IRIS - Artificial Intelligence Threat Reporting & Incidence report system

A new EU project has come to protect ICT systems providing collaborative-first approach and state-of-the-art technology

IRIS EU project, which consists of 19 partners from 12 European countries, officially launched its activities with the organisation of the consortium kick-off meeting that was held virtually, in September 2021.

As existing and emerging smart cities continue to expand their IoT and AI-enabled platforms, novel and complex dimensions to the threat intelligence landscape are introduced. These, are linked with identifying, responding and sharing data related to attack vectors, based on emerging IoT and AI technologies, whose architecture and behaviour are not currently well understood by security practitioners, such as CERTs and CSIRTs. This lack of experience as well as of tools, for detecting and reporting IoT & AI attack vectors is further aggravated by potentially greater safety risks caused by such attacks.

The H2020 IRIS project aims to deliver a framework that will support European CERT and CSIRT networks detecting, sharing, responding and recovering from cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities of IoT and AI-driven ICT systems, in order to minimize the impact of cybersecurity and privacy risks. The IRIS platform will be made available, free of charge, to the European CERT and CSIRTs, by the end of the project.

IRIS concept is proposed as a federated threat intelligence architecture that instates three core technological and human-centric components into the threat intelligence ecosystem:

  • The Collaborative Threat Intelligence module: forms the nexus of the IRIS framework and core component of the architecture enhancing the capabilities of the existing MeliCERTes platform by introducing Analytics Orchestration, an Open Threat Intelligence interface and an intuitive Threat Intelligence Companion. All these supported by a Data Protection and Accountability module;
  • The Automated Threat Analytics module: collects and supply key threat and vulnerability assessment telemetry and respond to received intelligence, initiating autonomous response and self-recovery procedures:
  • The Cloud-based Virtual Cyber Range: delivers an immersive virtual environment for collaborative CERT/CSIRT training exercises based on real-world environment platforms (and Digital Twin Honeypots), providing representative adversarial IoT & AI threat intelligence scenarios and hands-on training.

The IRIS platform will be demonstrated and validated in three carefully selected pilots resembling real world environments with the engagement of three smart cities (Helsinki, Tallinn and Barcelona) along with the involvement of national CERTs, CSIRTs and cybersecurity authorities.

IRIS is uniquely positioned to provide a high impact solution to support the operations of European CERTs and CSIRTs for coordinated response to large-scale cross-border cybersecurity incidents and crises,” mentions Mr Nelson Escravana from INOV, the Project Coordination Team.

“Cybersecurity is an essential component for ensuring privacy, trust and security of the digital services and interactions of the smart city. In the IRIS project we will contribute our practical research in smart cities with our, Urban Operating Platform (UOP), city data environment, which will be utilised to explore the cybersecurity element of data integration with smart energy and transportation platforms. Further, we look forward to working with the IRIS consortium and fellow cities, Helsinki, and Barcelona, on researching innovative solutions for securing the smart city.” says Ralf-Marin Soe, Director of the FinEst Centre for Smart Cities

The IRIS consortium comprises of public organizations, SMEs with cutting-edge cyber technologies, large industries as service providers as well as research and academic partners with significant achievements to cybersecurity and privacy technologies.

Contact Detail

Project Coordinator: INOV - Instituto de Engenharia de Sistemas e Computadores, Inovacão, (INOV), Portugal

About FinEst Centre for Smart Cities

FinEst Centre for Smart Cities (FinEst Centre) contributes to the emergence of European Digital Single Market in the urban context and focuses on research and innovation in the following fields: smart mobility, energy and built environment glued together by governance and urban analytics and data. In Estonia, the societal use of ICT is the most developed globally exemplified by widespread take-up of innovative mobile and e-applications. FinEst Centre aggregates current research, innovative services, and solutions into integrated service solutions capable of creating additional added value to its users all around Europe.


FinEst Medium pilots – top 5 selected into the final round

We are happy to let you know that the cities and municipalities from Estonia and Finland have given their evaluation to the importance of the ideas for them and based on that there are the following ideas in the finals:

  • Wise decision-making dashboard for local governments proposed by the City of Tallinn
  • Citizen Data Roaming proposed by Marko Turpeinen from Aalto University
  • Renovation Strategy Tool for municipalities proposed by Targo Kalamees from TalTech
  • Smart Planning and Management of Urban Drainage Systems proposed by Ivar Annus from TalTech
  • Urban planning well-being score for good quality living environment proposed by Ivo Fridolin from TalTech. 

