Auroral Smart Communities Concept

A Smart Village can be considered the new European paradigm for sustainable rural development. It is a relatively new concept within the EU policy framework, which is referring to rural areas and communities which build on their existing strengths and assets as well as on developing new opportunities. According to the European Network for Rural Development (ENRD) “Smart Villages are communities in rural areas that use innovative solutions to improve their resilience, building on local strengths and opportunities. They rely on a participatory approach to develop and implement their strategy to improve their economic, social and/or environmental conditions, by mobilizing solutions offered by digital technologies. Smart Villages benefit from co-operation and alliances with other communities and actors in rural and urban areas” (European Network for Rural Development (ENRD), n.d.) (Smart Eco-Social Villages.Pilot Project., n.d.).

Smart Communities strategies the development of Smart Community strategies aims at responding to the challenges and needs of their territory, building on their local strengths and assets. Strategies must determine short, medium and long-term goals. Progress must be measurable through performance indicators that will be set in a roadmap. These roadmaps should be reviewed at regular intervals to allow continuous improvement. Strategies may aim the access improvement to services (as health, training, transport, etc.); enhance business opportunities and create jobs; develop short food supply chains and farming practices; develop renewable energies; develop a circular economy; better valorise the cultural heritage for a greater tourist attractiveness, etc. Smart village approach is the European tool to promote social and digital innovation in a rural area, thus, contribution to the renaissance of the rural communities.

Rural areas main challenges (Eurostat, n.d.): Rural areas represent 91% of Europe’s territory and 59% of its population. Rural regions also play a key role in the security of Europe as providers of agricultural products, biodiversity and nature conservation and clean energy supply. However, it remains the representative of poor quality of life, vulnerability and disparities. The use of the most recent technologies and human capabilities to address the rural areas challenges will be a fundamental opportunity for its renaissance.

Among these main challenges there is:

a) Lack of digital infrastructure (Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 2019): Internet connection has transformed the ways of communicate and engage with one another’s.  Yet, most of rural regions within the EU lack of broadband connectivity and infrastructure, increasing their digital divide. FAO 2019 reports that 14% of rural business owners in the EU face difficulties in access to basic digital education and according to the most recent figures, only 47% of rural households have access to fast broadband, compared with more than 80% of urban household. Better connectivity it is an essential to boost the quality of life and standard of living in rural areas: better services, better access to jobs and better solutions for the environment. However, rural areas lack the capacity to prepare a functional digital strategy.

b) Poverty rate and social exclusion: The European rural areas level of poverty and social exclusion is increasing higher than European cities and towns. According a EUROSTAT analysis 2015, the risk of poverty and social exclusion was highest in the rural areas of several eastern and southern EU Member States. Across the EU member states, the risk of monetary poverty among those living in rural areas peaked in 2015 with almost one in five of the EU’s rural population living at risk of poverty.

c) Rural population shrinkage (ESPON 2020 Programme, 2017): Rural population shrinkage is a systematic phenomenon. Around 28.0% of the EU population lived in a rural area (2015), with 37.6% living in towns and 31.6% in suburbs, and 40.4% in cities. Demographic is both a consequence and a cause of the deterioration in the quality of life and therefore the quality and quantity of services available. The exodus of young and highly qualified workers further hinders the economic performances of rural regions.

d) Environmental pressure: Rural areas within the EU contain a vast bulk of its conservation and biodiversity asset, however, they are increasingly under pressure (water scarcity, land erosion environmental pollution, etc.). Rural Europe contains some good examples of smart villages and transition communities which have been implementing emission reduction targets more ambitious than the ones from European and International Strategies. A SWOT analysis (European Network for Rural Development (ENRD), 2020) has been conducted, providing the justification for the design of the interventions to support Smart Villages.

Introducing the AURORAL Reference Architecture

AURORAL rural ecosystem Reference Architecture is devised to provide the means to several different diverse local rural communities from different domains, in order to be part of a dynamic rural ecosystem to:

• Connect and share data collected locally (either through already established smart objects platforms, IoT infrastructures or even less sophisticated methods) through a secure and privacy-preserving framework;

• Engage external technology and application providers in exploiting their data by offering advanced horizontal services (such as Data Analytics and AI techniques, process optimisation, monitoring) to process and create value out of these data;

• Participate in new dynamic online marketplaces as commodities services and online platform operators

• All this through an easy to implement interoperable way and based on open application interfaces (APIs) based on open standards.

The image below highlights how the proposed AURORAL Reference Architecture aims to bridge vertical services on different rural domains with horizontal services and online digital marketplaces, allowing different stakeholders to cooperate in a seamless and transparent manner.

