Next year Smart Innovation Norway embarks on its 14th EU project:

“Aligns perfectly with the company’s ambition to expand our horizon in research projects”

The EU Horizon 2020 project AURORAL has 25 European partners in ten countries and will strengthen rural areas with the help of a digital platform which covers all kinds of services.

By Mari Kristine Buckholm, 11 November 2020

“AURORAL answers the call ‘boost rural economies’ and is about strengthening economies in districts that lag behind in digital development. The purpose is to strengthen these areas through developing a digital platform where relevant services to the inhabitants can be offered,” says Mikael af Ekenstam, Senior Advisor for Smart Cities & Communities at Smart Innovation Norway and Project Manager for Smart Narvik.

“In contrast to many other EU Horizon 2020 projects, where you narrow the research down to a specific silo, for example energy, this platform will cover all types of services in society,” he adds.

Tourism and mobility

af Ekenstam has been a central actor in writing the project proposal, behalf of both Smart Innovation Norway and Narvik Municipality, which is a part of its first EU project. The Hålogaland region, covering the axis between Narvik and Harstad, will be host region for two of the eight demonstration sites (pilots) in the project.

“All of the pilots cover slightly different community sectors and one of the pilots in the Hålogaland region targets tourism, which is an important focus area in the region. We have a lot of attractions off the beaten track. The intention is to use the digital platform to link these attractions and tourism products with good mobility services,” explains af Ekenstam (photo).

In the Hålogaland region one does not have the same mobility services as in the big cities in central areas and visitors are dependent on rental cars to get around to the different interesting attractions.

“We will use the same platform to build more tourism products and services, and our aim is set on augmented reality (AR). The idea is to strengthen existing attractions with AR products,” says the Smart City Advisor.

The other pilot in the Hålogaland region will demonstrate how drone solutions can contribute to better health services and preparedness solutions in areas with long dstances and challenging geography.

Actual value

The project’s six other demonstration sites are located in Finland, Sweden, Portugal, Austria, Italy and Spain. A total of 25 partner companies from ten European countries participate in the project in different roles.

Smart Innovation Norway will in part support Narvik Municipality with the implementation of the Norwegian pilots, but also has specific tasks connected to end-user involvement in all pilots and follow-up of the project’s key performance indicators.

“This means we are responsible for making sure the project has real value for rural areas and to ensure that it is transferable to other areas that are not part of the project,” notes af Ekenstam.

Smart Innovation Norway’s share of the AURORAL budget is approximately 6 million NOK, while Narvik Municipality’s share is 5,7 million NOK. The total project budget is roughly 180 million NOK.

“This is the very first project in the Smart Narvik portfolio that we get funding for, and it is a fantastic start in that regard. When it comes to participating in a project like this, the learning curve will be steep for the entire Narvik community,” says af Ekenstam. He elaborates:

“It is not only a ‘desk project’ but testing of actual things in collaboration with the industry and local actors.”

EU project number 14

For Smart Innovation Norway, AURORAL becomes the 14th EU project in the company’s portfolio. It differs from other projects by providing an excellent opportunity for the business to increase its competence within more fields.

“It aligns perfectly with the company’s strategy and ambition to expand our horizon in research projects and will at the same time strengthen the cooperation between business areas Smart Cities & Communities and Research & Innovation,” emphasizes af Ekenstam.

The three-year project is coordinated by Portuguese ADRAL (Agencia de Desenvolvimento Regional do Alentejo SA) and starts in the beginning of 2021. The other Norwegian partners in the project is Hafenstrom and SINTEF Nord.