Please read more about the ideas

Two of these five ideas will be developed and piloted by the FinEst Centre for Smart Cities together with the selected partner city or municipality from January 2022. The length of the pilot projects will be 18 months and the budget about 600k euros.

The FinEst Centre for Smart Cities is doing these pilots in order to build up a really strong team, find its core topics and obtain references to secure its sustainability, incl. EU grants, income from the new services and products.

Our mission is to make the European cities to become better living environments with the skills and know-how of the Estonian and Finnish researchers. By 2030 we have developed and implemented 20 new smart solutions in at least 30 European cities.

The pilot projects are financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the Estonian Ministry of Research and Education.

The next steps are:

Read more HERE



Mini-Piloting is one of the piloting programmes within the EU-funded FinEst Twins project. The programme aims to improve the urban ecosystem by catalysing innovation from current research to create successful start-up companies.

Mini-Piloting is looking for research-based ideas and concepts that can be developed into profitable businesses or otherwise contribute to urban development. Proposals can be related to the following topics:

  • Smart Mobility
  • Smart Energy
  • Built Environment
  • Smart City Governance
  • Urban Analytics & Data
  • Health & Well-being
  • Education
The call for tenders opens the 18th of June 2021 and closes the 18th of August, 2021

Read more about mini-piloting programme and submitting your tender HERE


Smart city centre of excellence organized an international challenge to find great science intensive ideas to be developed and piloted in real urban environments. 71 ideas were proposed by the deadline of Nov 6 and 2-4 ideas will be selected to start in 2021.

We, TalTech from Estonia and Aalto University from Finland, have been looking for ideas to make the following domains in the cities smarter: mobility, energy, built environment, governance and data. There has to be at least two cities involved into each pilot project. One of these has to be from Estonia and the second could be from another country. We expect that world level research and scalable prototypes would be the results of the projects.

FinEst Twins Smart City of Excellence has been given the mandate by the European Commission and the Estonian Ministry of Research and Education to carry out 10 research intensive pilot projects targeting real life challenges and have remarkable impact for the cities. 15 million euros has been granted to make it happen during 2021–2027. 2-4 ideas will be selected from this 1st round and will start in 2021. The similar challenges will take place also in the following 3-4 years.

The biggest number of ideas has been proposed in the domain of mobility - 26. Quite equal number of projects came from the three domains: energy 15, data 13 and built environment and city planning 11. Six ideas were targeting the governance challenge: “Public services are not available to all target groups in a user-friendly way”. In many cases data and governance issues were targeted parallel to the mobility, built environment and energy challenges. The challenge “Capabilities to collect and use urban data are low” was included in 45 ideas and “The urban data collected is not available to different user groups” in 31. “Urban planning is not comprehensive, optimal and sustainable” was also a very popular challenge and got 33 hits. The smallest number of ideas targeted the following two challenges: “The energy production is too carbon-intensive” – 8 ideas and “Lack of fast and economical connections to other key cities” - 6 ideas.

39 ideas have been proposed by the universities, and 32 of these came from TalTech, 3 from Aalto and 4 from other Estonia universities. 10 ideas have been sent to the challenge by Estonian local authorities and two came from other countries, one from Finland, city of Jyväskyla and one from Lithuania, Visaginas. 13 ideas came from private companies, both Estonian and foreign ones and 7 ideas from individuals.

More than 100 TalTech researchers are already involved into 46 project proposals and Aalto researchers into 17. Other universities from Estonia and several other countries are expected to participate in 16 projects.

There have been 31 different Estonian towns and urban areas proposed as piloting partners and 15 of them in more than one proposal. The most popular are of course Tallinn and Tartu that appear respectively in 23 and 22 projects. 30 projects have proposed to involve also cities from other countries, in total 15 different towns, 6 from Finland (Helsinki appears in 12 different idea proposals), 5 from Latvia, 2 from Spain, 1 from the Netherlands and 1 from Germany.

These pilot projects will be 100% financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the Estonian Ministry of Research and Education. The 1st stage evaluation results and feedback will be given to the idea proposers on November 20 and 8-12 ideas will be selected to the 2nd stage. The international evaluation committee will select 2-4 best large-scale pilot project proposals to be launched in January 2021.

Find more information about the evaluation criteria, grant terms and needs of the cities from



Smart City Centre of Excellence is organizing an international challenge to find great research intensive ideas to be developed and piloted in real urban environments. 71 ideas were proposed and 12 of these have been selected to the finals.

