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More muscle for digitalisation research

Most disruption happening to societies throughout the world is driven by radical innovations suitable for novel IT-based solutions. The new DIGIT Centre is significantly strengthening Aarhus University in its research abilities in the area of digitalisation.

Aarhus University is in the process of setting up DIGIT – a new research centre for digitalisation, big data and data analytics. DIGIT is a collaboration between the Departments of Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science. The centre targets carrying out excellent and interdisciplinary research in a number of fields of crucial importance for the worldwide digital transformation of society.

DIGIT is built up around a strong collaboration with industrial partners, and it will enable researchers to apply new digitalisation technologies in very different contexts.

“Our collaboration with companies will give us opportunities to implement new knowledge in a commercial context at a very early stage. This will make the path from basic research to applied research and further into the real market much shorter. And speed is a decisive factor, if you’re aiming to set the agenda within digitalisation,” says Professor Peter Gorm Larsen.

Professor Larsen is the overall lead for the DIGIT centre. Among other things, this involves research into smart systems and cyber-physical systems.

New collaboration with the European Space Agency
For several years, software specialists from the Department of Engineering have researched in producing accurate models of software and its interaction with the physical world. The technologies are now so mature that it limits the needs for prototypes in the early design stages, paving the way for comprehensive digitalisation, for example in the manufacturing industry.

“We can build models of a relevant context and test software systems in a virtual context before they ever become reality. It’s clear that this kind of technology is extremely relevant, especially for companies that today spend huge amounts of money on developing prototypes. In the years to come, we’ll primarily be focussing on making it faster and more cost-effective to produce competent models,” says Peter Gorm Larsen.

He has previously used this technology in different industries (automotive, agriculture, railways and buildings), and now he is commencing on a new collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), and research applications for other application domains are also in progress.

“The intension is to use our modelling and simulation technology and combine it with the existing technologies used at ESA for the development of highly specialised equipment for space missions. Our great advantage is that we can simulate the dynamics of physical devices in space and test new equipment before investment is made on the actual physical development in the form of prototypes,” says Peter Gorm Larsen.

A safeguard against digital terrorism
Another important focus area for the research within the DIGIT centre is security. How can we protect data and algorithms that are crucial for society’s functions? For example, in the healthcare sector or in the transport sector, where data must be kept confidential and secure against hacker attacks.

“The more we digitalise, the more vulnerable we become to attacks including terrorism. We wish to have systems that are sufficiently open to update remotely. However, we also need to minimise the risk of unauthorised access to both functionality and data. This is a great engineering challenge,” says Peter Gorm Larsen.

Intelligent baggage handling at airports
At DIGIT, researchers and companies will challenge the limits for what it is possible to teach a computer. Among other things, this will be exercised in a project to optimise baggage handling systems at international airports through machine learning.

The researchers’ goal is to increase the throughput of suitcases travelling from baggage check-in and out to airliners per unit of time. Therefore, they are training a computer to analyse the transport in airports’ baggage network, so that it can ultimately be able to predict bottlenecks and prevent breakdowns.

In principle, all data from the baggage is logged in all airports and this data is used to determine the optimum route for each individual suitcase. This is just an example of how research within digitalisation can very quickly move from the university and out to the real world.

“It’s extremely valuable for us to apply our research in real-life problems. We have a clear expectation that the knowledge we produce will be able to help solve problems in society and give the companies we work with a clear competitive advantage,” says Peter Gorm Larsen.

Researchers are developing the technology for baggage handling in close collaboration with Beumer Group A/S.


The Aarhus University Centre for Digitalisation, Big Data and Data Analytics is led by Professor Peter Gorm Larsen, Department of Engineering.

The centre is based on interdisciplinary collaboration between three departments:

  • Department of Mathematics
  • Department of Computer Science
  • Department of Engineering.
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