Digitalization is seen as having great potential for strengthening rural regions in the fight against key challenges such as rural depopulation, an aging society, and the retraction of healthcare services from the countryside. Digital support that is decoupled from space and time could benefit structurally weak areas in particular and support the goal of equal living conditions.
The “Smart Region” research team at the Technology Campus Grafenau (a research institute of the Deggendorf Institute of Technology) has already implemented various projects that seek to open up prospects for rural areas. These include, for example, digital solutions to support communication between schools and families, in municipal services, or in public transport, to improve telemedical links between GP practices, clinics, and nursing staff, to realize modern digital working environments, or to support senior citizens in their own homes with modern digital assistance systems.
The projects at the Technology Campus Grafenau (TCG) are always closely related to practical challenges and have far-reaching benefits for rural areas and small to medium-sized enterprises. Campus director Dr. Diane Ahrens and her 40-member interdisciplinary team are focused on research that is close to people and projects that improve the living and working conditions of the population, as well as strengthen companies in structurally weak areas.
The Smart Region team at the TCG is developing tailored concepts in close coordination with rural municipalities, in order to make the best possible use of the opportunities offered by digitalization to manage the everyday challenges of life in rural areas—and to do so holistically, across generations and for all segments of the population. Since April 2017, as part of the Digital Village project, the Smart Region team has been working with three pilot regions, consisting of several municipalities, in eastern Bavaria and the Alpine region, on transferable digital solutions that address various areas of life and support rural life holistically and synergistically. (More detailed information: www.dahoamviernull.de/gemeinden)
Projects in the “Smart Region” research area focus on sustainable regional development. All the digital solutions that are developed, tested, and implemented in the model regions are intended to address the needs and requirements of various target groups: residents, newcomers, tourists, or even returnees, young or old. For this reason, all relevant stakeholders—whether citizens, associations, administrations, or representatives from business, the cultural sector, or the healthcare system—are involved in the research and design of each project right from the start. After all, digitalization must have buy-in from target groups and offer low-threshold access.
All the team’s projects are also model projects. New findings are used and evaluated in practice for the first time. In close cooperation with web and application developers, as well as graphic designers, designers, and data analysts, the projects are implemented at the Technology Campus. Particular attention is paid to whether and under what circumstances the implementation measures are suitable for practical use and what needs to be taken into consideration when extending them to other municipalities. New ideas are thus extensively tested directly in practice, which entails a lot of exciting research.
The Technology Campus Grafenau (TCG) is a research institute of the Deggendorf Institute of Technology for applied research in the sector of digitalization and AI.
- Business Data Analytics & Optimization: data analysis and visualization, algorithm development
- Applied Artificial Intelligence: optimized prediction with machine learning, integration of AI solutions in business processes
- Smart Region: digital transformation in rural areas, villages of the future
The TCG consistently pursues a sustainable transfer of knowledge and research services to business and society.
Because the team’s research projects revolve around digital applications, fear of contact and inhibition thresholds can be identified among many—especially older—people. It is therefore important for the projects that people themselves are convinced of the benefits of digital helpers and learn how to use them. Solutions must also be found for this. The best app is of no use if the target group does not want to use it or cannot handle the technology.
Due to the bottom-up approach of the implementation measures and close cooperation with relevant local actors in working groups, for example, the Smart Region team’s research takes place in so-called living labs. The constant exchange with people who will use the digital solutions in their everyday professional and private lives provides important insights into their subsequent use. As a result, apps and applications can be continuously adapted and optimized.
Hybrid programming, largely license-free system architecture, intelligent interface management, and the synergetic linking of the various applications create a smart community platform that enables efficient and effective communication with target groups and supports their participation.
Research at the TCG is characterized by diverse topics. Thanks to the campus’s interdisciplinary approach, researchers work together across teams, which allows them to incorporate different specialist approaches into their work and constantly learn new views. The model projects to promote rural development additionally ensure that it is possible for the TCG’s research to have a direct influence on the improvement of living conditions in the model regions. Research, development, testing, and implementation are thus conducted out with people for the people.