Research infrastructure – Testbeds

Cooperative use makes cutting edge research possible

© Digital Hub Logistics
Christian Prasse is responsible for the cooperation formats with industry at Fraunhofer IML.

One of the most important requirements for a competitive cutting-edge research is a first-class research infrastructure. The application centers, demonstration halls and experimental fields of logistics at the Dortmund science location are among the most modern in Europe. They are a fundamental cornerstone for the innovation ecosystem of the Digital Hub Logistics and are available to representatives of scientific institutions and associated companies without red tape. Christian Prasse of Fraunhofer IML took “logistics ahead” on a journey through the testbeds of logistics at the science location.

To strengthen the innovation power of science and business, to cope better with global challenges and to improve the competitiveness of companies: highly-modern testbeds are essential for a functioning innovation ecosystem. Numerous testbeds on the most exciting research topics of this time have been created in Dortmund in recent years driven by Fraunhofer IML – one of three competence centers that laid the foundation for the development of the Digital Hub Logistics with their research. For many years, the focus has been on the Internet of Things and cyber physical systems, recently complemented by current topics such as artificial intelligence, blockchain und smart contracts. In the demonstrators of the testbeds new technologies are tested for the future of logistics, specific innovations generated by applied research and put into practice by the participating companies. The research infrastructure in the innovation ecosystem of the Digital Hub Logistics makes a significant contribution to the modernization of traditional industries with that.

In the innovation ecosystem of the Digital Hubs Logistics many of the demonstrators and test systems are jointly operated by major scientific institutions and their partners and are networked correspondingly. As a rule, representatives from science and business are given access to the testbeds without red tape. There, they can conduct, analyze and validate their own developments –often directly in the operational context. Both, international companies within the context of so-called Enterprise Labs, one of the most successful cooperation formats of Fraunhofer IML, and small and medium-sized companies benefit from that.


Research infrastructure

By way of example, the two best-known testbeds in the innovation ecosystem of the Digital Hub Logistics illustrate which immense opportunities the research infrastructure in Dortmund offers to science and industry:

  • In the LivingLab cellular transport systems at Fraunhofer IML, the largest experiment for the application of artificial intelligence in logistics was already launched in 2011. On an area of about 1,000 square meters, a structure simulates a complete warehouse center with racks and picking stations in which 50 automated guided vehicle (AGV) independently search for their tasks and paths. The testbed has been constantly updated and extended in recent years. As part of the European research project SafeLog, for example, a new safety concept is currently being developed in the test hall that will fundamentally change the interaction between humans and robots. 
  • Anja Karliczek, Federal Minister of Education and Research, recently described the research and application center of the major research project Innovation Lab Hybrid Services in Logistics, which started in 2018, as the “largest European research campus”. From adaptive workstations to virtual employee training, from drone swarms to FTS robots: more than 30 innovative demonstrators in the research and application center of the Innovation Lab give a unique impression of the digital transformation in logistics. In the research center at the Innovation Lab, which is located at the Chair of Materials Handling and Warehousing of TU Dortmund University, numerous autonomous actors can be combined to create temporary formations that are controlled ad-hoc and decentrally in order to perform logistics services together. The application center at Fraunhofer IML in comparison serves as a demonstration area for new technologies that support the cooperation between humans and technologies.


Testbeds make technologies alive

The research centers in the innovation ecosystem of the Digital Hub Logistics do not only demonstrate the technical feasibility of future logistics visions, they rather contribute to the acceptance of new solutions by making technologies tangible and alive. In light of today’s increasing networking and the associated complexity of technology, this is even more important than years ago in the automation age. Those responsible for the research infrastructure put great emphasis on opening the test halls to international delegations during guided tours. On a regular basis, representatives from European networks or industrial companies, for example, take the opportunity to inform themselves about the current state logistics research and logistics. In addition, the testbeds are accessible to the public: guided tours and events will promote the discourse on topics such as the new role of humans in industry 4.0 or the opportunities offered by artificial intelligence – and also the understanding of how to use these new technologies.



At Fraunhofer-Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML, Dipl.-Logist. Christian Prasse is responsible for the cooperation formats with industry. In that context, he also coordinates the activities around the research infrastructure of logistics.



In 2019, the Digital Hub Logistics Dortmund won the Champions Challenge of the European Digital Innovation Hubs. You can download the flyer about the award and further information on “One of the world´s leading ecosystems dedicates to logistics” here.



Further insights into the logistics testbeds at the Dortmund location are available here:

  • Here, you can find an interactive overview of the demonstrators in the research centers of the Innovation Lab Hybrid Services in Logistics, e.g. motion capturing system, laser projection system, virtual reality system, drone swarm, automated guided transport robot system. 
  • A video of an experiment conducted by the Chair of Materials Handling and Warehousing of TU Dortmund University in the research center for cyber physical production systems can be seen here.
  • Here, you can find an interactive overview of the demonstrators in the application center of the Innovation Lab Hybrid Services in Logistics, e.g. autonomous drones for stocktaking, ar-based inventory in the retail trade, ar-supported palletizing, camera-assisted mounting, dynamic dispatching and scheduling with smart devices.