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Flemish Deputy Prime Minister Hilde Crevits installs the first window of the new Living Tomorrow Campus in her exoskeleton

An unusual spectacle this morning at the official start of the construction of the new Living Tomorrow innovation campus: Flemish Deputy Prime Minister Hilde Crevits strapped on an exoskeleton to install the first window of the futuristic tower with 15 floors and a height of nearly 50 metres. “Living Tomorrow is one of Flanders’ showcases for innovation. With this campus we can inspire our youth and foster innovations in the entrepreneurial world”, says Crevits. Twenty-six years to the day after the opening of the first Living Tomorrow and in spite of today’s challenging climate, this is the perfect moment for a new ambitious project. “The Covid-19 pandemic gave fresh impetus to a green innovation wave and a sweeping digital acceleration that we will capitalise on together with 50 other companies”, founder Frank Beliën and CEO Joachim De Vos explain.

Flemish Deputy Prime Minister Hilde Crevits appeared this morning as a ‘robot version’ of herself to install the first window of Living Tomorrow. The so-called exoskeleton supported her arms, legs and back, allowing her to move better, faster and with greater agility to install the first window without overstraining her muscles. This wonderful innovation will make construction work much lighter in the future. “It’s amazing to discover all these innovative and sustainable techniques here today”, Crevits asserted. She emphasised that “Living Tomorrow is a hugely important project to Flanders in terms of innovation and education for our youngsters, educational institutions, government services and the people working for our Flemish towns and cities. It’s fantastic to have Living Tomorrow to inspire them to use the most innovative technologies”, minister Crevits emphasises. “It is clear that in the future, the digitalisation of our towns and cities in the evolution towards smart cities, as well as engineering and STEM education, will continue to gain importance. Consequently it gives me great pride that, thanks in part to our financial support, Flanders boasts a platform like Living Tomorrow that shows what it will take to reach this goal.”

The mayor of Vilvoorde, Hans Bonte, also strapped into an exoskeleton to assist minister Crevits. “Literally making innovations of this nature tangible for the public at large: this is precisely why Living Tomorrow is so important”, Bonte stated. “That is why I am so tremendously proud that thanks to this campus, Vilvoorde will be home to one of the largest innovation centres in Europe by the end of next year.”

Covid as leverage for innovation

By launching its innovation campus in the midst of the pandemic one might think Living Tomorrow is getting ahead of itself. But Living Tomorrow CEO Joachim De Vos is convinced the new hub comes at exactly the right time. “We are standing at a turning point of the transition from the digitalisation age to the automation age, where sustainable innovation will be the primary focus. Covid and the European Green Deal have called into question everything that seemed to be set in stone. And contrary to what many people think this is not necessarily a bad thing”, he claims. “On the contrary, it is an opportunity to push the reset button and consider things from a new perspective. And new ways of thinking provide the perfect leverage for innovation. We are presented with a unique opportunity to make a solid innovation leap through co-creation, in particular in terms of sustainability and, eventually, climate neutrality, and in terms of the upcoming digital evolution that will progress at breakneck speed. Because these will be the biggest challenges we will face in the coming years. The physical, digital and biological world will fade into the background and disrupt the technological, economic and social fabric. Needless to say we are thrilled to have gathered around us over 50 companies - ranging from leading IT partners to mobility and public health players - who are willing to embark on this new project with us.”

Fuelling the swelling wave of sustainable innovation

Together with this consortium Living Tomorrow aims to fuel the wave of innovation that is emerging in the post-Covid landscape. “We will have to harness all of our innovative potential in order to create a zero-emission and fully connected world. After all, this supersedes all boundaries between businesses, sectors, industries, countries and continents”, De Vos concludes. “Nevertheless, to many companies, governments, educational institutions and consumers it all remains very theoretical and illusive. And this is precisely where our new campus wants to make a difference. We want to translate concepts into practice: how will these innovations impact our way of living and working? Will we continue to travel and go to the office en masse? What possibilities do 5G, AI and the IoT have to offer? How will smart energy networks change our consumption patterns? Will we face water or power shortages?”

With the new campus, Living Tomorrow wants to answer all of those questions and make the answers tangible. “Starting with the building itself that will be constructed in as CO2 and energy-friendly a way as possible”, Living Tomorrow founder Frank Beliën explains. “Through such innovations as CO2 neutral concrete and bricks, insulation made of recycled mattresses, building materials that indicate when they need to be replaced and that are fully recyclable... But especially through the many different functions our 15-storey building will fulfil when it opens late next year.”

Living lab

A significant part of the new campus, which involves an investment of €30 million, will be a living lab that is expected to accommodate 1 million-plus consumers, businesses and governments in the future. Frank Beliën lifts just a small corner of the veil: “For instance, we will showcase what rehabilitation centres will look like in 2030, how food is 3D printed and prepared by robots, how people will enter the building via the roof after being dropped off by a drone helicopter... It will even be possible to spend the night here so people can be fully submerged in the future, in hotel rooms with thematic innovations that guests can try out in person and give feedback on. The perfect test platform for future markets and services. In addition, the campus will also become a collaboration hotspot where businesses can organise innovation sessions and inspire each other, as well as an education centre on innovation and innovative techniques.”

Additional partners

To make all these innovations as tangible as possible by the end of next year, Living Tomorrow has room for additional innovative partners. “We are very proud of the consortium of over 50 companies we have so far been able to create but there are definitely more topics, products and services that are yet to be integrated. Especially in the areas of digitalisation, IT and future services (‘as a service’), we are still looking for leading companies that are willing to show what they are capable of. Next year we hope to be able to offer the full spectrum of future experience”, Frank Beliën concludes.

Living Tomorrow is een maatschappelijk demonstratie- en innovatieproject dat organisaties en mensen wil voorbereiden op, en informeren over de toekomst. Dit gebeurt door onderzoek & ontwikkeling ondersteuning aan tientallen overheidsinstellingen en bedrijven onder de vorm van open innovatie, visie en strategiebegeleiding, piloot- en experimentuitbouw. Door de jarenlange ervaring van en intensieve begeleiding door Living Tomorrow in samenwerking met haar spinoff TomorrowLab kunnen toekomstscenario’s uitmonden in demonstraties en voorstellen van nieuwe concepten.

Living Tomorrow biedt samen met haar partners een toekomst- en innovatiebelevenis aan duizenden bezoekers. Zij krijgen deskundige uitleg en Living Tomorrow en haar partners ontvangen waardevolle feedback. Deze kan vervolgens worden meegenomen in verder toekomstonderzoek. Daarnaast worden bezoekers ook geïnformeerd over de toekomst, innovatie, technologie, sociale media, internet, ...

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Kaat Vanrenterghem

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