UFO at RWTH Aachen


A new research project is focusing on the quality of life in urban areas.  

  Urban Future Outline Project in town Copyright: © Peter Winandy The "Urban Future Outline" or UFO project is a new research project at the RWTH Aachen HumTec Project House.

In a newspaper interview RWTH rector, Professor Ernst Schmachtenberg called it an example of successful interdisciplinary work between the humanities and social sciences and the engineering and natural sciences: "The RWTH project house HumTec has taken up a new research project titled UFO, focusing on shaping the quality of life in urban accommodations within the context of mobility, city structure, and energy transition." UFO is funded by a so-called boost fund from RWTH – the funds will make currently unestablished interdisciplinary research fields possible, which will develop within a two or three year period.

Urban Future Outline, UFO for short, is currently represented by a 12-person group of applicants including natural, social, and computer scientists and engineers from six RWTH faculties. The planned research activities will have three focuses: Future Ecosystem deals with environmental and health strains in urban spaces and Future Mobility focuses on public communication of new mobility concepts and traffic platforms. Future Energy is developing a road map for an environmentally friendly and sustainable energy transition. A crucial factor across these pillars is the acceptance of residents for the realization and success of future living, energy, and mobility concepts.

Future Life in the City

A majority of the world's population today lives in urban spaces and desires livable accommodations with a high percentage of green space, clean air, low noise levels, and a comfortable ambient temperature. "Such spaces require multi-faceted consideration, which has been unsufficient thus far," explained communication scientist, Professor Martina Ziefle, who shares responsibility for the project coordination. UFO aims at developing an integrative method that includes combined strains, when, for example, heat, noise, and fine dust pollution interfere and increase.

In the sub-project Future Ecosystem, headed by geography professor, Christoph Schneider, and acoustics expert, Professor Janina Fels, thermal and acoustic factors that are also hygienic for the air and that can be accepted are analyzed. Example fields of investigation include public spaces in Aachen, Düsseldorf, and Berlin, that greatly differ in size and structure. The results will be presented in the virtual environment of the aixCAVE at RWTH. The goal is to end up with a tool, with which urban spaces can be evaluated and responsibly planned.

Five locations around the Aachen Elisenbrunnen were selected in an initial measurement and survey campaign. In order to determine the individual perception of the spaces, the environmental influences are recorded with complex meteorological and acoustic measurement technology. Excerpts from interviews with passersby are also included in the data analysis.

Needs of the Population

Aside from simple, usable, and networked mobility services, the public must be addressed in a targeted and open manner. "Stuttgart 21 and the rejection of the Campusbahn tram in Aachen have demonstrated how sensitive citizens are when reacting to information politics," reflects Martina Ziefle.

In Future Mobility civil engineer, Professor Dirk Valleé, and linguist, Professor Eva Jakobs, coordinate research on the needs, potential, and boundaries of public communication when planning and implementing new mobility concepts. They want to integrate the ideas, suggestions, and imaginings of citizens into sustainable transport and urban planning. In order to understand how the opinions were formed, they asked the Aachen population about their view on the Campusbahn tram from then and now. Ziefle adds: " We identify the individual mobility demands of city dwellers and consider gender-specific needs over the course of a lifetime." A family wtih children, for example, has a different mobility pattern than a single person; a student has different pattern than a working professional.

Acceptance Research and International Collaborations

Acceptance also plays a role along the energy system's path to renewable energies. In Future Energy, jointly led by energy network expert Professor Armin Schnettler and Professor Ziefle, a comprehensive evaluation approach has been chosen that includes economic, environmental, technical, and sociological factors. The Institute for High Voltage Technology is analyzing and developing consistent future scenarios for energy supply in Germany up to 2050 in a context that includes all of Europe. The Institute of Environmental Engineering is researching environmental aspects of energy transition scenarios. The Climatology working group is investigating the wind field and wind energy potential at selected sites. From a communication science perspective, considerations are being made for when and under what conditions, stakeholders are ready to support the energy transition.

On the international level a collaboration with Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil was initiated by UFO together with RWTH Delegate for Brazil, Professor Michael. A kickoff workshop, supported by DAAD and the German House of Science and Innovation São Paulo, took place in Rio. "We were able to increase the intercultural advances and initiate a long-term agreement for student mobility from both universities," reports Ziefle.

Celina Begolli

You can find more research topics in the current issue of RWTH-Insight.


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