Technology as a means, not an end

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Technology as a means, not an end

“Technology isn’t divine or sacred; it’s all about the application.” Speaking is Marcel Fortuin, director of startup Assetworx and GSWRX, the innovation centre of De Gasfabriek, which helps companies formulate new business models and propositions. With digital technology as the common thread, but with demand as the priority.    

Disruptive business models

Business Innovation Campus De Gasfabriek was established on the old gasworks site in 2015, with innovation centre GSWRX within it. The goal: informing companies and organizations about the exponential development of digital technology and helping these companies develop new, disruptive business models. The participants in the talent program Codicact will also work on validating these new business models in the market. To then further develop this or start as a startup themselves, whether it is together with the client or not. These clients can be parties such as Nefit Bosch, Nouryon, GD Gezondheidsdienst voor Dieren (Animal Health Service), the province of Overijssel, the municipality of Deventer or Shell.

Road Maintenance

One of the startups that emerged from this is Assetworx. The province of Overijssel asked for better prediction and planning of road maintenance. Assetworx director Marcel Fortuin: “The request was to do this by using existing data sources and a multi-agent solution, consisting of several intelligent software modules, each with a certain degree of autonomy. That is why the transparent data-driven software tool Predictive Road Maintenance PRM was developed.”

Maintenance planning is currently largely based on the knowledge and experience of road managers. “Essential data, such as from specialist road inspectors, is often locked away. Many road authorities are therefore dependent on market players.”

In other words: digital technology is not yet being optimally used in this sector. “This is exactly what we want to change with Assetworx. We have spent the past few years working on a completely new approach to maintenance planning as part of a startup-in-residence program. Transparency and accessibility of data are paramount. Machine learning models help road authorities to plan road maintenance based on objective data optimally. The market is very enthusiastic; this allows us to take an important step towards a circular infrastructure sector.”

Assetworx also gathers data independently, which allows for quicker detection of road deterioration. Marcel: “Instead of checking the road surface once a year with expensive camera’s, we are looking at how we can collect data regularly with commodity hardware. With cameras in garbage trucks, for example. And perhaps even in self-driving cars, soon. That will allow us to quickly see where the road surface is deteriorating, and you can repair it in time, thus extending its lifespan.”

Happy chickens

This is how technology makes new things possible. “But it starts with the process of figuring out what is actually needed. Look at some supermarket labels that indicate how many square meters of living space a chicken has, for example. This is linked to how good the chickens have it, but is that correct reasoning? Wouldn’t it be better to determine how happy the chickens are and to look at their welfare?”

Assetworx asked experts to look at gifs of chickens: do they exhibit natural behaviour or not? “A model has been trained with machine learning, and it is increasingly able to assess behaviour. The next step is to apply this in large chicken barns and take out the chickens that show unnatural behaviour. Often, this means that the chicken is sick.”

Demand as the priority

Marcel wants to make one thing clear with these examples: make demand the priority. “And not: ‘we can do this and this with AI, where can this be applied?’. Our experience is that far too few organizations are aware of the enormous technological developments that are now taking place. Parties such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple have already collected so much data, allowing them to keep developing new initiatives. Google is becoming more active in the travel industry, for example, Amazon and Apple in the healthcare sector and Facebook has plans for a cryptocurrency. This makes technology look like a goal in itself, sometimes, without us being able to oversee the scope.”

“If we want to move forwards in this area, we will need to get young talents interested in technology and the region and show concrete examples. That is why we are looking for issues on which different parties can collaborate. This will show the added value of technology, and we will simultaneously become an even more attractive region.”

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