My name is Morten Baltzer Kristensen—I’m an NI engineer and Aarhus University alumnus. As you may have seen, NI recently unveiled the Top 10 Student Projects Worldwide 2018. Aarhus became the first University in the history of the NI Global Student Design Competition to produce three of the top 10 projects. I felt immensely proud. But, I was also intrigued! How did Aarhus fulfil this incredible achievement? I decided to meet with the students and professors, to learn the secrets of their success.
At the Aarhus University School of Engineering (ASE), located in Denmark’s second biggest city, students are taking a more hands-on approach to learning and proving that they are truly the future of engineering. This year, they developed three innovative projects that made it into the top 10 projects in the world.
Whilst the three projects solve completely different challenges, they have each produced inspiring technology that highlights how engineering can help solve society and technology’s biggest challenges:
Better understanding climate change
Using virtual reality in industry
Assisting the police with their search and rescue efforts
The ASE Minefield Detector Robot.
It’s worth noting that this abundance of innovation is nothing new for ASE. Every year, ASE students successfully develop ambitious, cutting-edge systems. Previous projects have included autonomous minefield detectors, fire extinguisher robots, mechatronic weed removers for driveways, autonomous sailboats, and the multi-award winning Deep Freeze ROV.
Testing the Deep Freeze ROV in Greenland.
These projects illustrate the amazing things that happen when you teach industry-standard tools, such as LabVIEW, to aspiring engineers. Students not only get a fast way to write code, but also easy access to data, which accelerates the troubleshooting and development of the entire system.
We will learn more about the secrets to ASE’s success below, but first let’s check out these three awe-inspiring projects.
NorthROV: Pioneering Research of the Underside of Icebergs
The environment is a concern that should be at the top of every country’s priority list. Melting icebergs are key indicators of global warming. It can be difficult, however, to gauge true size as most of the iceberg is under water. But this student team found a unique way of overcoming this challenge.
The team, in collaboration with the Arctic Research Centre of Denmark, developed an ROV that can dive below the ocean’s surface and map out the 90 percent of the iceberg that we can’t see from above.
NorthROV is under water, capturing images of the iceberg.
With the data gathered from the iceberg, they can understand the surrounding ecosystem, generate images and 3D models of the true size of icebergs, and then understand how climate change and melting rate affect these. In the NorthROV, a control system gathers data from different sensors, actuators, and other connected parts.
The NorthROV team said, “In this project we were challenged in several engineering disciplines and could dive into mechanics, electronics, and programming. At the same time, the project makes a difference and strengthens the actual research that is so important.”
Dr. T, cofounder of NI, hands the finalist award to the NorthROV team.
The team was selected as a finalist of the NI Global Student Design Competition in Austin where members exhibited the ROV to engineers and scientists from across the world. A NorthROV team member said, “It was an amazing trip to the USA. It gave us a lot of experiences and impressions.”
Autonomous Hexa-Drone That Constructs 3D Models of Its Environment
Physical dimensions are critical to the development of new products. However, it can be difficult to understand scale when designing in CAD programs. To make it significantly easier, five students at ASE built the 3D mapping drone.
The autonomous drone is capable of 3D mapping.
This Hexa-Drone makes it possible to map out an entire room, workshop, or factory floor using its three GoPro cameras. When the room is fully mapped out, users can generate an authentic, virtual recreation of the space—and can place new 3D-CAD objects inside it. Using a virtual reality (VR) headset, users can walk around the product and visualize what it would look like if it was put on the ground in front of them.
This technology can accelerate the engineering design process, as it provides a realistic feel of the product in the space that it’s designed for. The ability to authentically visualize a product, before actually producing it, minimizes the iterative process of building multiple prototypes.
This is a futuristic project and I’m very excited to hear what comes of it.
Search and Find Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (Sonar-AUV)
Finding objects below the ocean’s surface is difficult, but with this new ROV it seems like we have made promising breakthroughs. A user defines an area for the robot to scan and, when deployed, the ROV uses its built-in GPS to navigate around the body of water, highlighting detected points of interest.
The Sonar-AUV is a search and find utility.
The ROV has a set of known objects stored in its knowledge centre. It uses a mounted sonar sensor to find items through an analytic algorithm to see if they have the same characteristics as the stored objects.
This device saves huge numbers of man-hours in the search of items on the ocean floor and aiding the police force in search and rescue missions.
The Sonar-AUV team said the opportunity “to use the theory we have gained through our studies and combine it with hardware is awesome. It shows what mechatronics really is and being able to produce proof-of-concept products, opens one’s eyes to the possibilities.”
How Did Aarhus Get 3 Student Groups in the Top 10?
For many years, the mechanical department at ASE has been striving to find the best setup for their mechatronics class, and now it looks like they have found the sweet spot as emphasised by the teams themselves. Mechatronics lecturer, Professor Claus Melvad, has made a huge impact in the ways of teaching students in creative environments with hands-on classes. “My motivation is based on feeling that I make a difference for a lot of young people, and when students discover that they can do more than they think,” said Professor Claus Melvad when asked why he started these projects.
Claus’ students can successfully build such ambitious systems in such a short space of time for several reasons, including:
They are taught introductory LabVIEW skills to help them accelerate the development and troubleshooting of complex systems.
They use powerful yet intuitive off-the-shelf hardware from NI, such as the myRIO Student Embedded Device or myDAQ Student Data Acquisition Device, which allows them to concentrate on innovation rather than implementation.
Claus uses Kolb’s learning cycle for lectures, which completely captures student attention and creates a strong sense of meaning and satisfaction.
Kolb’s Learning Cycle
Student feedback on the adoption of myRIO ranges from “myRIO is pure gold” to “I’ve never learned this much before.” With learning environments like this, the students can use their creativity and imaginations and eagerly dedicate their time to their projects.
All the ASE projects, including those introduced here, deserve the publicity they get. They demonstrate the bright future of engineering. With passionate and innovative students like these, the evolution of technology across the world will take a huge leap in the right direction, and, therefore, I wish these students the best of luck when they compete in NI’s European Student Design Competition later this fall.