Top 12 ideas have been selected: 2 from Mobility, 4 from Energy, 3 from Built Environment – City Planning, 2 from Data and 1 from Governance. There are 10 Estonian towns and 4 foreign towns participating in these 12 ideas based on the present proposals. The projects can still involve further cities. Teams need to send their final projects by November 27 after what they will get the opportunity to present their ideas and teams on December 8 to the international evaluation committee. The selection of the ideas into the finals has been made with the help of wide range of experts from different countries. Two to three experts have given their input and the feedback has been sent to all ideas. The proposal about the ideas to be financed will be made by the international evaluation committee and approved by the steering group of the FinEst Twins project.

The two ideas selected from the domain of mobility plan to develop and pilot:

  • a conceptual ecosystem solution to transport system management. The goal is to create a wholesome automated and personified transportation solution, that changes the whole public transport more convenient and closer to stakeholders’ needs;
  • a multimodal transportation model of urban traffic for storing and pre-processing urban data in a standardized manner and format.

The four ideas selected from the domain of energy plan to develop and pilot:

  • Double Skin Façade system, i.e. an intelligent prefabricated facade system, in a case of non-residential building;
  • a platform and scientific tools for real-time building performance audit for local municipalities and other potential entities with large real estate portfolios;
  • a different 4th generation district heating network solutions in Estonian cities;
  • tackling energy supply for urban areas through electric microgrids and local electricity markets.

The three ideas selected from the domain of built environment and city planning plan to develop and pilot:

  • smart planning, monitoring and control of urban drainage systems;
  • a decision-support platform for green urban mobility;
  • the urban green elements for digital twin.

The two ideas selected from the domain of data plan to develop and pilot:

  • a city dashboard for strategy-based data inventory and usage;
  • a mobile smart sensor box.

The idea selected from the domain of governance plans to develop and pilot how to co-create of smart services for the elderly in urban and rural localities.

We, TalTech from Estonia and Aalto University from Finland, have been looking for ideas to make the following domains in the cities smarter: mobility, energy, built environment, governance and data. There must be at least two cities involved in each pilot project. One of these has to be from Estonia and the second could be from another country. We expect the results of the projects to be world level research and scalable prototypes.FinEst Twins Smart City of Excellence has been given the mandate by the European Regional Development Fund and the Estonian Ministry of Research and Education to carry out 10 research intensive pilot projects targeting real life challenges and have remarkable impact for the cities. 15 million euros has been granted to make it happen during 2021–2027. 2-4 ideas will be selected from this 1st round and will start in 2021. The similar challenges will take place annually in the following 3-4 years.

More information from:



Smart city centre of excellence is organising an international challenge to find great research-intensive ideas to be developed and piloted in real urban environments. 71 ideas were proposed, twelve of these were selected to the finals and four projects have been selected for financing.

“To our knowledge, this approach is very unique globally where urban challenges of one country have been systematically mapped and matched with research-based solutions. This process effectively brings the scientific solutions from university labs to the urban streets within 1-2 years,” told the Founding Director of FinEst Twins Smart City Centre of Excellence, Ralf-Martin Soe.

The 12 best proposals have been evaluated by the international evaluation committee based on the written proposals and oral presentation. The best four will be financed and executed by the FinEst Twins smart city centre of excellence together with the TalTech and Aalto institutes and involved cities from January 2021. One of the chosen pilot projects comes from the domain of mobility, one from built environment and two from the energy. The budgets of these large pilot projects are in between 1.2 and 1.5 million euros and the created solutions will be developed and piloted in two cities by May 2023. There are four Estonian urban areas involved: Tallinn, Tartu, Lääne-Harju and Rae county and Helsinki from Finland. Tallinn is involved in three pilot projects and Tartu in two.



The idea is to offer a conceptual ecosystem solution to transport system management of the near future, where additionally to the existing means of transport, self-driving shuttles and micro mobility solutions are going to play an important role and user centric approach is highly required.

One of the main outcomes of the pilot project is a user-friendly data exchange platform for all required services by interconnecting existing and new solutions over unified data exchange-platform. Our pilot will test an interconnected on-demand based full transport solution from passenger’s home to capital city hub and beyond. The data exchange platform will be connected with existing governmental databases and creates open-access new data sets in order to offer personalized on-demand pro-active services.

The practical pilot includes self-driving AV shuttles on-demand service in sub-urban areas connected to main public transport and micro mobility service providers in the capital city. AV shuttles are going to be remanufactured from end-of-live electrical vehicles significantly reducing the environmental footprint and making AV shuttles affordable to local counties.

