Munich Airport's LabCampus: The New Anatomy of Innovation

Munich Airport’s upcoming innovation centre LabCampus is looking to produce a blueprint for the city of the future

Previously named Europe’s Best Airport 11 times when pitted against 550 others, Munich Airport is unsurprisingly the continent’s first and only five-star aviation centre.

As you’d expect, these accolades have stemmed from multiple roots.

Incipiently, Munich is redefining customer experience when it comes to air travel, removing the negative stigmas of stress and congestion that are readily associated with airports through the use of state-of-the-art systems such as automated passport control technologies and digital maps.

In addition, however, alongside its aviation service excellence, the transit hub is pioneering a number of innovative non-aviation services, transforming Munich Airport from just a travel channel into an exciting and prosperous campus.

On this front, Flughafen München GmbH (FMG), the operator of Munich Airport, has been providing consultancy, management and training services to numerous airports around the world, more recently inaugurating its very own Information Security Hub last year that brings together IT experts from both FMG itself and high-profile companies around the world to develop new combative solutions.

Having seen the successes of the latter in particular during the past 16 months, the airport is now looking to expand this proven model in new ways and become an all-encompassing facilitator of collaboration in the pursuit of global companies, institutions and governments alike embracing collective innovation.

This aforementioned emphasis is set to come in the form of LabCampus.

Marc Wagener, CEO, explains: “Past ways of approaching innovation, generally driven by central research sites, are reaching maximised capacity. We now live in a world of distributed innovation; startup innovation; business model innovation; where nobody can really see where the next wave of innovation will come from.

“If you look at blockchain at the beginning, nobody would have dared to anticipate what it might have become in terms of the impact that it can have when you consider that seven years ago a few people put together the idea of Bitcoin.

“Having worked with businesses like Carl Zeiss and Siemens, I’ve seen how large companies have struggled to deal with such fundamental changes in the innovation ecosystem and are looking for answers.

“What we believe is that in this new world, no person or company can solve the challenges of innovation alone, but what it requires is cooperation between companies of different backgrounds, of different regions, of different industries, between startups, stalwarts and academia.

“This is the ethos that underlies LabCampus – cooperation.”

From tests to technologies

Based on-site in the northwest corner of Munich Airport itself, LabCampus will span 500,000 square metres, essentially acting as a major innovation centre for not only the airport, nor just the city, but for the entirety of Germany and beyond.

For Wagener, the goal of the in-development tech hub to support and pioneer the development of future-ready urban infrastructure by attracting a mixture of suitable partners from the private sector and global R&D community, then empowering cooperation between them.

The idea is that this will catalyse and accelerate the growth of new, innovative products and solutions that will be effective in overcoming existing and future challenges in mobility, automation and connectivity.

“It’s not our goal to only provide the physical space for this,” Wagener affirms, “but equally we’re hoping to play an active role in fostering ecosystem innovation by setting impulses, curating cooperation and stimulating R&D among these partners.”

This collaborative network has already begun to grow, the renowned Senseable Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) having agreed to work with Munich Airport in the development of the LabCampus Innovation Centre.

“This partner network will be crucial as different technologies and specialisms continue to become increasingly interconnected,” Wagener continues. “No single technology will be hailed as the be-all and end-all of disruption. They will all entwine to enable new trends.

“Artificial intelligence works in tandem with big data, which in turn work to power other capabilites such as robotics and the ubiquitous world of the cloud. Considering huge increases in computing power, combined with progressive software layers, we’re beginning to take the next steps, but collaboration will crucial to wholesale, circular success.”

Alongside MIT, other potential key partners include companies such as Siemens and Design Offices, alongside research organisations including the Frauhofer Institute, Friedrich Alexander Universität Erlanden-Nurnberg and UternehmerTUM – the startup incubator of the Technical University of Munich.

Each of these entities will bring something different to the table, offering varying components and expertise that will be fundamental to the network’s ability to accelerate technological development.

A blueprint for the city of the future

Speaking with Wagener, his belief that Munich Airport provides the perfect environment to both facilitate such cooperation and equally foster innovation was clear to see. And realistically, it’s hard to argue.

Housing spacious test areas that are rarely be found in Europe’s major cities, combined with consolidated access to 150,000 passengers each day and fantastic local, national and international connections, Munich Airport is a thriving ecosystem – an ecosystem that LabCampus can leverage at ease, and one that often poses the same challenges as city centres themselves.

Wagener explains: “If we talk about distributed energy systems, it’s a topic for us as an airport; we have our own energy generation. If we talk about advanced mobility, it’s an area we explore both internally and externally to enhance efficiency. Looking at big data and the internet of things, it applies to us in areas such as baggage handling. If we talk about cybersecurity, we have mission critical infrastructure to protect. We also have modernised health monitoring infrastructure for passengers.

“What I’m trying to say is that a lot of the technical trends and specifications surrounding smart cities can be found in our airport campus metropolis, so what better place to test transformative technologies before rolling them out?”

Right now, approximately 1.3 million people move into cities every day. Equally, by 2040, it is estimated that 65 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban centres. These statistics alone suggest the importance that smart city technologies will have to play in the coming decades, and LabCampus will be crucial in their development as a collaborative centre of excellence.

Wagener concludes: “If you go to any innovation conference, everyone talks about cooperation. But, to be honest, if you look at the past, especially here in Europe, although everyone’s speaking about it, it hasn’t yet happened at scale.

“This is what we’re here to address.”