Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dortmund, Essen, Bochum — North Rhine-Westphalia has a lot of major cities and metropolitan areas. But half the population of the state lives in medium-sized towns of between 20,000 and 100,000 residents. There are more than 180 of these medium-sized towns in North Rhine-Westphalia. These smaller communities have big plans for digitization and making everyday life easier with the Internet of Things, as can be seen in the project “LemGO DIGITAL,” underway since May 2018.
Major cities around the world are researching and developing the possibilities and opportunities of Internet-connected technologies for urban living in pursuit of what is being called the “smart city”. The town of Lemgo in Ostwestfalen-Lippe, Germany, a former member of the Hanseatic League with about 40,000 residents, isn’t usually one of the first cities that comes to mind in this context. And that’s precisely why it has the ideal size to serve as an IoT reference platform for medium-sized towns. That, at least, is the plan of the Fraunhofer IOSB-INA (Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation, Industrial Automation branch). Together with partners from the fields of policymaking, science and industry, Fraunhofer IOSB-INA has set itself the goal of turning Lemgo into a living, interactive laboratory for the Internet of Things as part of the initiative “LemGO DIGITAL.”
Residents as experts on everyday life
“LemGO DIGITAL brings the Internet of Things to life for residents and shows how digitization can solve everyday problems,” says Professor Andreas Pinkwart, State Minister for Economic Affairs and Digitization in North Rhine-Westphalia. The main goal of the initiative is to find innovative solutions for the everyday problems in the town in the fields of mobility, the environment, commerce and energy. The overall conditions and the local Fraunhofer expertise available for this are ideal in Lemgo. But what makes the project special is the involvement of the residents. In the context of the living IoT lab, they are not only test subjects. As genuine experts on everyday life, they will also be included as active participants in the process of generating ideas for the project. To this end, an open project office was set up in a favorable central location at the historic market square, so that Lemgo residents can stop by and learn about the digital future of their town and help shape it themselves.
Because of its manageable size and the short decision-making processes involved, Lemgo is the perfect arena for testing innovative digital strategies at the town level. Another benefit is the research infrastructure available locally: Lemgo is the home of Fraunhofer IOSB-INA, a ten-year-old branch of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft that pursues research in the fields of industrial IT and communications technology as well as intelligent automation. The results of this research, which previously focused mostly on the trends in industrial automation known as “Industry 4.0,” will now be extended to solutions for everyday problems in the framework of LemGO DIGITAL.
And the everyday problems of medium-sized towns are numerous and diverse. With its historical town center and narrow streets, for example, Lemgo faces special challenges in the field of transportation. The retail industry is facing increased pressure too, as a result of growing competition from online shops and shopping centers on the outskirts. The fields of environmental protection and energy likewise offer many opportunities to carry out informed analyses using digital technologies and implement targeted improvements based on the results. In all of these applications, Lemgo benefits from the concentration of expertise at Fraunhofer. In specific terms, this means that a technical infrastructure will be created with a large number of different sensors. The next step, as part of the living IoT lab, will then be high-performance connectivity and data processing as well as apps to serve as an interface to the user. The first projects to help kick things off are already underway in the fields of mobility, retail industry and environment, efforts that are being coordinated by professional project managers. In the future — according to the plan — this infrastructure will be used by companies, IoT startups, municipalities and research facilities to develop and test new products and data-based services together with residents.
Green light in Lemgo
“Lemgo is acting as a model for the over 180 medium-sized towns in North Rhine-Westphalia,” says Professor Jürgen Jasperneite, head of the Fraunhofer IOSB-INA. “We’d be quite pleased if we can use LemGO DIGITAL to show that centuries-old tradition and innovation aren’t incompatible with one another.” Moreover, the founders of the initiative hope the project can do more than simply show how Lemgo serves as a model. LemGO DIGITAL is also expected to serve as a catalyst for innovation that sets things moving in other medium-sized towns. As the project gets underway, other interested municipalities are being invited to join a user group so that they can help shape the process and adapt the results for their own specific needs. Joint lecture programs, workshops and discussions offer opportunities for a lively give-and-take regarding practical digital solutions that respond to actual everyday problems. As a testbed and living, interactive lab, Lemgo will thus ideally serve as a starting point for a small digital revolution of medium-sized towns — and not only in North Rhine-Westphalia.