City Apps uses the flexibility of water in both crowded urban areas and remote locations, with floating, fully self sustaining shipping containers. I2-H2O (Intelligence to water), the company behind it, wants to solve the problem of lack of space in increasingly cluttered cities on the one hand, and make technology and modern communication accessible to for everyone, on the other.
The idea started with an incidental meeting, Ralph Steenbergen, one of the three founders and also co-founder of the Big Building explains. “I met with world renowned architect Koen Olthuis, whose designs incorporate water and floating objects. My background is real estate and were were both really interested in how to incorporate water into the DNA of cities. So together with Robin Jansen, we came up with City Apps.”
The slums of Dhaka
City Apps are apps in the very literal and physical sense. “Cities are cluttered and overcrowded, with little to no room to build or add new things. So, just like you can add apps to your smartphone, we can add apps to cities with our floating containers, using the flexibility of water. Whether it’s floating schools or even stores or an entire shopping mall, the applications and possibilities are endless, because the containers can be designed in numerous ways and are entirely self sustaining.”
In the summer of 2015, the three had their first working prototype, which is to be used as a school in the slums of Dhaka, the capital and largest city in Bangladesh. “Building government sanctioned schools in slums is not an easy thing to do, because there’s a lot of legal hassle and gray area”, Ralph explains.” People living there don’t exactly do so legally, and when a school is built, the government sort of has to acknowledge people do live there officially. Our containers don’t need a construction permit, so it’s perfect for helping kids, right there in their in their own neighbourhood.”
Portable Communication Pods: Pilot Project
Starting this summer, the company will start its first pilot project together with a British welfare trust for seafarers. “The majority of major ports worldwide are not close to the city and its amenities, so most sailors don’t really leave their ships when they’re on shore leave. Wifi on ships is spotty at best, so keeping in touch with relatives is also fairly difficult”, Ralph continues.
“Our containers will be used as portable communication pods, solar powered and fully fitted with screens, wifi and charging outlets, to help sailors communicate with their families. We’ve just finished the first one and starting this summer, we will have 5 in total, in large seaports in Rotterdam, Malawi, Norway, Venezuela and Canada.
Sailors can create an account, sign in and start chatting. “But also for the trust and local parties, like port stores, it will be a lot easier to get in touch with their audience. And the control and management platform will be here in Groningen, so we can update our software and manage things from a central location. If the pilot phase goes well, the trust will order multiple containers for ports all over the world.”
Learning before scaling
Other than floating schools or communication pods, City Apps can be used for a lot of different things, for festivals or events for example. “But we’re not scaling up just yet, because we don’t want to be in that Catch 22 position where you get a lot of investments, with high expectations, when you don’t have a solid product yet”, Ralph continues.
“We want to focus on the product first and learn from the pilot, before we start looking for other applications and start growing. But we do want to remain right here in Groningen when we start scaling things up, and create jobs here in the process.”