The final outcome of the project will be future city model tested in real urban environment and implementation toolkit for cities and urban areas all over the world. Project main partners are City of Tallinn and Rae County, as well as a wide circle of external partners in government, private and non-profit organizations.

This project is led by Prof. Raivo Sell from TalTech.


This project develops green elements for the digital twins of Tallinn and Helsinki, and additionally, creates a permanent hub for city planning in Tallinn centre. The world-class novelty of the project is the dynamic digital modelling of the green environment, a “green information model”.

Today, the green is represented in digital environments by static images. In reality, the green environment is in constant temporal change, which has a major impact on urban comfort and the carbon balance of a city. Green environment is a primary quality factor of urban environment. It has a major impact on micro-climate and particle emissions, heat island effect and soundscape. Green-blue infrastructure is a measure for climate adaptation. Green environments create identity for cities and can offset greenhouse gas emissions towards carbon neutrality.

A 3D-plant model resource library for the target areas in Tallinn and Helsinki will be created by applying game engines together with CityGML. Later, the library can be extended to serve the needs of other cities in other climate zones – all over the world.

The permanent Smart City Planning HUB in downtown Tallinn will promote the digital advance of the city and facilitate citizen participation in urban planning.

The project partners are the cities of Tallinn and Helsinki, Aalto University and TalTech. The project leader is Prof. Kimmo Lylykangas from TalTech.


This team aims to improve operational energy performance and indoor climate through digitalization of facility management in large real estate portfolios. Continuous monitoring of energy, ventilation and indoor air quality in hundreds of buildings results in a big data for which performance analytics capable for benchmarking and identification of faults and malfunctions in building technical systems as well as in building operation will be developed.

In total, 45 educational buildings of Tallinn, Tartu and TalTech are planned to be connected to the IoT platform and tools developed in the project. The platform will split performance monitoring functions from maintenance related automated diagnostics.

The user interface of the platform consists of three dashboards with increasing detail level on information provided: Executive, Departmental and Maintenance dashboard. The project focuses to educational buildings because their indoor climate is essential for achieving high learning performance that has implications to national competitiveness. The results can be utilized by any large real estate portfolio owners.

This project is led by Prof. Jarek Kurnitski from TalTech.


This project aims to reduce requirements for electricity supply through optimized consumption and decrease carbon-intensive electricity production by simplifying the uptake of renewable energy. Instead of consuming electricity based on real-time demand, the use of energy storage and control systems enables to alter the electricity consumption profile and compensate for the intermittent output of generators utilizing renewable energy. The objective is achieved through the use of electric microgrids, which are formed by a digital low voltage substation with an integrated energy storage system and a dedicated software platform.

The project provides municipalities means to solve their energy supply problems, whilst also increasing the uptake of carbon-neutral energy through the simplified formation of electrical microgrids and closed electricity distribution grids.

As a result of this project, recommendations for policy makers and a concept of creating microgrids through a scalable product are provided. Additionally, empirical evidence from actual environments is used to carry out high quality research focused on energy storage systems, cyber-security in electricity grids, energy policy and markets.

The pilots are planned to be carried out in Lääne-Harju Parish in Paldiski and in the city of Tartu.

This project is led by Dr Tarmo Korõtko from TalTech.


We, TalTech from Estonia and Aalto University from Finland, have been looking for ideas to make the following domains in the cities smarter: mobility, energy, built environment, governance and data. There must be at least two cities involved in each pilot project. One of these has to be from Estonia and the second could be from another country. We expect the results of the projects to be world level research and scalable prototypes.

FinEst Twins Smart City of Excellence has been given the mandate by the European Regional Development Fund and the Estonian Ministry of Research and Education to carry out 10 research intensive pilot projects targeting real life challenges and have remarkable impact for the cities. 15 million euros has been granted to make it happen during 2021–2027. The FinEst Twins Steering Committee has approved the action plans and budget for the first half year for these four projects and the project leaders now will prepare the concrete research and innovation plans with measurable goals to monitor the progress of their projects. The similar challenges will take place also in the next coming years with possible changes in the target challenges and length, financing amounts per project.

More information from:



Last summer, the FinEst Twins centre of excellence for smart cities asked 36 Estonian cities and rural municipalities about their challenges connected to the topic of smart cities. It turned out that larger cities such as Tallinn and Tartu have realised tens of different projects. However, the different digital capacity level of municipal governments is a point of concern. How to find solutions?

