‘AMS Institute delivers concrete solutions for the city’

Interview with City of Amsterdam alderman Udo Kock

By: Jurjen Slump

AMS Institute was established at the initiative of the City of Amsterdam. Udo Kock, the alderman responsible (Economic Affairs, D66), has therefore been carefully monitoring the institute’s numerous research projects. In an interview with Home of Innovation, he explains how impressed he is with what the institute has achieved so far.

The Roboat. Even Kock is fascinated by the wealth of possibilities offered by the autonomous boat. “Making a robot boat hat can navigate through the canals is not actually that complicated in itself”, he explains. “But it does become interesting when you consider the potential applications: collecting domestic waste, carrying construction materials and solving other transport and mobility problems”. It is even possible that, in ten years’ time, when the Roboat will have been developed into a commercial product that navigates the local waters, Amsterdam’s canals could again be used intensively for goods transport. “Just like three centuries ago”, says Kock.

Smart city

It was the City Council that, in 2012, called for the establishment of a technological Institute in Amsterdam to focus on the metropolitan challenges faced by the city, explains Kock. “How can you ensure that the city can continue to grow in a responsible way, without compromising on quality of life? How do you develop new forms of mobility? How do you implement the smart city concept? All of this is so complex that we cannot develop solutions in city hall alone.” It was clear from the outset that education and research on metropolitan issues needed to come together within the institute. It called for an interdisciplinary approach, centred around practical problems, with the aim of stimulating business through start-ups working on solutions. The City of Amsterdam invested € 50 million in the institute for a 10 year period. Six years on, the first prototypes of the Roboat are now sailing through the canals. As the person with ultimate responsibility, Kock receives regular updates on the usable and interesting solutions that are emerging from the research. “I use what I learn in my discussions with colleagues on these issues. So many great and interesting things are happening!”

What makes AMS Institute special, and therefore relevant for major cities, is that the problems being researched actually come from the real world of practice

Real-time crowd control

The Roboat may be a prototype, but SocialGlass, another innovation from the AMS Institute, has already proved its worth. It is a real-time crowd control system. “We put it to use during SAIL Amsterdam in 2015. Thanks to the system, we were able to point people in a particular direction using real-time information signs.” This involved hundreds of thousands of people. “You can see that it works. The system is now also being deployed in the red-light district and during other large-scale events, such as King’s Day.”

Export product

Other major cities could benefit from these innovations. “Barcelona, Brussels, Paris. They are facing similar problems with mobility, traffic and pedestrian flows.” The City has appointed a chief technology officer, who also liaises with other cities. Through him, Amsterdam’s innovations are shared with other global cities.
“What makes the AMS Institute special, and therefore relevant for major cities, is that the problems being researched actually come from the real world of practice”, says Kock. You can only achieve that if you are also based in the city.” Intensive collaboration with the City of Amsterdam is also important to ensure that the right research is conducted. “We meet every two weeks to discuss progress in projects and explore how we can use the research results.”


Kock also has plenty of praise for the educational programme set up by the AMS Institute, with its Master’s ‘What makes AMS Institute special, and therefore relevant for major cities, is that the problems being researched actually come from the real world of practice’ degree programme MADE and various summer schools. “It attracts students from across the world. One of the most recent summer schools involved some 70 students from 29 different countries.” Extremely international. “It is also a very effective way of putting Amsterdam on the map as an interesting place for international students.”

Concrete solutions

The AMS Institute is an academic success and is also attracting many international students to the city. But ultimately, it is all about the results, emphasises Kock. “It is delivering concrete solutions for problems that Amsterdam would like to see addressed as quickly as possible.” The process of knowledge valorisation is never easy, but the AMS Institute is certainly on the right track, concludes Kock. “This is a model that works.”

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