The favourite subjects of the students of the Tallinn University of Technology product development and production engineering curriculum are project studies of mechatronics systems and the practice of integration of production equipment. It may sound pretty complicated, but in reality it means a ‘hands-on’ invention course that has won the hearts of students in all Nordic universities.
Author: Mari Öö Sarv
This time, the master's students of invention have made two devices for Robotex and for the pleasure of young engineering enthusiasts: a reaction wall and an electric cross country skateboard.
The reaction wall is a 12-button device that gives you endless opportunities to test your reaction speed or memory. For example, the buttons must be switched off as fast as possible in the order in which they light up. Or the buttons have numbers displayed on them, which must be pressed in the correct order as fast as possible. Or all 12 buttons light up and must be switched off quickly one by one. Or, at the touch of a button, the lights must be switched on in the same order as the machine did. The ready-made hardware enables a multitude of solutions, but the exact way how students program the wall and what games entertain the guests will be revealed at Robotex.
The cross country skateboard is not new in nature, but a self-made vehicle has several advantages over store-bought products. The first, of course, is the joy of inventing and producing it. Secondly, a skateboard made with your own mind and hand is definitely more fun and more enjoyable than a store-bought product. Thirdly, when developing the vehicle yourself, it is possible to pay attention to those aspects that are important specifically to you as the maker – after all, the most important goal of things made for sale is to produce as cheaply as possible, forcing us to make concessions in other aspects. When developing this cross country skateboard, it was important for the students to make it as lightweight as possible – to make carrying it easier. 72 welded battery cells and electronics were attached to the bamboo and fiberglass board, complemented with a bottom protection and a nice design on top.
Toivo Tähemaa, a researcher and one of the supervisors of the Institute of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, points out another charm of invention: it provides an opportunity to do something we are used to but in a new way. Simple parametres such as product dimensions, weight and design can be varied, but more exciting things can also be added. For example, striking lighting solutions that make an otherwise almost invisible skateboard stand out, or lights become lit once it gets dark outside; sound effects when warning of an approaching vehicle; intelligent use of energy to guarantee that the remaining energy is sufficient to cover the required distance.
Toivo Tähemaa says that modern engineering almost always involves mechanics, electronics and software – just like the devices described above – but in project studies, just like in real life, a number of other areas also come into play, such as business, design, sports, law, marketing, logistics, etc. For example, if the necessary components do not arrive from China on time or some very expensive piece is needed, it creates the necessity (or even the opportunity) to either invent an affordable alternative, look for financial backers or ask for a piece from the manufacturer free of charge – for this, sales and persuasion skills are needed.
Simply put, project studies means that instead of passive ‘teacher-talks-students-listen’ learning, the problem is actively solved. The problem that Tähemaa raised for its master's students this time was the following: as future employers, you want excellent employees; when you create fierce attractions for Robotex, the favourite event for technology-minded children, that market the University of Technology as an exciting place to study, young and talented people will come to study engineering
and you will have good engineers to employ in the future. This is how the students made the fierce and playful products representing the university at Robotex.
Robotex 2021 will take place on 5–7 November in Saku Suurhall.