... aka how TalTech students created the best energy saving solution in Europe
In the spring semester of 2022, computer systems master’s students Tatsuki Ishikawa and Sander Tsõbulski, together with mechatronics master’s student Prisca Adenike Adeot, chose the subject ‘Mechatronics and smart systems project’, which had joined the EuroTeQ Collider* and the Waste Challenge initiative that took place for the first time at TalTech. Now, they share their experience with the subject and in the Waste Challenge and EuroTeQaThon competition.
Ethel Praks, Chief Academic Development Officer ½ Photo: private collection
It was not a compulsory subject; they chose it primarily based on two keywords: teamwork and a real-life problem. Sander wanted to work with a team and hone his teamwork skills and knowledge. Prisca wanted to solve a real-life problem relevant to the industry. Tatsuki wanted to use his technical knowledge in the implementation of an application together with team members from different backgrounds, as this is usually the case in companies as well. The course was perfect.
The teams were created based on the interests of the students: members with similar interests formed one team and started working on a problem. Tatsuki, Sander, and Prisca chose the topic offered by R8 Technologies, a company collaborating with the university (a company that focuses on reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions of various building types while maintaining excellent indoor climate), which focused on building automation and air ventilation systems. In addition to Tatsuki, Sander, and Prisca, the ENSA.AI team also included Mai-Liis Org from the Department of Electronics and Communication Technologies and Sanan Suleymanov from the Department of Computer Systems. Initially, the tasks were divided based on the background of a particular student, but later all of them worked together. Everyone confirmed that the teamwork was smooth and there were no conflicts, as they were able to efficiently communicate with each other even in case of problems.
As Tatsuki chose the topic based on his previous knowledge, he was also able to apply a lot of it. At the same time, he admitted that he would have learned more in the course if he had chosen a completely foreign topic. In terms of transferable and so-called soft skills, he pointed out the skill of project management in a team – he needed a lot of it. Sander learned that artificial intelligence can be taught in two ways – the supervised approach and the unsupervised approach. During the project, they used both approaches to find the best way to achieve the required results. Prisca admitted that she had to recall her machine learning and data analysis skills – they are very important to her because in the abundance of data, it is important to help them ‘really tell their story’. Reducing energy consumption is also important to her. They described themselves as curious, dedicated, and determined learners.
The methodology of the subject supported reaching this goal. Sander pointed out, ‘We had specific deadlines and goals to meet, and it helped us stay on schedule and complete the project.’ He liked that the main goal was to break the project down into smaller stages with separate deadlines because it gives the learner an understanding of how projects work in the so-called real life. Tatsuki said that the instructors also asked technical questions that required the effort of each team member and everyone also had to pitch at least once.
When the course was ending and the teams had come up with possible solutions/prototypes for the problems and challenges, a Waste Challenge event was held at TalTech. Students from all subjects that joined Collider, as well as from other problem-based and project-based subjects, had the opportunity to present their idea or solution and then the jury selected the best projects in three categories: cities, energy, and consumption.
The students thought that the final event of the Waste Challenge was a good opportunity to participate in a competition with a larger reach and to come up with an idea that improves the world. They worked just hard enough – not too much and not too little – to make sure that everything was done correctly. Thanks to the team, they succeeded. They enjoyed the event and the preparations paid off – the ENSA.AI team won in the energy category. All the members were happy and proud. Prisca said that the win was inspiring; Tatsuki said that he suspected they might win because many of the participants in the competition had not completed the prototype during the course, but as they had, it gave them a clear advantage.
Winning the local Waste Challenge category opened the next door for the team – the opportunity to represent TalTech at EuroTeQaThon, where the best teams from six EuroTeQ partner universities competed against each other. The central organiser of EuroTeQaThon was the Technical University of Munich, but the participation of partner universities was divided into so-called tandems, where the winners of TalTech could travel to the Technical University of Denmark and participate in a joint competition with Danish teams via web transmission from there.
The ENSA.AI team was very satisfied with the experience of EuroTeQaThon and the Technical University of Denmark. Tatsuki, ‘We met many intelligent people with whom we had interesting conversations. I really liked the Danish university and we were fortunately able to visit the laboratory building of the university as well. The pitches of the other teams dealt with problems that are relevant not only in Europe but also in my home country, Japan, and therefore it was interesting to see what problems others have and how they are handled based on a specific field or university.’
Priska liked the diverse and exciting atmosphere of the event. In addition to the competition and the other teams, who were very friendly and nice, Sander also shared his observations about Copenhagen, ‘Denmark, specifically Copenhagen, was very interesting and different compared to Estonia – different architecture and a lot of cyclists. The only thing I did not like about Copenhagen and the surrounding cities was public transport – it is difficult to understand for a tourist.’
In Denmark, Sander learned that although there are a lot of good ideas in the world, you have to be able to present or sell them. ENSA.AI was able to convince the jury with its project and presentation – they won the EuroTeQaThon energy category. All of them are very proud of themselves.
The prize of EuroTeQaThon was a trip to Brussels, where they could present their idea to representatives of the European Commission, enjoy the award ceremony and dinner, and visit the Bruxelles-Energie waste-to-energy plant. In addition, there was a prize money for which they could order books.
At the moment, there are no definite plans for moving forward with the project because everything takes time, which the students clearly lack due to focusing on school and work. At the same time, both Prisca and Sander are interested in seeing what else can be done with this project and whether it will be used at all in the future and in everyday life. Prisca says there are plans for more research to make the project as market-proof as possible. She adds that they need mentors/supervisors and more financial resources for this. Tatsuki, however, admits that since he is occupied with work and another personal project, he can no longer contribute to this winning project.
All three recommend participating in Collider, as it is a good way to meet new people and exchange ideas. Sander: ‘You never know, maybe you will find future friends or even a business partner with whom to implement the idea.’ Tatsuki pointed out the opportunity to learn to communicate with team mates from different backgrounds because the speed of project development can directly depend on communication skills. He added, ‘I especially recommend this experience to developers who are used to working alone and never in a team. Working in a team is very different in terms of speed, workload, and much more.’
* The theme of EuroTeQ Collider 2022 is ‘Leave no waste behind’. The goal is to work in groups (4–6 members) to develop solutions that are economically sustainable, protect the environment, and take into account the needs of society. Interdisciplinarity, which is based on knowledge of different fields and the ability to connect them with the needs of society and industry, plays an important role in solving real-life problems. Collider is a good opportunity to develop methodologies that support co-creation, innovation, and the integration of science into the learning process.
Winners of the first EuroTeQaThon (10–12 June 2022) in categories:
Cities: ASURA (Eindhoven University of Technology
Asura is an integration and management company that helps local governments achieve sustainable development goals through verified smart management systems. The project offers empathetic, safe, and human-centred lighting for cities.
Energy: ENSA.AI (Tallinn University of Technology)
ENSA.AI offers a smart building automation solution for companies to efficiently control air ventilation systems using an artificial intelligence algorithm.
Consumption: ADVAN.CE (Technical University of Munich)
Advan.ce has developed a sustainable and scalable solution to locate medical imaging equipment such as MRIs and X-ray machines to prevent improper disposal.