Henry Patzig, Deliverable Manager of FinEst Smart City Centre of Excellence

Who needs a smart city? I will try to formulate one of many possible definitions, to answer this question. The concept of a smart city is used in extremely many fields, so it is quite difficult to define it unambiguously. The term, when taken into use in 2007, defined a smart city as uniting human capital, social capital and information technology infrastructure that would allow sustainable economic development and an increase in the quality of life1. The European Commission now also sees under this term the possibility to fulfil climate targets and solutions to challenges arising from population growth, ageing and urbanisation.

A smart city is thus a place where multiple information and communication technology (ICT) solutions are integrated to ensure a more efficient use of resources and lower emissions. Smart city goes beyond the use of ICT by implementing this technology in a manner that positively impacts the local community, fulfilling the needs of inhabitants, as well as improve their quality of life. It means striving for sustainability through many areas of the city, incl. transport, energy, circular economy, health care, buildings, urban planning, governance, etc. Initially, inhabitants were merely dehumanised sensors or data points to be taken into consideration when developing strategies. The latest trend is to actively involve people in the creation process of those systems that would allow for achieving a broader positive impact to the community. It turns out that precisely, we the people that live in the city, need the smart city the most.

How smart are Estonian cities?

Last summer, the FinEst Twins Smart City Centre of Excellence asked five simple questions about challenges related to the field of a smart city, from 36 Estonian cities and rural municipalities.

The questions focused on five areas: mobility and transport; buildings and urban planning; energy, data and governance. The questions did not define the concept of a smart city, to leave interpretation free. This gave us an opportunity to see what the perception of the respondents was of a smart city, as well as of the problems it causes or solves.

On a broad scale, Estonian municipal governments certainly understand very well what a smart city is and they have a great interest to actively contribute into corresponding projects and to move on in this field.

Larger cities such as Tallinn and Tartu have realised tens of different projects. Tartu for example has contributed to smart transport – taken into use CNG buses, performed an efficiency analysis of bus routes, which combined many data sets (incl. mobile data). In addition, the public transport has been connected to the network of electric bicycles.

There are 45 intersections in Tallinn with smart traffic lights that make public transport faster and more efficient, as they give an advantage to public transport vehicles. Many smaller municipal governments have also shown good initiative. Elva for example took into use their own app in order to improve the transparency of the government and its communication with the inhabitants. The community commission functions very well in the Lääne-Harju Rural Municipality, the aim of which is to assist people in the information exchange with the municipality and to boost the social and economic development of the municipality.

Despite these efforts, Estonian cities do not figure in the forefront of smart city rankings. Tallinn, for example, is in the 74th and the 59th place in the SMART CITES INDEX 2019 and in the IMD-SUTD Smart City Index Report 2020, respectively. Be it mentioned that our northern neighbours are highly successful in the development of smart cities. Helsinki, Stockholm and Oslo are all taking top places in the rankings.

How is it that a country that on a global scale is in the absolute top ranking as a digital country, has "stupid" cities?

Striving towards the aims of a smart city has been reached by only a few for different reasons. Municipal governments often do not have someone who would take the leading role in the corresponding field. Daily activities also obscure the possibility of dealing with developments, the benefits of which will be revealed at some point in the future.

The lack of political will and the lack of sufficient state support and guidance were additionally highlighted. There was interestingly little mention made of the lack of finances, rather there was the opinion that finding financing is not a problem for realising projects.

The different digital capacity level of municipal governments is a point of concern. Larger cities usually have a greater capacity to execute such projects and invest in them. At the same time there are many smaller municipalities on a very good level. The most important factor here was the past experience, initiative and vision of the future of the people employed by the municipality.

It is important, in order to break this fragmentation and inconsistency, to create tools and standards to enable to take into wider use the already established practices regardless if the municipality has had a chance or not to hire a capable specialist of the field.

The challenges of Estonian municipal governments

We collected 19 challenges, as a result of the responses received from the municipal governments and the interviews that followed, to which we in turn asked to give priorities.

The output of the whole process is the wording of ten of the most important problems and challenges of smart cities:

  • Urban mobility does not combine the full potential of different modes of transport
  • Insufficient public transport for a comfortable way of life
  • Lack of fast and economical connections to other key cities
  • Urban planning of the city/municipality is not comprehensive, optimal and sustainable
  • The energy consumption of (depreciated) buildings is too high
  • The energy supply and transport infrastructure for industrial development is low
  • The energy production is too carbon intensive
  • Capabilities to collect and use urban data are low
  • The urban data collected is not available to different user groups
  • Public services are not available to all target groups

Let us find solutions!

