ANDORRA LA VELLA — Perched in the Pyrenees between Spain and France, Andorra — with fewer than 80,000 inhabitants — is as small as it is remote. And yet, the European micro-nation is playing a big part these days in the field of urban studies, the Andorran daily El Periòdic reports.
Researchers with the City Science Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have made the country a hub for research on smart city concepts that can improve the world's cities. And while that may seem a bit counterintuitive given Andorra's size and location, the MIT team thinks the the principality is actually the perfect place for a "living lab" — a small city where urban innovators can experiment with ideas and concepts for urban planning.
Andorra is a developed country that draws millions of visitors a year, but its lack of airports and rail stations makes it heavily car-dependent. These conditions make it exceptionally interesting for MIT researchers, who are seeking solutions to the problem, such as an ultra-lightweight autonomous vehicle that operates in bicycle lanes.
Officials from the principality first met with the City Science Initiative in 2014. Together they decided to make Andorra the world’s first "smart" country through the use of big data to drive urban innovation. The most notable result of the partnership is CityScope Andorra, a small-scale 3D augmented reality model of the country designed by MIT's local lab.
The detailed model allows planners to test scenarios on everything from how many parks to build to the potential impact of tourists. The Andorran government is using the platform to redevelop a district in the capital and hopes to use it to analyze and map the country’s economic potential.
Beyond the cooperation with MIT, the country's investment promotion agency recently unveiled a new national innovation space that seeks to attract more investors and researchers to do business there. "Everyone wishes they could buy an Andorra," MIT's project coordinator in Andorra, Luís Alonso, told El Periòdic.