Relying on VICINITY Interoperability-as-a-Service Platform

AURORAL will build on top of the H2020 funded VICINITY (VICINITY project, 2019) (Cimmino, et al., 2019) (Cimmino & García-Castro, 2020) Interoperability-as-a-Service Platform, developed by key AURORAL consortium partners. In its current version, VICINITY offers an easy way of integrating cross-platform applications and heterogeneous IoT Platforms, by deploying a standardized Vicinity Node, enabling the exchange of semantically enhanced information between VICINITY Gateways in an established peer-to-peer network. Data owners maintain full control over their data, managing data access in a GDPR-compliant manner, based on a VICINITY cloud social network configuration.

AURORAL will be extending VICINITY’s core functionalities, in order to promote and facilitate a smooth integration of different entities and services within a rural ecosystem, by:

• Extending VICINITY platform to a data brokerage middleware, enabling flexible integration of heterogeneous vertical and horizontal tools and services from cross-domain applications;

• Providing enhanced semantic discovery and interoperability features;

• Featuring advanced access control management and end-to-end security, privacy and trust, preserving data sovereignty;

• Shifting from a centralised storage to a distributed storage component based on DLT Smart Contract management, facilitating scalable data access & sharing;

• Integrating Elliot Cloud middleware to further facilitate the use of core FIWARE components;

• Enabling easy middleware integration of external tools/devices/services by open APIs based on open standards.

AURORAL Data Brokerage Middleware as the basis of the AURORAL Ecosystem

AURORAL aims to enable a flexible interoperable Rural Ecosystem, facilitating easy integration and data exchange between vertical and horizontal ends, further facilitating the participation in open Marketplaces and commodities services. A high-level architecture of the overall AURORAL platform is presented below.

AURORAL Interoperable Data Brokerage Middleware

The key components of the AURORAL Interoperable Data Brokerage Middleware are presented below.

Vertical Services & Tools

AURORAL reference architecture aims to facilitate the integration of different vertical tools and service from a variety of rural domains. Some indicative areas are presented below:

Digitalised Energy: Nowadays, the provision of Energy in rural context, is not about bringing electricity to consumers, but empower them by providing the means for combining consumption with production of electricity through renewable sources, local temporary storage and demand management. All of these just require a single communication channel and a managing platform which can be common to other sectors. ATOS FUSE had the original aim to be an open source platform that enables the integration of devices at the edge by fully exploiting data available from local and distributed energy resources to build added value services for energy stakeholders. Now, its continuous improvements have led firstly to develop tools and services to enable transaction management for local energy markets as for the decentralized management of energy supply & demand and, as a consequence, the management of any kind of goods or services that can be provided by members of a community using a multi-carries and multi-commodities approach (energy, mobility, health or education, agricultural or livestock production, etc.).

Digitalised mobility: Improving mobility in rural areas facilitates residents in every aspect of their daily lives. Indicatively we can mention the supply of goods (groceries, clothing, consumer goods), going to work and education, visiting doctors, social activities, etc. Therefore, the increased level of mobility gives independence, flexibility and freedom improving the quality of life of rural areas inhabitants. In order to meet the above needs, a new intermodal platform must be developed leveraging ICT solutions (Connectivity networks, Geospatial services, Integrated payments, Open data exchanges, Cloud services) for the effective combination of public transport services and individual new mobility services such as car sharing, ride-sharing or carpooling. In addition, special emphasis should be placed on more efficient coverage of rural areas supply needs on the one hand and on the other hand in the more efficient transfer of goods from these areas to the urban ones. To this end, smart logistics makes supply chains more effective and efficient at each step. With connected devices in the supply chain and intelligent asset tracking tools, smart logistics brings end-to-end visibility and improves the way companies transport goods, control inventory and replenish stock.

Digitalised Farming: Smart Farming combines information technologies (Big Data, Cloud Computing, Internet of Things, Machine Learning, Service-oriented Architectures, modern techniques and programming languages, and Semantic Web) with interdisciplinary fields like soil science, agricultural engineering, meteorology, agronomic and biological sciences and environmental sciences in a holistic way, in order to enhance and optimize the decision making and precise applications in agricultural crops no matter how small or large scale they are. Smart farming systems collect data from the field, the scientist and the farmer also provide the appropriate tools to the agricultural advisor, the researcher and the farmer in order for them to take advantage of every opportunity to produce better, more and economical agricultural products. The development of ICT technologies also pushed the development of Social Farming, which has seen a growing range of agricultural stakeholders in recent years with numerous examples in EU Member States. This interest is the result of a growing understanding of the potential role of agricultural and rural resources for enhancing the social, physical and mental well-being of people. Simultaneously, social farming also represents a new opportunity for farmers to deliver alternative services to broaden and diversify their activities and multi-functional role in society. This integration between agricultural and social activities can also provide farmers with new sources of income and enhance the image of agriculture in the ‘public eye’.

