Beach Bots – How the Netherlands is transforming its coast with smart tech


smart city
Scheveningen. Image: City of The Hague/Valerie Kuypers

When you think of a smart city the image that usually springs to mind is that of thousands of tiny sensors being deployed to control everything from water supply to traffic lights within a densely packed conurbation, most likely in the Far East.

It’s probably not the image of a promenade and a windswept stretch of beach next to the bracing North Sea in the Netherlands. And yet that is exactly where you’ll find one of the latest smart cities – the Living Lab in Scheveningen. It even won a World Smart City Award in 2021 at the Barcelona Smart City Expo. 

Testing Ground

Since 2020, the new boulevard, from Zwarte Pad to the Harbour (a stretch of approximately 3.5Km), has become a testing ground for innovative new projects. The aim? To make everyday experiences for those living nearby more comfortable, as well as improve the experiences of the area’s many summer tourists (around 14 million people visited last year).

As part of our recent visit to The Hague, which is billed as the international city of peace and security, we were taken to the Living Lab, just a few miles from the city centre, to check out technological developments for ourselves.

And while the weather had turned decidedly autumnal and only a few hardy souls and their dogs could be spotted out and about during our visit, Tijn Kuyper, Account Manager Digital Innovation/Smart Cities at The Hague, was on hand to give us a guided tour of this smart city with a difference. “The Living Lab for us is an experimentation zone, a learning environment where we experiment with all sorts of digital innovations in conjunction with private companies,” he explained.

Importantly, it’s become a testing ground where ideas can be tried, refined and rolled out. Or alternatively rejected if for whatever reason they don’t work out – some because they are just too gimmicky, others because of problems with vandalism.

Many of the innovations are already proving useful. For example, although it’s difficult to believe it when visiting in the autumn, in the spring and summer it can get extremely busy in Scheveningen, crowded with tourists and completely overrun with e-mopeds/scooters from rental companies. Here technology can play a very practical purpose. 

“We have to use geofencing technology to ensure they are parked only in specific zones we have created, making it much more attractive to people than seeing scooters parked everywhere,” says Mr Kuyper. Fibre optic cabling underneath the promenade also provides very high-speed internet connections in the area too. 

Here we look at just some of Schevingen’s smart city initiatives. 

Smart Lamp Posts

Smart Lamp Post. Image: City of The Hague/Valerie Kuypers

All along the promenade are a series of smart lamp posts (each with a large rock at its base to prevent it from being knocked down, which apparently has happened on a number of occasions). In addition to providing ambient lighting, built in to the posts are sensors that can distinguish between different types of noise (kids playing, trucks going by, fireworks etc) as well as measure the noise in decibels (dB). 

The initial experiment was to give citizens more insight into the noise disturbances they were experiencing. However, over time, the focus has shifted to more of a safety and security perspective, in conjunction with crowd management data. 

The smart lamp posts can count the number of people who come to the area although under Dutch law they are not allowed to film and identify individuals (only the police cameras can do this). 

Waste management

Smart Litter Bin. Image: City of The Hague/Valerie Kuypers

Keeping the seaside clean, especially during the busy summer months is a challenge. Cigarette butts, cans and discarded food are just some of the items left lying around on the beach and promenade. Enter the smart trash can (pictured above) that can compact your waste for you, tell you how full it is and even thank you for using it. But that’s not all. To supplement these fixed trash cans, Scheveningen has also trialled various robot refuse collectors over the summer months. One of these is Project BB (BeachBot) pictured below.

First launched during World Clean Up Day, September 19th, 2020, this self-learning robot has been programmed with an image recognition algorithm so that it can recognise, say, cigarette butts and dispose of them.  In the case of unknown waste, the robot places a photo with a GPS tag in an app. Users of the app can then indicate what kind of waste it is so that the robot can identify this in the future. In this way the Beach Bots learns to recognize more and more waste. A much larger moving robot that people could throw their waste into has also been trialled at the Living Lab. 

Project BB. Image: City of The Hague/Valerie Kuypers

Digital signs

According to Tijn Kuyper, Account Manager Digital Innovation/Smart Cities at The Hague engagement with traditional lifeguarding signs isn’t particularly high with many people ignoring their messaging. So it has started trialling more interactive signs, such as the one above, that warn people when it’s safe or unsafe to go in the water.

Smart security 

Image: City of The Hague/Valerie Kuypers

Established at The Hague Security Delta (HSD) campus, SHIELD – which stands for Sharing Hub for innovation and experimentation to learn from digitisation – is a joint initiative between the municipality of The Hague (ie. the equivalent of the local council in the UK) and the local Dutch police force.

Basically, together they are working on a number of projects. One involves using anonymised data from Dutch traffic app Flitsmeister (similar to Google Maps) to monitor how busy a particular area is and re-route private and public transport as necessary. This is especially important on days like King’s Day where thousands of people take to the Dutch streets.

Others include automatic detection of shipping in the port to reduce people and drug smuggling (see image below) which is a particular problem, especially post-Brexit. Not only can this technology recognise the type of shipping passing through the port, it also knows how quickly it is moving and where it is going to as well as detect suspicious behaviour. The Hague is also currently trialling a system that detects drones that are flying through the city in conjunction with Belgian company Senhive. For more information see here:

Image: City of The Hague/Valerie Kuypers
Chris Price