The ZalaZone innovation hub is a long-term project comprising a test field for automated vehicles suitable for traditional, electronic and automated vehicles, a ‘smart city’ architecture concept, and a research and technology centre near the town of Zalaegerszeg.
The facility is a European unique EUR 127 million public investment on a 265-hectare area. ZalaZone is one of the European centres testing and piloting 5G developments in telecommunications (since 2019). The hub aims to offer technologically advanced laboratories for educational and research purposes and become one of the main centres of autonomous vehicle developments in Europe. A key component of the project is the smart city zone concept, an environment for research and testing of future technologies both in a downtown and suburban context.
The Zalazone Research and Technology Centre
The first phase of the project, with a total budget of EUR 60 million, was completed in 2019. In the context of a SmartField development project, the privately owned ZalaZone Research and Technology Centre was delivered in September 2019: since then, the centre has offered jobs to 135 people. 50% of the test field is finalised and driving tests have already begun; full implementation is foreseen by the end of 2021. Currently, the centre operates as an incubation centre attracting local researchers interested in autonomous transport training, and a hub for cooperation among universities, training centres and companies.
Growing collaboration and transnational partnerships
The target group of the project is broad: companies, students and teachers from VET and higher education are equally involved. A complex and integrated research infrastructure is being set in place to support existing sectoral needs and experimental developments. Several higher education and (dual) VET programmes have been running; cooperation agreements between universities and vocational secondary schools are in place involving:
- the regional Zalaegerszeg VET Centre and its affiliated VET schools: from 2019-20 forward, eight automotive companies offering in-company dual training programmes will take their students to the test field for practical training;
- the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME), the Budapest Business School-University of Applied Sciences (BGE) and the University of Pannonia in Veszprém are key players: teachers from these universities give preparatory courses in VET schools to learners interested in applying for admission to higher education programmes, which raise the prestige of VET schools;
- VET teacher training: in 2020-21, engineers and IT graduates from BGE will train IT teachers of the Zalaegerszeg VET Centre in new technologies;
- intra-regional cooperation: professional study visits to the test field for VET learners from other parts of the country are organised (approximately 1000 students a month);
- promotion of cross-border mobility in the hub: through a Hungarian-Austrian-Slovenian cooperation agreement an international public test road will be created in the triangle of Zalaegerszeg-Graz-Maribor.
Thanks to these investments, during the past four years 4000 new working places were created in Zalaegerszeg, with the unemployment rate falling from 3.8% in 2016 to 2.7% in 2019 in the broader Dunántúl region.