With Urban Strategy, TNO connects with innovative U.S. West Coast in San Diego

Societal impact
28 March 2024

Following cities like Amsterdam and Singapore, San Diego becomes the first American city to start working with TNO's Urban Strategy platform. This advanced urban planning tool uses Digital Twins to make complex spatial planning choices manageable and insightful. TNO CEO Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi explains the strategic importance of this move for the innovation power of TNO and the Netherlands.

In just a few months, TNO developed the San Diego Digital Twin together with local policymakers and authorities. It is a new chapter in the international success story of TNO's innovative Urban Strategy platform for urban planning.

In September 2022, a trade delegation from San Diego, including Mayor Todd Gloria, travelled to The Hague to explore the possibilities of Urban Strategy. From that interest, an agreement was signed in autumn 2023 to develop a proof of concept for the San Diego Digital Twin which has now been completed.

To reinforce the strategic partnership between TNO and the city, TNO's Mobility & Built Environment team, along with CEO Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi, travelled to California this month. The trip was all about commitment to the new partnership and explore new opportunities for TNO in North America.

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'We make the complexity of strategic choices in space use, traffic, housing and infrastructure understandable and manageable.'

Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi


San Diego innovating to develop broad-based prosperity

San Diego, a region with 3.3 million inhabitants, is interested in applying Urban Strategy for several reasons. Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi: 'The city has developed into a major economic and industrial hub in the southwestern United States. San Diego is betting big on innovation to develop broad-based prosperity in this fast-growing region. There are various social and economic challenges where the Digital Twin can contribute. We make the complexity of strategic decisions regarding spatial use, traffic, housing, and infrastructure transparent and manageable.'

Meanwhile, the Digital Twin's proof of concept has been delivered and TNO calibrates the models to local city and infrastructure characteristics. Tjin-A-Tsoi: 'Meanwhile, we are also looking at which use cases the technology will be deployed for first. These are issues that are relevant to all partners involved. You could think of building a new neighbourhood, or creating a direct shuttle connection to the airport.'

Calculated 1,000 times faster

The fact that a city from one of the most innovative regions in the world approaches TNO in the Netherlands for a Digital Twin speaks volumes about the unique features of Urban Strategy and the current complexity of urban planning. 'We are facing massive transitions, all of which have implications for urban space,' observes Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi.

'So how do you optimally and future-proofly arrange them? The city is typically such a complex system where everything is interconnected. Our Digital Twin technology allows you to calculate all those consequences at lightning speed, up to 1,000 times faster than the state-of-the-art. That's the difference between a day of calculations and 2 minutes.'

'This enables you to explore multiple scenarios directly. Besides speed, the integrated approach is also unique, where we manage to link various data models together. This allows you to see not only the consequences of a measure on traffic flows but also on emissions, noise pollution, and many other factors.'

International success

These unique features are the driving force behind the international success of Urban Strategy. The city of Amsterdam has been using the Digital Twin for various planning tasks in public spaces for several years, from maintaining quays to building entire new residential areas.

In Singapore, TNO’s technology is used for the smooth implementation of electric buses. But this is just the beginning, states Tjin-A-Tsoi. 'There is a lot of interest in Urban Strategy worldwide. In addition to Dutch cities, we see increasing international interest from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Moreover, San Diego is a great test case for the rest of America, with hundreds of cities that we can serve in a similar way. Exploratory talks with San Francisco are already underway. It would be fantastic if we could develop a Digital Twin for the entire Bay Area or even Silicon Valley. The first reactions to that ambition are very positive, by the way.'

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'I see San Diego as an important strategic step to connect with the highly innovative US West Coast.'

Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi


Exposure abroad essential

'TNO has clear reasons for operating across borders', Tjin-A-Tsoi explains. 'Technology knows no borders. You have to expose yourself to the world to know what's going on, what is needed, and which technology to focus on. I see San Diego as an important strategic step to connect with the highly innovative American West Coast, due to the significance of this region for deep tech. The innovation boom there is enormous.'

'By comparison, we in the Netherlands, public and private combined, spend 23 billion euros on R&D. In 2022 alone, Amazon spent 73 billion on innovation. It is very interesting for TNO to be part of that. Additionally, the Netherlands is largely an export country. Just like deep tech start-ups and scale-ups, you deal with a global market. Moreover, what you sell internationally generates income for the Dutch economy. In this way, we contribute to the earning power of the Netherlands and the creation of broad prosperity for a growing population.'

Bart Vuijk shows Urban Strategy

Choose your battles

With the international success of TNO’s Urban Strategy, TNO demonstrates the importance of making smart strategic choices. 'With much smaller budgets, we have to compete in the Netherlands with innovation powerhouses and Big Tech. That doesn't mean we can't be successful, but we have to choose where we want to stand out. Choose your battles. With Urban Strategy, we have gained a strong position through technological advancement. This advantage is always temporary, so you have to keep developing.'

'This can only be achieved with successful commercial exploitation of the platform. We will not do this ourselves but with a spin-off. This way, the spin-off can become an extremely successful Dutch company. Technology through which we can also create positive societal impact by contributing to the liveability and sustainability of cities worldwide.'

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