The casing Dr Jörg Robert holds in his hands is just a few centimetres in size, but inside is some innovative technology: a “Low Power Wide Area Network”, or LPWAN for short. At its heart is a sensor capable of transmitting data over long distances while using only a very small amount of power, which gives it a long service life. “In theory, the LPWAN can reach the moon, but here on Earth, things like buildings get in the way and reduce its range,” says Robert, arranging an antenna on the six-storey NürnbergMesse office building. The antenna is designed to receive data from the sensors that Robert is placing throughout the exhibition venue.
Endurance test when the trade show goes live
The research project “FutureIoT” is intended to test how well the system works in live operation, including at the premises of NürnbergMesse. Robert, an engineer and researcher at the School of Information Technology (Communications Electronics) at the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, is particularly excited about the major technology shows coming up in autumn: “We could have a real endurance test when hundreds of trade show visitors are all using their mobile phones or are presenting applications that use their own Wi-Fi networks.” It will be up to the research team to apply algorithms to offset any interference.
If everything works, the sensors will transmit their data packets via the antenna to the school in Erlangen-Tennenlohe, where the researchers will read out the data and make it available via the Internet to their colleagues in Strategy and Corporate Development and the technical facility management team at NürnbergMesse. Changes in temperature, humidity and CO2 levels in specific conference halls can then be viewed via the browser.
The start-up “Smart City System” will place additional sensors in the parking areas at NürnbergMesse. These will show if spaces are free or occupied. When they are linked to a parking control system or connected to the ventilation systems in the conference rooms or exhibition halls, the data they supply can help to create direct benefits for the exhibitors and visitors.
Open system, many different applications
“The system is deliberately designed to be open, and can be equipped with a range of sensors,” Robert notes. “That means there is no end to the range of potential applications for the LPWAN.” A glance at the list of partner entities makes this clear: from the airport that locates baggage trolleys via LPWAN, to the city of Nuremberg, which equips street lights with sensors to save the need for time-consuming checks, and the public utilities in Bamberg, which aim to measure air quality in the city using sensors mounted on buses.
For NürnbergMesse, the research project represents an opportunity to test potential digital applications: “We consider the LPWAN technology highly appealing, especially from the perspective of digitalising the exhibition venue,” says Dr Martin Kassubek, who heads the new Corporate & Digital Development unit at NürnbergMesse. “The sensors help us to gather vital information we can use to further improve our events and take the next step toward becoming a ‘Smart Venue’.”