Engineering Student Team Models Smart City in Croatia

This student-designed smart city is empowering officials to make necessary changes.

Davor Sijanovic and his team of students, from left, Matija Hardi, Matko Gasparic, Ivan Kolar and Marko Macura. (Image courtesy of Davor Sijanovic/Make: Projects.)

Davor Sijanovic and his team of students, from left, Matija Hardi, Matko Gasparic, Ivan Kolar and Marko Macura. (Image courtesy of Davor Sijanovic/Make: Projects.)

Full discosure: Make: Community is owned by the former owners of Maker Faire and is in a joint venture, Make: Projects, with

A teacher and his university students have been making international news with the 3D model of their hometown Vukovar, Croatia. 

With social-distancing regulations in place, Make: Community is enhancing school programs and events that the public has not been unable to participate in during COVID-19 by offering teachers a way to showcase their student projects online. 

Maker Faire is an all-ages event for makers to show off their creations and learn from other enthusiasts. What started as a small fair in 2006 has grown by leaps and bounds due to the increasing demand to connect, learn and collaborate with other makers. Today, there are 190 independently produced Mini Maker Faires and 30 larger ones all over the world. 

What makes the events and online platform special is the sense of bonding it builds in a community often overlooked by society. When walking into a Makerspace, a local school or library maker club, or attend one of the 200-plus Maker Faires, there is a sense of excitement and togetherness in producing projects and among the people who create them.

However, there is still a missing part for a place for makers to evolve, inspire and engage beyond an event or physical space. There is a need for an online platform where makers can tinker together and exponentially increase the possibilities of their projects. Then entered Make: Projects, a collaboration program, and an online site to fill in the last puzzle piece. 

This has inspired over 25,000 members to build thousands of projects and educate other users. One of them is Davor Sijanovic and his team of students, Matija Hardi, Matko Gasparic, Ivan Kolar and Marko Macura as well as Sanja Pavlovic Sijanovic.

Sijanovic explained how he found the Make: Projects, which kicked off vital improvements for his city, Vukovar. “Many exhibitions and competitions have moved online. One day, I was searching through the Internet, and I saw the announcement on Facebook where you can virtually participate in some Maker Faires. So, I went and checked it out and submitted my first project.”

For his computer science class, which focuses on problem-solving and programming as well as learning the appropriate strategies, algorithms and programming solutions, he was given the task to build a 750 by 720 mm 3D model of his hometown. The aim was to build infrastructure and ideas to make it a Smart City.  

Final 3D Model of the Smart City of Vukovar.

Final 3D Model of the Smart City of Vukovar.

“Everything started when we applied for a national project called Generation X created by Creation Telecom and The Institute for Youth and Innovation in Croatia,” Sijanovic said. “We submitted our application, and we were selected for funding and to participate in the project to create a smart city.” 

Their project, dubbed “Our View of Smart Living,” innovates one part of the main road in Vukovar and a part of the promenade by the river of Danube. It offers a solution to save electricity, use solar panels more efficiently and reduce traffic. 

The model has two parts. The upper surface has the prototype of the main road of Vukovar. The inside segment hides all the wires, technology and support bearing materials underneath. 

To make the structure, the team had to design and create blueprints for the model according to the actual appearance of the road and promenade, and then produce the parts of the model and paint the pieces. Next, the team programmed the Arduino code for the smart technologies as well as installed the Arduino boards and all the other electronic components for the final model.

Powered by a high-tech Genuine Arduino MKR 1000 board and infrared sensors, the project consists of four major smart technologies programmed by the Arduino codes. The program also collects real-time information to plan and implement the infrastructure. 

First, infrared sensors placed in the asphalt sense the traffic and signal the smart traffic lights. When there is movement on the side street, the lights automatically change to let the driver pass. Otherwise, the light on the main road stays green, drastically reducing traffic jams.   

Schematics of the Smart Traffic Lights. (Image courtesy of Davor Sijanovic/ Arduino Project Hub.)

Schematics of the Smart Traffic Lights. (Image courtesy of Davor Sijanovic/ Arduino Project Hub.)

“When the car approaches on the side road, it goes over the sensor and will automatically turn the light red on the main road and turn the light green on the side road to let the car pass by,” Sijanovic said. “It only takes a few seconds as soon as that car leaves from the side road for the lights on the main road to turn green again. The lights then turn to a lower brightness after that. I just read an article a few days ago that in the European Union, cities will have almost the same behavior with their real city lights as in the parts of the city that are not very frequently used.”

Next, they implemented smart parking using the same infrared sensors to enable visitors to quickly know if there are parking spots available at a location. As the vehicle approaches a parking lot, the sensor will activate to show the number of free spaces on an LCD and then open the ramp only if there are spots. When the visitor leaves, the program reacts similarly to keep track of the availability. 

 “As the result of our success with this smart city project, our town and municipality decided to make the same smart parking in the downtown of Vukovar,” Sijanovic said.  

Schematics of the smart parking. (Image courtesy of Davor Sijanovic/ Arduino Project Hub.)

Schematics of the smart parking. (Image courtesy of Davor Sijanovic/ Arduino Project Hub.)

The third technology is smart city lights, which use photoresistors, infrared sensors, LED lights and a Genuine Arduino UNO board. The lights dim when there are no people around and use sensors to activate the Arduino program to increase the brightness when a person approaches. The final technology is the solar sun trackers, which are moveable solar panels powered through a photoresistor. The panels move to receive the best sunlight source for the distribution of electricity to the city lights. 

What makes the project stand out from the rest was the reaction he received from the global community. 

“I would visit the site and see how many people were reacting,” Sijanovic said. “I was really happy that I got a ribbon from the site that inspects all the projects, so I started using the site more and more. This community really helps people all over the world see all kinds of different projects from institutions and schools, to some NGOs and universities and even individual makers. This site really helped people connect and collaborate with each other and share ideas or projects even though we’re all kind of pinned to our homes.”Users on the site can share their projects, learn what other student teams are producing and follow engaging engineers. It also features open community chats and closed groups for schools and companies. Make: Community will take their projects to the next level with features that include project templates, group chats, teams and whiteboards. 

Essentially, the online platform has been leading the way to a global cultural movement that focuses on creativity, innovation and curiosity. The site aims to support information and advice sharing between schools as well as present new opportunities and offer support to other teams. 

The project has won several events, including Generation Next in Croatia, Maker of Merit at Maker Faire Zagreb and the Arduino day celebration in the Education category. The team also just completed their biggest Maker Faire held virtually this year in Rome. 

When asked about his experience with the Make: Community, Sijanovic said, “It was an experience that we will never forget. It was just amazing.”