6 July 2022

Students win TU/e prize for prototype autonomous drones

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About 60 teams participated in the TU/e 'Engineers of Tomorrow' Challenge, where various prizes were distributed to further develop an idea. One of those teams came from Fontys Hogeschool ICT with the project 'MultiRotorResearch'. The project, which focuses on developing autonomous drones, won the Prototyping Award; a financial boost of no less than €5,000 for the project of Sieuwe Elferink.

Engineers of Tomorrow

Sieuwe is in the lead at MultiRotorResearch and worked with fellow students on the challenge to create a prototype of an autonomous drone: "We have been working with drones for much longer, but this challenge was the focus in the last half year. Before that, we participated in several events, where you received feedback and shared your progress with partner companies. Eventually we were selected for the finals and were allowed to pitch our project and we won. Also, as the only Fontys participant!"

Autonomous Drones

The prototype the team built is indeed a drone, Sieuwe explains: "We built it ourselves, but that's not what makes it so special. What we have done is used artificial intelligence to teach the drone to fly from human flight behavior." Drones are tricky to use and there is a hefty learning curve states Sieuwe, but at the bottom line, humans are the best drivers: "Humans can handle unexpected situations intelligently, which computers find difficult. We used the idea of end-to-end AI, which is used for self-driving cars, for drones. With machine learning, the drone has 'learned' how to deal with obstacles. So with our drone, you can schedule a mission between two GPS coordinates, and the drone can travel it independently and also avoid trees, for example."

MultiRotorResearch

MultiRotorResearch is also Sieuwe's company. Six months ago, he made the step and actually did an internship at his own company: "A company is more than an assignment, you have to arrange everything yourself. I felt like it and the market predictions are also good, because demand is going to quadruple in industrial applications of drones. So that's not for taking pictures, which consumers often do, but for applications in agriculture, inspection, mapping areas. There is also a lot of interest, for example from the Dutch Drone Company and various other parties. We also attend many networking events to present our product. Therefore, such a challenge is an opportunity for us."

Passion for robotics and AI

Sieuwe himself has been working with drones for years. In high school he built one for his profile project. Yet drones are still a challenge for many people: "What we are actually doing is simplifying the process of using drones with artificial intelligence. That hasn't been done before, but it offers a lot of opportunities." Sieuwe is passionate about the combination of AI and robotics: "I come from the countryside and then developed an AI that learned how to drive a quad bike based on my driving behavior. So I could sit on it with my hands free while it made its rounds. Drones are also particularly interesting machines in this respect, and I think we can take a lot of work off their hands with this technology."

Students are welcome

Sieuwe graduated within Open Learning at Fontys Hogeschool ICT. Now he can fully dedicate himself to the further development of MultiRotorResearch and will be actively recruiting grants and customers. He also likes to welcome new students: "What we offer is a way for students to work on drones in a way you can't do yourself. We have the knowledge of drones, and they can work on artificial intelligence development. We could really use the extra hands!"

Want to know more about the Multi Rotor Research? You can read more about it on the project website. Students who want to participate in the project can contact Sieuwe Elferink.

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