Digitally connected villages make rural life even more attractive

Fraunhofer IIS employees asked residents of rural communities in the Upper Palatinate to contribute their ideas for a mobile village store.

On the day of the village fair in Reuth bei Erbendorf, a team of researchers from Fraunhofer IIS headed east from Nürnberg into Bavaria’s Upper Palatinate to speak with local residents. The IIS team members were Annemarie Wojtech, head of the institute’s market intelligence group; research assistant Alexander Gabber; and Peter Heusinger, head of the process management and building automation group.

As they approached their destination after driving for an hour, they all agreed it is a beautiful region: with meadows, rolling hills, ponds and tree-lined roads winding through picturesque villages. But they saw very few shops. “What can be done to combat the increasing dearth of shops and other amenities in rural areas?” This was the question they had come here to investigate.

On the day of their visit, Reuth was holding its village fair. The tree-lined square in front of the ancient manor house was filled with market stalls and beer tables, with children playing around the splashing fountain. Many of the benches were already occupied by villagers enjoying a meal. The Fraunhofer team set up their stall and went to work.

Digital village project in Bavaria – Mobile village store

with english subtitles

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Connecting consumers and producers by means of a mobile village store.

The Fraunhofer IIS team at the village fair in Reuth, from left: Peter Heusinger, Alexander Gabber, Annemarie Wojtech and Martin Schmid.

The mobile village store will bring together local consumers and producers

 

The aim of the digital village project is to improve access to services in rural areas with the aid of innovative information and communication technologies. Local authorities were invited to submit their ideas in a competition. One of those selected was the mobile village store proposed by the Steinwald-Allianz, an interest group comprising 16 local communities in the Tirschenreuth district.

Martin Schmid, who is managing the model project on behalf of the Steinwald-Allianz, says: “Our aim is to develop a mobile village store as part of a local infrastructure linking residents, regional producers, and one existing brick-and-mortar store. The idea is to create a solution in which a sales truck carrying a selected range of goods will travel around the area on a fixed itinerary, stopping in each village that lacks local transportation. We also aim to tap digitalization opportunities – for instance by creating a digital platform for placing orders, tracking the vehicle’s location and dynamic route planning.”

A mobile store as a central point of contact

To refine the scope of the project, the researchers asked the inhabitants of Reuth to describe their expectations for the planned mobile village store. Peter Heusinger adds: “The key element of the Steinwald-Allianz project is a digital platform that will connect customers, operators and producers, allowing them to communicate and serving as a means of planning delivery routes. The platform could also be used to provide other services, such as advice on household and technology matters that will enable senior citizens to live independently in their own homes. The central point of contact for all these activities is the mobile village store.”

It was afternoon before the team had time to take a well-earned break. As they enjoyed a late lunch of freshly grilled pike-perch filets, Annemarie Wojtech summed up the day’s results: “We’ve collected a lot of feedback. The response to our request for input has been amazing, and some really good ideas have emerged. The next step is to analyze and evaluate the data in detail.”

The team took down their stall, thanked Werner Prucker, the mayor of Reuth, for his hospitality, and returned to Nürnberg.

The main elements of this model project will be implemented by mid-2018. But the researchers don’t intend to stop here: the mobile village store is just one means of keeping rural communities alive and attracting new residents. Many other ideas remain to be explored, such as doctors on wheels or co-working spaces. And the best case would be to find integrated solutions that would allow the results of this research to be transferred to other communities and regions.

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