We have taken as the aim at the FinEst Twins Smart City Centre of Excellence, within the next 4-6 years, to raise the smart city expertise of Estonian cities to the same level as is currently the Estonian digital state. We have to this end created a partnership with the Aalto University and the City of Helsinki, through their innovation company Forum Virium Helsinki, in order to learn as much as possible from what has been done in Finland and to find ways to apply their experience in Estonian cities.

Having now formulated the challenges of Estonian cities, our next step is to find solutions for them.

For this, an idea competition for solutions is open until the 6th of November where we seek researchers, municipal governments, product developers, designers, entrepreneurs, project managers etc. as participants. In other words, everyone who has an idea on how to solve any of the highlighted problems in the urban environment is welcome to join the competition.

More information about the competition can be found here:

1 The process of smart city definition at EU level Francesco Russo, Corrado Rindone, Paola Panuccio DIIES - Dipartimento di ingegneria dell'Informazione, delle Infrastrutture e dell'Energia Sostenibile Università degli Studi Mediterranea di Reggio Calabria, Italy



The FinEst Twins Smart City Centre of Excellence has opened an international idea competition to find research-based solutions targeting actual urban challenges. The best ideas will receive a grant for development and piloting during; one project can be allocated with up to 1.5 million euros financing, the total budget of the challenge is 15 million euros over the next 7 years.

The goal of the competition is to make our cities more user-friendly and energy-efficient using technologies. We are mainly looking for research-based innovative solutions tackling the challenges of urban transport, energy and built environment, but also how to use the data smartly and make the governance of cities more effective. There has to be at least two cities or city-like municipalities involved in each pilot project and one of these has to be from Estonia. The Centre of Excellence together with Estonian municipalities has mapped 10 most relevant challenges of the cities. Each idea has to address at least one of the challenges via research and innovation activities and direct involvement of cities.

„We plan to bring research and development to the streets making participating cities testbeds of novel solutions with active involvement of citizens. To our knowledge, this is a globally unique approach as we match actual city challenges with research excellence in a participatory way. The outcome of our pilots will be research-based prototypes that have been tested at least in two cities (at least one from Estonia). Each solution has to show a potential for international growth,“ expressed Ralf-Martin Soe, the Founding Director of the FinEst Twins Smart City Centre of Excellence

According to Soe, this competition is open to everybody, although the main target groups are researchers, engineers, development managers, designers, entrepreneurs and other active people with some previous involvement with the research and development activities. The pilots will be implemented by the FinEst Twins Smart City Centre of Excellence with active involvement of researchers from TalTech and Aalto universities and cities.  

Jan Trei, Member of the Evaluation Committee and Deputy Director of the Association of Estonian Cities and Municipalities, is encouraging local authorities to be active in presenting their ideas for the challenge and to involve the researchers of TalTech and Aalto. He explained that “The ideas will be proposed involving concrete cities and municipalities, so it will be for our own benefit”.

The ideas can be proposed until November 6 through the competition webpage The best ideas will be chosen at the beginning of December by the international evaluation committee and the first 1-4 large scale pilot projects will start from January 2021. All 10 pilot project will be carried out in 2021–2027.

The FinEst Twins Smart City Centre of Excellence will implement ten research based pilot solutions. Each idea has to address at least one of the challenges via research and innovation activities and direct involvement of cities. The pilots will be financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the Estonian Government (Ministry of Education and Research).

The FinEst Twins Smart City Centre of Excellence aims to  improve city environments by piloting new technologies and developing into a world level research and innovation centre.

The FinEst Twins Centre of Excellence has been founded by Tallinn University of Technology, Aalto University, Forum Virium Helsinki and Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication.

Additional information:
Külle Tärnov
Head of Innovation
Smart City Centre of Excellence
+ 372 56 800 221


A €32 million Estonian-Finnish initiative develops smart city solutions for export around the world.

Across the world, municipal leaders dream of using digital tech to optimise everything from refuse collection to public space and local transport. But few cities are living this dream.

Making a city smart means connecting hordes of sensors and actuators to the Internet of Things, and then turning the resulting data into actionable insights. Deploying the necessary systems is both expensive and disruptive, particularly as every city tends to start from scratch.

The new Finest Twins initiative, backed by €15 million from the EU Horizon 2020 programme and €17 million from the Estonian government  (Ministry of Education and Research), is trying to change that paradigm by developing smart city solutions that can be applied anywhere in the world. Led by Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), Aalto University, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications of Estonia and Forum Virium Helsinki (an agency of the City of Helsinki), the initiative is looking to develop an “Urban Open Platform Lab (UOP Lab)”– an open and interoperable platform for connected sensors employed in smart city pilots.

