Exploring the Idea Challenge Topics: Urban Life & Mobility and Cyber Security & Privacy

By David Knight |

Eight cities, eight topics. The Idea Challenge is a truly European competition for entrepreneurs and people with big ideas. But why these topics? What is it about these areas of technology that the organisers, EIT ICT Labs, find interesting? What trends and challenges do these topics contain?

We’re taking a closer look at each of the eight topics, which themselves are split into two batches. The second batch of the competition is taking place this autumn, with finals in Trento, London, Berlin and Stockholm. You still have time to enter – with prizes of up to €40,000 (as well as coaching, mentoring and office space) up for grabs, applications are open till September 30. You can find more information here.

Today we’ll be talking to experts in cyber security and privacy – final in Trento, Italy on November 13 – and urban life and mobility, which will have its final in London on November 20.


Up first is David Boyle, a research fellow in sensor networks in the department of electrical and electronic engineering at London’s Imperial College. He has been looking at how information flows from various sectors in a city can be aggregated, and how new services and insights can be built on the back of that.

So how exactly can we improve urban life and mobility? The best way to find an example, David said, was to look at the mobility aspect; something particularly true in London.

“There is a lot of talk about multimodal transportation options to assist mobility from point A to B. We have seen a lot of applications emerging recently that allow you to take a variety of options in one trip – Google Maps does this very well.

“Some of the newer ideas, newer business models are leveraging the cloud and smartphones. Something like Uber is actually engaging people and once that happens, these ecosystems start to build up. The core benefit is when people start sharing information. That’s not just citizens, that’s businesses and the government as well. We can see a lot of good from this sharing, but we don’t necessarily understand all of the consequences of doing it just yet.

“From the Idea Challenge point of view, it’s quite an interesting problem. On the one hand, we want to promote new businesses and allow innovative and entrepreneurial people to flourish, and we want to couple that with improving the quality of life for citizens. But equally, it’s a very, very big problem, it’s a big space if you consider the scale of a city for a startup to really get its teeth into.”

One approach can be to look at wearables and embedded sensors, or use the cloud to find ways to better integrate information flows. Either way, David is expecting a broad mix of ideas to come to the fore in the competition.

And one of the key things – and something he believes the judges will be evaluating – is how Idea Challenge entrants will look to bring their idea to an international market.

“Every city is different,” David added, “and what may work very well in one city may not work at all in another city, depending on where it is, its geography, its weather, its social proclivities.”

But the British capital is the ideal place to develop new kinds of technologies in the urban life and mobility space: “The world looks to London as a leader, in thought, design, technology, and particularly from a European point of view, as an early adopter.”

Beside Uber, another good example of how technology can improve our urban lives is BigBelly Solar, which takes a new approach to waste management. Each rubbish bin is completely self-powered and holds up to eight times more waste than traditional bins through compaction. Additionally, it sends out a message when it is nearly full so it can be emptied, allowing city authorities to optimise collection schedules – which in turn means bin lorries are on the road less, and so are emitting less CO2.

The problem in a space where large resources are usually needed, is whether an idea can find a market. “Consider ventures that act as a middleman, such as Uber – I keep going back to that one because it’s a nice neat example – that is putting service providers and consumers together using the power of the cloud, and solving an interesting business problem as well. That kind of thinking means there is an improvement for the consumer, whether that’s a citizen or a business, but it also provides a service in such a way that it can potentially take a cut on a transaction making it sustainable and able to work in different geographies.”

You’ve got the advice – so get cracking with your urban life and mobility entries!


Next up is Jovan Golic, EIT ICT Labs’ action line leader for privacy, security and trust, based in Trento where the Idea Challenge cyber security and privacy final will take place. Over the years, Jovan has carried out a lot of research and innovation in different areas of security, one of the hottest topics in technology in recent times. But how important is it?

“In the world of ICT, where we are dealing with data, security and privacy is very important. If you don’t protect data properly, then we will also endanger the whole ICT business. And of course these security breaches can cause lots of damage in real life.

“When we are talking about cyber security, we also inevitably connect the topic of privacy, because privacy itself can be considered security of data – not only personal data, but industrial secrets, the data of institutions and so on. But privacy is more than security, because in many applications in tech, you cannot protect sensitive information through techniques like cryptography; you need to reveal data, and this should be done to the minimum possible extent, according to the so-called minimality principle.”

Currently, Jovan said, this principle is not being respected in ICT applications – one of the biggest dangers is user profiling, done extensively by many big Internet players.

But when it comes to cyber security itself, he added, the traditional approach of building defences against cyber attacks is still paramount, which is a problem. “Unfortunately, it cannot decrease the threats and the number of attacks, so it is a reactive approach. The effects are developing, changing and multiplying, so this reactive approach is not sufficient to achieve cyber security. This is why we are pushing for the proactive approach in our action line. The only way to increase cyber security is to implement new technologies, including the latest software and hardware security. It’s the proactive approach, to improve the technology in terms of software but also in terms of hardware and crypto techniques that can be applied to protect the data.”

As for areas which Idea Challenge entrants might find profitable, there are plenty which require innovation in cyber security and privacy – social networks, e-commerce, cloud computing, big data, Internet of Things. But the priority of the action line is digital identity management, as it is another way of improving the cyber security of applications, users, software or anything else.

“We want to protect individual computing devices like mobile phones, smartphones, against intrusions, against attacks, and we need to develop special techniques for that. We are pushing in that direction because the techniques currently being used are not effective.”

Jovan is expecting Idea Challenge entries related to defending against cyber attacks using modelling, but there are also a lot of areas in ICT where privacy is very important, including smart homes, smart spaces and smart energy. “I believe that people, ordinary people, should be interested in how to protect sensitive information by using practical and cryptographic techniques.”

And they should also be worried that “privacy unfortunately to my mind seems to be losing the battle. … There are deliberate attempts to profile. Profiling is useful because it can enable personalised services, information, but it should be done in a privacy aware manner and this is not the case currently, on the contrary.”

When you associate user profiles – something which can be totally anonymous – which identification attributes such as a mobile phone, they become citizen profiles.

“I would say that ordinary people should be worried about this and I would expect solutions to be proposed.”

The challenge has been laid down!

You can find out more about entering the Idea Challenge here, and you can check out another of the topic areas – Internet of Things – here.