Undergraduate engineers from Trinity College Dublin recently showcased the fruits of eight-month collaborative projects that paired them with industrial partners and other student teams from around the world to work on prototype solutions to global problems. The students delivered Dragons Den-style pitches to a packed audience that was bolstered by many investors and industry partners.
The Trinity students, completing the 4E5 innovation module in engineering, had been working with their peers from PUJ in Colombia, the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. The primary role of the industrial partners is to provide a relevant design challenge for teams, and to give ongoing support/mentorship throughout the year. The 4E5 programme thus requires students to develop multidisciplinary skills in innovation, product design and entrepreneurship.
Assistant Professor in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Kevin Kelly, said: “The European Union has estimated that 62% of the economic growth in Europe between 1995 and 2007 is attributable to innovation. Innovation is top, or close to the top, of most companies’ strategic priorities. Yet many companies struggle to deliver this – attributable in part to the structural and legacy baggage that tends to accumulate in large corporate entities. By the time new employees with fresh thinking have learnt about the business and the customer base, they have already been indoctrinated and struggle to create breakthrough innovation.”
“We believe that our programme of user-centred design innovation can help companies break through this barrier – our students get deeply immersed in the customer user needs, but maintain enough independence to be free to think of truly innovative ideas. These can then be developed and validated by tapping into the enormous intellectual repository of a world-class university. When you add that to our globalised network of partner world-leading universities, the proposition to partner companies is extremely strong. Strategic engagement in this program produced large ‘wins’ for each partner – the students were exposed to really relevant situated problems and the industry gets a pipeline of top quality people and ideas.”
The students this year worked in three teams: Daimler, an automotive company (within the logistics division), Ubotica, a Dublin-based robotics start-up, and the development team behind the E3 project in Trinity.
The European logistics industry is worth almost €1 trillion/year, transporting nearly 20 billion tons of freight for Europe’s 500 million people. Profit margins are very tight — typically 2-3% — so anything that can keep freight in motion from business to customer, rather than waiting (in traffic, for processing, storage or loading/unloading) can positively impact on this margin.
Team Daimler has identified a solution to rapidly load and unload trucks in distribution centres, potentially slashing the current loading and unloading times and dramatically reducing the amount of time other delivery trucks have to wait to access loading bays. ‘Vado’ is a mobile robot that can drive under a pallet and lift it. Multiple Vado units can be operated in a ‘swarm’, so that a number of pallets (potentially up to a full truck) can be loaded/unloaded in unison – something the team has christened ‘shotgun loading’.
We know that robots and AI will play a key role in our future, taking over many tasks that are currently carried out by humans. The consequences are difficult to predict but we know there will be enormous opportunities for people with expertise in this area. Ireland has an opportunity to be a centre of excellence in robotics and machine learning, if we create a generation familiar with the core technologies.
Team Ubotica has created a pathway from novice to expert in the field of robotics, starting with a low-cost robot and a structured, flexible learning program that enables individuals or groups (e.g. classes in school) to undertake this journey in a fun, accessible and engaging way. Using a community-driven philosophy and capable of running within or in parallel to current and planned secondary school curriculum, Team Ubotica hopes to change the face of technological learning for today’s teenagers.
Team E3 Vision
E3 is a flagship project for Trinity College Dublin, which will see research in engineering, computer science and the natural sciences come together, recognising that the future of our planet requires multidisciplinary thinking and a new approach to teaching and research that is not conducted within silos, but which embraces the different disciplinary approaches and recognises that natural capital is a resource that needs custodianship.
In this future, our students will need a different kind of educational environment too – spanning both the physical spaces and the organisation and utilisation of those spaces. Team E3 developed a novel and innovative concept for collaboration spaces, places where students can go to study, work on projects or even just hang out. In addition to designing aspects of the physical environment, the team also proposes a student-led management structure that will both empower students, and ensure that the space constantly addresses the needs of the student.
Assistant Professor in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Conor McGinn, added: “Working in a university we are constantly exposed to really smart students with great ideas. A key component of this innovation module is develop the skills necessary to empower students to not only come up with ideas to solve real problems, but to give them the knowledge and experience to turn these ideas into reality.”