Digitalised Tourism: The idea in a nutshell is to digitalize the rural regions with different kinds of innovative solution for companies in the tourism domain by extending and incorporating innovative ideas to the current platform oHA, which is provided and developed by LuxActive. oHA is a digital platform which is bought mainly by tourism companies as white label solution and provides guests along the guest journey (before arrival to the stay till departure) different services and information. Thus, it bundles all touristic activities and services from a rural region. The platform connects and integrates many existing data bases and services from different sectors. For example, the connection of the mobility sector to the tourism sector by integrating shuttle services and taxi services with touristic activities. By using a provided single sign on technique, guests can either book just the tour, or can book the tour in combination with different transportation options.

• Overall digitalized sectors, LuxActive will also provide big data analysis by using state of the art Process Mining, Machine Learning and AI techniques and by improving them. This includes especially in the tourism domain the whole guest journey from all event logs for digital touristic systems (e.g., oHA, sensors or even web pages from local companies). For example, processes can be discovered which show the common user behaviour for tourists before booking a massage. Since the platform oHA already exists and can be extended for the aimed work in this project, the initial readiness level is TRL5 and the aimed results are to be on TRL 7, which means to show different pilots for different innovative solutions.

Digitalised health services: Digital health and care refers to tools and services that use information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and management of health and lifestyle. Digital health and care have the potential to innovate and improve access to care, quality of care, and to increase the overall efficiency of the health sector. Technological advancements in ICT give the ability to do things, not possible a few years ago, like contacting a doctor or nurse digitally, reading the results of a test online, or measuring vital signs at home and sending them to the doctor. Digital care and eHealth solutions for elderly or people with multiple chronic conditions, especially those living in rural areas, provide the following benefits: (a) Improving access to health care services in areas with low (or no) availability of relevant services as eHealth tools can enable remote consultations, therapies and rehabilitation, (b) Enhancing care coordination and integration as eHealth solutions can help with collecting, storing and reporting health data to professionals and to patients via EHRs and PHRs, (c) Supporting decision-making by clinicians as decision support systems (DSSs) can link available clinical evidence on appropriate treatments and best practice for the patients profile improving the quality of care provided (d) Enabling monitoring, risk analysis and proactive intervention since an information system for risk stratification can monitor and predict health risks in a population, as well as indicating recommended strategies for prevention, monitoring and treatment.

Horizontal Services & Tools

AURORAL Interoperable data broker middleware will offer the opportunity to integrate a plethora of different horizontal tools and services in different vertical rural areas, creating adding-value to several cross-domains like:

Processing of energy data to provide forecasting for local trading: Forecasting is a crucial and cost-effective service for integrating renewable energy resources such as wind and solar into main power systems. Hence, forecasting can affect a range of system operations including scheduling, dispatch, real-time balancing and reserve requirements. By integrating energy forecasts into system operations, the operators can anticipate up- and down- ramps in renewable energy generation in order to cost-effectively balance load and generation in intra-day and day ahead scheduling. This leads to reduced fuel costs, improved system reliability, and minimized curtailment of renewable resources.

Energy peer-to-peer trading service: Peer-to-Peer (P2P) energy trading represents direct energy trading between peers, where energy from small-scale Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) in dwellings, offices, factories, etc, is traded among local energy prosumers and consumers. Electricity generation of DERs is usually intermittent and difficult to predict. When prosumers have surplus electricity, they can store it with energy storage devices, export it back to the power grid, or sell it to other energy consumers. The peers buy or sell energy directly with each other without intermediation by conventional energy suppliers. Conventional energy trading is mainly unidirectional. Electricity is usually transmitted from large-scale generators to consumers over long distances, while the cash flow goes the opposite way. In contrast, the P2P energy trading encourages multidirectional trading within a local geographical area.

Optimise Logistics scheduling based on AI & prediction: One of the most game-changing aspects of AI in logistics is its ability to predict demand, optimise delivery routes and manage networks. The predictive analytics part of AI helps companies make significant changes to their business based on the patterns that AI unearths. The ability to objectively measure the factors that lead towards efficiency helps its prediction in demand accuracy. Forecasting can also predict trends based on different variables like weather, real-time sales and other exigencies. Being able, for example, to predict the number of sales expected from a particular region or the amount of delivery trucks needed will help the logistics, supply chain and transportation planning team.

Optimise on demand transport management: In the on-demand bus system, buses transport customers according to their demands. A user can freely specify the position of bus stop in its service area, and the desired time to get the buses. Transport operators need to continuously update service frequencies to cater for changes in traffic conditions and passenger demand in both space and time. Bus line frequencies can be adjusted to the passenger travel needs subject to resource capacities and operating under reasonable costs. Frequency setting constitutes the main activity in the tactical planning of transport operations. Allocating frequencies of bus services is a multi-criteria problem that typically considers the operational costs, the passenger demand coverage and the service reliability. Advanced Planning and Optimization can support this process by: (a) making better strategic/tactical decisions based on reliable forecasts, and (b) optimizing operational/real-time decisions to improve efficiency and customer service based on actual orders and real-time information.