“There has been extreme fragmentation of technology applications in cities across Europe, and also across the world in general, and very often even the most basic services and solutions offered by cities do not work across borders,” says Ralf-Martin Soe, the initiator of the project from TalTech. “Our focus is to facilitate a breakthrough of public services from being local to becoming cross-border.” The project plans to support research and innovation across five domains – data, governance, mobility (transport), energy and the built environment.

The proposed UOP Lab will be based on open software and platform standard solutions developed by the Fiware open source initiative. With a world-renown digital government infrastructure based on open standards, Estonia is fertile ground for this kind of approach.

Indeed one of the key objectives of the Finest Twins initiative is to combine the smart city expertise of Aalto University and Forum Helsinki with Estonia’s digital government knowhow. Helsinki is rebuilding an entire district of the city - Kalasatama - in line with smart city principles, at a cost of billions of euros, while Estonia’s public sector offers a broad range of interoperable digital services underpinned by a robust electronic identification system. The Estonian government has “pretty much managed to fully transform from paper to digital, so there are no paper-based services left, if you exclude getting married and getting divorced,” says Soe. Finnish and Estonian researchers will develop the UOP Lab at the new centre of excellence in Tallinn.

Think local, act global

The centre of excellence will test and implement new solutions in Tallinn and Helsinki initially, but it also intends to develop joint concepts and pilot ideas with cities across the world, building on existing collaborations with London, Barcelona and Paris, as well as other cities in Norway, Denmark and Latvia. The research teams working through the centre of excellence have relationships with leading European ICT companies, such as F-Secure, Tieto, TeliaSonera and Siemens, hoping to develop smart city solutions that can be exported across the world.  In addition to the €32 million contributed by Horizon 2020 and the Estonian government, Soe plans to raise €10 million from industry and a further €8 million from EU regional research and innovation funding.

Having launched the project in December 2019, Soe is looking to scale quickly. “We hope that by the end of this year we can already announce one, two, three pilots that will kick off from the next year, with each pilot expected to be around €2 million,” says Soe, explaining the pilots will be comparable in size and scope to a recent TalTech project to develop self-driving cars. Supported by private sector funding, that project is now testing two autonomous vehicles on the university campus, with a view to letting them loose on the streets of Tallinn during 2020.

For Soe, the launch of the first pilot projects will be a major milestone in a long journey. The roots of the Finest Twins project are in his PhD thesis researched and written at TalTech’s Nurkse Department in the first half of the last decade. But it took five years of project design, three EU-wide evaluation rounds and two rounds of panel pitches for the ideas in that thesis to evolve into a concrete initiative. Indeed, Soe’s first attempt to secure funding was actually rejected by Horizon 2020, but the second attempt was timed better. “Smart cities as a topic was not that important back in 2015 and 2016,” he says. “Now it has been selected as one of the six key mission areas of Horizon Europe and it is a very important umbrella topic for the European Commission that involves energy and transport, everything related to climate, but also ICT and brings it to the city level.”

The Baltic Sea knowledge exchange

Soe was able to obtain funding under the EU’s ‘Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation’ Horizon 2020 Work Programme which looks to support the transfer of knowledge between Europe’s most productive research hubs (such as Helsinki) and the rest of the EU. Although they are just 80km apart by sea, Tallinn and Helsinki are in very different economic positions and they have very different job markets: A talented PhD student from Tallinn can earn more taking on a cleaning position in Helsinki than by pursuing an academic career at home, while a skilled construction worker in Helsinki earns more than an average professor in Tallinn, Soe noted in his dissertation.

The Finest Twins project aims to help bridge that gap by harnessing the expertise of Aalto University and Forum Virium Helsinki to create the new Tallinn-based centre of excellence. “Although we are physically located in Tallinn, our core research streams will be kicked off by professors from Aalto University and then over the next three years there will be a full transference from Aalto to the centre of excellence,” says Soe. “The researchers from Aalto University are working on the first research ideas through planning potential pilots and writing papers with cities in Europe and elsewhere as well.”

By the end of 2020, Soe plans to have the project running at full operational capacity with the core team recruited and working in a dedicated office. “We have initiated a totally new structure within our university, academically free and reporting directly to the four partners and two financers,” he says. “We are building an autonomous centre of excellence in Estonia from scratch, that will be comparable to Finnish performance in terms of research and innovation.”

