitor urban air and measure traffic flows. The 900 batteries and solar panel sensors attached to the street lighting posts in Tallinn will start collecting environmental and traffic data. The project could in the future help to reduce congestion and noise and thereby create a friendlier cityscape.

In collaboration with startups, Lumebot (=Snowbot, lumi means snow in Estonian) was born, a bot meant for snow removal, street cleaning and street sweeping. “One robot to clean the street throughout four seasons,” describes Türk. Then there are the self-driving electrical minibuses that are being tested in several parts of the city for some years now. The idea is to use them as a part of the public transport system or in car-free zones like hospital areas, parks, and zoos. Similarly to the self-driving buses, there’s Iselaev, an autonomous delivery or transport boat because Tallinn is, after all, a city by the sea. This boat meant for smaller and on-demand cargo needs can become handy in transporting waste from the many islands near the capital.

And last, but certainly not the least – the city now has a Future City Professor working at TalTech and her name is Jenni Partanen. This smart city professor is focusing on work and living environment research and all this is financed by the private sector (including Mainor Ülemiste, Technopolis Ülemiste, Ericsson, and Telia) with about half a million euros over five years.

Factsheet: Tallinn – Financial, Business and Tourism capital of Estonia

  • Population: Tallinn 445 024 / Estonia 1 328 976
  • GDP per capita 32 880 EUR
  • 4.6M visitors
  • 24 enterprises per 100 residents
  • 700 startups
  • Fitch AA-stable
  • Seaport and startup hub
  • Active labour force 250 000
  • Global Top 500 University, Science Park
  • No 1 Sharing Economy Index
  • No 1 Emerging Europe Smart City Development 2020
  • Top finalist for Green Capital Europe 2022
  • Top finalist for Intelligent Communities Forum Awards 2020
  • Top 3 Innovation Capital of Europe 2017
  • Top 5 in FDI mid-sized European cities


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