#SmartCity: Helsinki

Residential Envac Automated Waste Collection System | Kalasatama, Helsinki, Finland

I’ve come to experience a number of smart and sustainability projects in operation in Helsinki, Finland during my nine month stint here. I’d like to share some of them.

  • IMU — Automated Vacuum Waste Collection
  • Solar-powered Smart Bins
  • Parking Meter Apps / Pay for what you park
  • Emission-free Taxis
  • Startup Culture
  • Clever Homes

IMU — Automated Vacuum Waste Collection

Garbage Trucks — a thing of the past…

Upon moving into my new townhouse in Helsinki suburb, Kalasatama (Finnish translated to “Fish Harbour”), I questioned — “where are the big waste bigs”. To my amazement, they’d shared the same fate as Dodos; they are extinct, as are garbage trucks and garbage collectors.

Waste disposal as it exists in Kalasatama, uses an innovative instantaneous vacuum waste delivery system that transports directly to the city’s waste management centre — at a blistering 70 kilometres per hour.

As far as the residents are concerned, there is no “bin day”. Residents simply dispose of whichever category of waste into its appropriate waste-pod — bio, recyclable or general waste. Homes in Kalasatama are conveniently built with separated in-house bins, allowing residents to conveniently pre-sort the waste.

This infrastructure takes garbage trucks off the roads which in turn cuts labour costs and minimises road maintenance; whilst encouraging higher frequency of disposable and pre-separation of its contents.

The infrastructure is developed by Swedish company, Envac:

The system is locally known as IMU. For more information visit:

Solar-powered Smart Bins

Helsinki’s city parks are equipped with Big Belly solar bins. These internet-enabled machines compact waste and alerts the park manager of when the waste needs to be collected — maximising the use of bin bags and waste management labour.

Esplanadin Puisto, Helsinki, Finland

For more information visit: http://bigbelly.com/

Parking Meter Apps

Whilst living in Australia and UK, I found myself using my phone timer to ensure I had raced back to my car before the parking inspector did.

Helsinki’s parking system runs on smartphone apps.

  • Parking locations are identifiable by the smartphone’s location tracking
  • notifies user to top up the meter via smartphone app if you’re close to running overtime
  • or end early if you drive off

… so you only pay for what you use.

Popular apps:

Tesla Model-S Taxis

Taxi’s in Finland are a premium service. Patrons are greeted with well dressed drivers fluent in Finnish, English and Swedish driving recent model S-Class Mercedes. Whilst cycling around town, I noticed these Mercedes being replaced with Tesla’s Model S Electric vehicles. It’s a brilliant move to have the city’s most driven vehicles emission-free.

Innovation Leadership

During the peak of Nokia’s global mobile domination, at some point everyone in Finland was either working for Nokia or knew someone that was. When the mobile giant toppled, masses of highly skilled software developers and digital talents were dispersed back into the job-hunt market. However, amongst this rubble rose successful startup businesses, startup facilitation programs and industrial innovators — taking advantage and taking control of the situation.


IndustryHack (http://industryhack.com/) is a movement that organises “hack-a-thon” style events within various established companies of the likes of KONE who create and maintain escalators, lifts (and much more), premium glassware brand Iittala, and gas company Gasum.

The events are usually three day events held within the company’s premises with 10 teams of two or three battling it out to develop the winning idea that will innovate the company in some way. Accommodation, meals and social events are provided by each company to encourage the entrants to mingle and intimately understand the staff and company.

All the ideas are generally of a very high calibre making selecting the winner very difficult for the judges.

I had personally entered an IndustryHack hack-a-thon for an assembly line manufacturer, Fastems. This was my experience:

A bus picked up myself and the other hack-entrants in Helsinki and taken us north to Fastem’s factory in Tampere. We learned about how Fastems operate and how and what kind of data we could access through their API.
Later that evening, Fastems invited us on a restaurant river-boat cruise on the nearby lake for us to get to know the staff and brainstorm ideas.
The next morning, the teams armed with laptops and other gadgets set off for a gruelling software development session that could easily overflow into the early morning.
On the final day everyone was to present their idea, with the top ideas awarded varies prizes. My team had come third — it was truly an eye-opening experience.


Like many major cities, the startup culture in Helsinki is also vividly flourishing. There are many incubators and accelerators such as StartupSauna and Aaltoes that facilitate this.

There is one event in particular, that sets Helsinki apart from other “startup hubs” — Slush Festival.

The Slush festival is a yearly event sponsored by many global and Finnish companies that challenges startup businesses against each other, amongst being the networking melting pot of talented entrepreneurs, international VCs and media. To sweeten the deal, the winner of Slush is awarded with a cash prize of €500,000.

Slush has recently expanded into Slush China.

Clever Homes

I’ve moved around a lot — I’ve lived in many cities, and a number of different areas within those city, as well as being a well-travelled individual. None of the homes have impressed me with minor innovation as much as my apartment in Helsinki.

Here are a couple of photos of some of the features from my apartment:

Drainage shelves, so cutlery dries as they’re stacked away.
Reaching for that pot hidden in the back-corner? Not to worry, these shelves rotate the pot to you!
There’s drawers that become chopping boards.
Under-the-sink drawers .. designed to be functional and stylish.


I’m not saying Helsinki is at the top of the “Smart City” ladder, however I’m sure it’s got to be up there. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to “live in the future”.

I hope to see more city-level innovation in Helsinki and other cities.