AURORAL is a Horizon 2020 project empowering rural ecosystems to boost their potential through digitalising resources, products, and services. The project has a budget of around €16 million, of which 90% EU contribution.
Launched in January 2021 and due to run until December 2024, the project’s full title is ‘Architecture for Unified Regional and Open digital ecosystems for Smart Communities and wider Rural Areas Large scale application’. Led by the regional government of Alentejo, Portugal, AURORAL is managed by a consortium of technical research centres and universities, industrial companies and SMEs, international networks and local organisations.
Rural opportunities, technical solutions
AURORAL deploys transformative strategies and processes for the digitalisation and empowerment of rural communities and businesses, and is demonstrating these through eight rural pilot projects. A key objective of the project is to introduce “semantic interoperability as a service” through which digital ecosystems of smart objects and service platforms can communicate, as well as share and use one another’s data. A key motivation for this is to enable the fruitful exploitation of the data in rural areas, through implementing cross-sectoral and independent digital services.
Such applications can bring great opportunities for improving the social, economic and environmental outlooks of communities through the innovations and services they offer. They can be extremely varied, ranging from mobility, culture and tourism, to manufacturing and agriculture, and from environmental monitoring and protection to healthcare and education, among many others.
AURORAL’s eight pilot projects address key challenges for rural areas across Europe:
- Lapland, Finland: Intelligent mobility and logistics
- Piedmont, Italy: Precision dairy farming and social eco-tourism
- Penedès, Spain: Bioenergy production from wineries’ agroforestry residues
- Västerbotten, Sweden: Improving energy advisory services to the public: an open-access smart tool
- Hålogaland, Norway (1: Tourism): Smart mobility and digital guiding for historical and nature-based attractions in rural areas
- Hålogaland, Norway (2: Health): Strengthening preparedness through coordination of local knowledge in health-critical remote operations
- Southern Burgenland, Austria: Sustainable mobility, smart tourism, smart energy systems and digital public services
- Alentejo, Portugal: Digital services creating critical mass
Pilot 1: Intelligent mobility and logistics in Lapland, Finland
Lapland is the largest and northernmost region of Finland. It is sparsely populated, with long distances between communities and centres. Combined with a harsh climate, travel and transport are challenging, be it by road, rail or air. For these reasons, Lapland was chosen to demonstrate solutions for smart mobility and intelligent logistics. In addition to this, the project targets industries that are based on natural resources (forestry, mining, fisheries) and which foresee great challenges to the electrification and digitalisation of their processes, as well as to increasing safety and achieving decarbonisation.
Pilot 2:Precision dairy farming and social eco-tourism in Piedmont, Italy
The agricultural province of Cuneo, in the Piedmont region, is classified as a ‘rural area under development’. The challenges are to restore, preserve and enhance the agriculture and forestry ecosystems, increasing their competitiveness as well as their economic and environmental sustainability. The pilot project’s precision systems specifically target:
- Dairy production and livestock farming: to improve energy efficiency and water management, and reduce the negative environmental impacts
- Agricultural tourism: to implement an energy and water management system for agri-camping facilities
Pilot 3: Bioenergy production from wineries’ agroforestry residues in Penedès, Spain
In the Catalan wine region of Penedès, the municipality of Vilafranca del Penedès has partnered with AURORAL to foster the rural development of the region, through promoting the energetic valorisation of vine shoots’ pruning residues and the creation of new businesses associated to the entire biomass value chain.
Pilot 4:Improving energy advisory services to the public: an open-access smart tool in Västerbotten, Sweden
In Västerbotten, Sweden’s second-largest region, the predominantly rural population lives in houses that need energy-efficient renovation, and home owners need access to advice that is specific to their needs. To improve the region’s energy advisory services, the pilot project is developing an open-access smart tool to compute the energy saving and the investment cost of alternative energy-efficient measures. The pilot includes:
- developing an Energy Database using the Geographic Information System (GIS), the Swedish Energy Performance certificate, and the Swedish national land survey
- developing a smart platform where the database and machine learning algorithms are integrated in order to learn the relationship between specific buildings characteristics and their energy performance
- deploying the smart platform in selected areas of the region
Pilots 5 and 6:Mobility, tourism and healthcare in ruralHålogaland, Norway
Two pilot projects are taking place within the Arctic Circle region of Hålogaland, one of the most sparsely populated areas in Europe. Home to 120,000 people, the region is largely rural, rich in wildlife and natural beauty, and its income comes principally from tourism as well as marine farming.