David Pringle


On 2019 October 28, CTG UAlbany director, Theresa Pardo and Associate Research Director, Mila Gasco, were in NYC meeting with Estonia’s Minister of Education and Research, Mrs. Mailis Reps, and TalTech - Tallinn University of Technology Vice Rector for Research, Renno Veinthal. Estonia is recognized globally as a leader in digital government and digital services and CTG UAlbany is recognized as a leader in digitalgovernment research including, in particular, smartcities research and practice. The highlight of the meeting was the signing of an MoU between CTG UAlbany and TalTech, to collaborate in the area of smartcities. TalTech is the only technological university in Estonia, as well as the flagship of Estonian engineering and technology education. The CTG UAlbany and TalTech collaboration will focus on public private partnerships in building smart cities.



Arguably, smart cities represent the meeting point between three of the main themes we will discuss the most in the near future – digital transformation, environmental issues, economic performance. As urbanization increases, living standards and sustainability progressively change from simple areas of discussion to calls for action. After raising awareness, we must now investigate all possible solutions that can have an impact on a changing world.

From social matters to the climate emergency, research into the development of adaptive models of smart cities can provide a vision for the future. For a future spanning beyond the next five or seven years, conceptualizing long-term plans to make urban agglomerations more inclusive, efficient, and attentive towards environmental issues. We saw how Tallinn already made a move towards the development of its own smart city model. Further projects in Tartu, and the ambitious Finest Twins plan for the Tallinn-Helsinki area, make Estonia one of the urban and social laboratories of Europe most committed to change.

Cross-border sustainability between Tallinn and Helsinki

It is not a mystery that Estonia and Finland share ties that go well beyond geography, history, and culture. Now, Tallinn and Helsinki are building a model of smart and sustainable twin cities to establish a paradigm for development also at a European level.

The project is already more than just an idea. Awarded a 32 million euros grant co-funded by the European Union and the Government of Estonia, Finest Twins will create a Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Smart and Sustainable Cities to deepen research and development into new models of municipal smart governance. The project was initiated by Ralf-Martin Soe, Research Fellow at the Department of Innovation Governance of TalTech. Aalto University (Finland), Forum Virium Helsinki, and the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications figure as partners.

Tallinn and Helsinki are commonly referred to as “Talsinki” not by chance. Finest Twins aims to create user-driven, “cross-border-by-default” smart city solutions directed at improving mobility, energy efficiency, and the built environment. Digital governance and urban analytics offer countless opportunities. Finest Twins relies on ICT to close gaps in regional cohesion and economic development through digitalisation, spill-over effects, and social entrepreneurship.

“Estonia has a very strong international reputation in the field of digital governance. With this project, we would like to add another layer to the story through smart city development”, says the initiator of the project, Ralf-Martin Soe (

Finest Twins will run until 2026, merging the Finnish expertise and resources for research with Estonia’s knowledge in implementing high-tech solutions. Cross-border smart city governance is possible. In this way, Tallinn and Helsinki are pursuing the unique chance of setting a virtuous example for the rest of Europe.

Energy efficiency in Tartu – from Soviet blocks of flats to smart city grids

Meanwhile, the city of Tartu is taking a major step towards increased energy efficiency. With the European project SmartEnCity, municipal agencies are contributing to renovate old Soviet blocks of flats (Khrushchyovka). The target is to decrease their current, high levels of energy consumption. The buildings will connect to the almost 100% renewables-powered city district heating system. Smart home solutions will monitor the indoor climate and consumption.

740 apartments in 19 buildings constitute, for now, the core of the project. Lauri Sokk, Head of Smart City Tartu, explains how needs brought up by citizens themselves drive such development.

“We avoid adopting innovative smart city technologies to look cool. In this case, we actually need them. We faced a really big problem – the centre of Tartu was filled with energy-consuming, costly, old Soviet buildings”, Sokk explains.

Citizens’ involvement in the improvement of living standards has always been very present in Tartu. The city is one of the first in the world to adopt participatory budgeting. “Citizens are the core and the most important thing for our smart city. That’s why most of the important decisions affecting them are always open to the public for discussion”, Sokk says. With the undergoing building renovations, Tartu is moving in the direction of cost efficiency and energy sustainability.

Though Estonia already has a competitive edge in moving towards smart city models, there’s still a lot to do. “Estonian public services are 99% digitalized, and this is great. However, most cities here are unable to provide some of these services at a municipal level. We must work on making local services as effective and predictive as state services are. Our vision for a smarter city is based on considering also such needs of citizens”, Sokk concludes.

May 2019
by Federico Plantera