Medical Data Analysis and automated detection based on AI: By definition, health care IoT is at the core of the digital health care, and thus it is a key component of digital prevention. It' is involved in all stages of digital prevention including, prevention of disease occurrence through identification of risk factors and epidemiological studies, diagnosis using digital diagnostic tools, treatments that use digital tools to connect healthcare providers, consultations, prescriptions, among other things and tracking the prognosis through real-time communications between patients and health care providers. IoT plays a major role in managing patient health data that can either be generated by health care providers [laboratory reports, patient history, diagnostic data (MRI, heart rate, blood pressure)] or health data generated by the patient. Health care IoT manages, stores using cloud systems, synchronizes and delivers the massive amounts of data collected from patients and are helpful in the clinical decision-making process. Additionally, AI and Machine Learning techniques are destined to add further value to this flow. These techniques are used to enhance the quality of automation and intelligent decision-making in primary/tertiary patient care and public healthcare systems improving life quality for billions of people in the world.

AURORAL Marketplace and Commodities Services

AURORAL will be enabling the integration of several different marketplace application areas and commodities services, ranging from:

Assisted Living as a platform: The IoT has opened up a world of possibilities in medicine: when connected to the internet, ordinary medical devices can collect invaluable additional data, give extra insight into symptoms and trends, enable remote care, and generally give patients more control over their lives and treatment. IoT sensor technology best practice for making remote health care more affordable for everyone.

Intelligent health care / Social assistance operations: The demand for health care software, such as applications for mobile devices, is constantly increasing as it contributes to the solution of health care problems leveraging IoT sensors. By giving patients more control over their own health, these devices are reducing the amount of time and money spent on expensive medical procedures and doctor’s visits. Moreover, these solutions enable doctors and medical experts to access real-time information about their patients, which helps them to be more efficient.

Digital Transportation services: The digitalization gives transport companies new opportunities to offer their customers integrated digital services along the service chain and optimize their own transport operations as well. The basis for this is a stable, comprehensive data management and information processing system that considers different aspects of transport. This system includes the transfer of timetable data and real-time information from different sources, linking these data and their provision via standardized as well as optimized and proprietary interfaces.

Intelligent Logistics Hub: In order to meet the many individual requirements that customers have, carriers rely heavily on logistics. Supply chain efficiency largely depends upon data and information – how it is collected, processed, stored, updated, interpreted, understood, and exploited. On an operational level, actors need actionable information, sometimes in real-time, to be able to make effective decisions. On the tactical and strategical levels, the transportation system needs increased connectivity. The rationale behind this design approach is simple: If all actors are using data the same way (classification, semantics, format, etc.), many of the challenges regarding interoperability are overcome.

Mobility-as- a-service: The transport sector is at the beginning of a period of significant disruption, with new technologies, products and services fundamentally shifting customer expectations and opportunities. “Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is the integration of various forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand”. MaaS describes a shift away from personally owned modes of transportation and towards mobility provided as a service. This is enabled by combining transportation services from public and private transportation providers through a unified gateway that creates and manages the trip, which users can pay for with a single account. The key concept behind MaaS is to offer travellers mobility solutions based on their travel needs. MaaS services bring new business models and ways to organise and operate the various transport options, with advantages including access to improved user and demand information and new opportunities to serve unmet demand for transport operators.

Energy trade flexibility service: The European energy transition is leading to a transformed electricity system, where Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) will play a substantial role. Renewable energy sources will challenge the key operational obligation of real-time balancing and the need for flexibility will consequently increase. The traditional, centralized way of producing and managing electrical power is being substituted by a decentralized manner with increased contribution from local resources. The introduction of a flexible local market allows the energy trading flexibility supplied by both producing and consuming units at the distribution level, providing a support tool for Distribution System Operators (DSOs) and a value stream for energy suppliers.

Online Markets with rural products and services: Expanding rural markets means attracting more people to rural areas where they can then purchase local goods and services. New technologies facilitate territorial promotion activities that enable visitors to find local producers and services, providing these with a new, digital access to market. One of the most common approaches to improving digital access to markets is through web-based marketing and promotion activities. Almost all forms of rural business – including producers, retailers and hospitality– can benefit from advertising and promoting their products or services online. An attractive approach is to work with others to develop common platforms for promoting local businesses using a territorial or sectoral (cluster) approach. A particularly interesting possibility for rural producers is to use digital tools to enable direct selling to consumers, without the need to rely on traditional supply chains. This offers the potential to increase profit margins and to access a much broader market.