Pilot 5:Smart mobility and digital guiding for historical and nature-based attractions
Targeting tourism and mobility in the Arctic, AURORAL’s objective here is to demonstrate how digital platforms and smart objects can be leveraged to improve services and decision-making, and enhance access to the beauty of the region while managing the impact on the environment and the local community. The project will be deployed in at least six different locations in the fjords, islands, and mountains in the region.
Pilot 6: Strengthening preparedness through coordination of local knowledge in health-critical remote operations
Hålogaland is characterised by islands with scattered settlements, wild landscapes and unpredictable weather conditions. This makes delivering healthcare, veterinary care and medicine by car or boat challenging, especially in emergencies or to especially inaccessible locations. This pilot project therefore aims to employ aerial drones to offer safer, faster and more sustainable delivery of medical supplies and services, vaccines, vitamin supplements and food for both humans and animals.
Pilot 7: Sustainable mobility, smart tourism, smart energy systems and digital public services in Southern Burgenland, Austria
Home to approximately 80,000 people, Southern Burgenland is a 1,228 km² rural area in the southeast corner of Austria with the poorest public transport infrastructure in the country, and almost no rail connections. Although the region’s leadership in sustainable energy is a draw for tourism, the inaccessibility of the area has a limiting effect. The AURORAL pilot project will therefore target tourism, mobility, energy and public services, aiming to create a rural cross-sectoral digital environment as well as marketplace platform for the region.
Pilot 8: Digital services creating critical mass in rural areas of Alentejo, Portugal
The Alentejo pilot is the largest, comprising six use cases in healthcare, mobility, energy, tourism and agriculture. The objective is to deploy innovative cross-sector digital services focused on creating interconnected rural Smart Communities and revitalising the region as a whole.
In Portel, the pilot focuses on healthy ageing through improved health monitoring, remote medical appointments, shared mobility solutions, enhanced energy efficiency of health facilities and private homes.
In Reguengos de Monsaraz, Vendas Novas and Odemira, new ‘Mobility-as-a-Service’ solutions for residents and tourist will complement the existing network. The use case builds on the regional ‘Transport on Request’ project, to ensure greater mobility while protecting the landscape, heritage and agricultural character of the area.
In Arronches, the pilot focuses on improving the efficiency of public resources as well as enabling mitigation of climate change impacts on the region, by monitoring energy and water consumption, air quality, weather, waste and noise pollution through a network of sensors.
In Odemira, the aim is to create a ‘Net Zero Energy Community’ by digitally integrating and managing different solutions, enabling more efficient public lighting, green energy parks, monitoring of public water usage, and optimised waste collection.
Targeting the region’s tourism industry as a whole, this branch of the pilot aims to build an ‘integrated destination management’ platform, encompassing all aspects from mobility and accomodation, to nature tours, cultural events and artistic residences.
Working with the region’s agricultural sector, the pilot project will use diffused cloud-controlled sensors to enable more efficient, data-driven farming. The objective is to promote digitalisation as a game changer in boosting agricultural productivity and resilience to climate change.
What will the expected impact of AURORAL be for rural communities?
In the more advanced stages of the AURORAL project lifecycle, developers, researchers, companies, authorities and end-users will be encouraged to adopt, contribute, scale and replicate the proposed smart solutions. This ambition will be supported through capacity-building for effectively deploying the digital, data-based solutions. A further important output of the AURORAL project that will provide a solid starting point for future work in this domain as well as for project replicability, will be an analysis of the prevailing barriers of missing interoperability of smart object and digital service platforms sharing and exploiting data between them. The analysis will include an economic assessment of business models building upon digital service platforms and will produce a technical guidebook for IoT architecture, smart objects, data integration and solutions for interoperability of different systems in the context of rural ecosystems.
On this basis, the outcomes of AURORAL should greatly support the development of Smart Communities across Europe, enabling widespread adoption of smart solutions in rural areas and contributing to balancing urban and rural opportunities for all Europeans.
For more information
- AURORAL website
- AURORAL project factsheet
- EU policy relating to 5G
- EU Digital Strategy
- Europe’s Digital Decade
- Europe’s Digital Decade targets for 2030