Students driving innovation forward

Published: November 5, 2020

October has passed, and soon we can look forward to Christmas. 2020 has been a strange year for everyone. As a student, I can see that many students have struggled with the changes and the restrictions inflicted by COVID-19. However, some students and student organizations never cease to impress me in how they always find a way to push innovation and new technologies.

This article is written by Aida Angell, part-time intern at Ocean Autonomy Cluster and Masters student at NTNU Faculty of Information Technology and Eletrical Engineering. Check out more of her articles at the bottom.

NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) is famous for its student-driven activities, and especially activities involving technology and innovation through various technical organizations. Through these organizations, students are making rockets, autonomous cars, underwater drones and hyperloop, just to mention a few. They create tomorrow’s technological solutions, they gain valuable real-life working experience and they work with cutting edge technology.

Photo: Ascend NTNU
Photo: Revolve NTNU

Even though these technical organizations are working on solving different problems, they face similar challenges during the year, and there are many similarities between them. They have to create a project plan, work with tight deadlines, set a budget, find the best members for the right task, and of course, make sure the organization grows. 

These students never stop to impress me and many of them are spending between 20 and 40 hours each week on these projects in addition to being full-time students at NTNU. Their dedication to their project is overwhelming, and many members aren’t satisfied with joining a project for only one year.

Photo: Vortex NTNU, testing of autonomous drone

During my time as project manager for Njord  – The Autonomous Ship Challenge, a student-driven competition for autonomous boats in Trondheim, I have met many students from other technical organizations. In mid-October, I was lucky enough to meet members from Vortex NTNU (autonomous underwater drones), Ascend NTNU (autonomous aerial drones), and Revolve NTNU Driverless (autonomous race cars) and ask them about their dedication and how they foresee the technological future. 

Vortex NTNU was represented by project manager Vegard Haraldstad and technical leader Børge Pahlm. Each year Vortex NTNU are building and improving an autonomous underwater vehicle. Vegard has been a part of Vortex NTNU for three years, and this is his second year as the project manager. Together with Børge, who is in his second year, they can answer almost every question I have. They both joined Vortex NTNU because the organization had a focus on underwater technology, and of course, autonomous systems. 

To be able to build an autonomous underwater drone it’s important that we get the best possible exchange of knowledge between members. We are changing almost 80% of the organization each year, and for an ordinary business that would be a problem, but not for us. We get the most dedicated students so therefore we can have a continuous period for development claims Haraldstad and Pahlm.

The second technical organization I talked to was Ascend NTNU. They compete in the world’s longest-running competition for autonomous aerial drones named The International Aerial Robotics Competition. During a year in Ascend NTNU the members will take on different tasks, such as in house production of carbon fibre elements and assembling of electrical components for the best solution. Torjus Bakkene, this year’s technical leader is one of the people who has also been with the organization for several years.

The task we are trying to solve during each competition doesn’t change before someone solves the task. That means we have an authentic challenge to solve, and I think this is one of the most fun elements of joining Ascend. We have to come up with the solution ourselves, and therefore we gain ownership of the result, says Bakkene.

Photo: Ascend NTNU

The last organization I talked to was Revolve NTNU. Johan Ludvig Holst, technical leader driverless, tells me that this organization has been around since 2010. Students who join Revolve NTNU have a high focus on innovation and the result speaks for themself. The first car they ever developed was a combustion car, after a couple of years they developed their first electric car, and now they are also making a driverless car, talk about evolution! The goal is to travel around Europe during the summer and compete against other teams from all over the world in Formula Student. In 2019 they managed to be ranked top 10 in the world! 

We have only been working with driverless vehicles for three years. In this time, we have created an entirely in-house driving architecture, solving real-life problems that are becoming more and more relevant. We get to take part in creating the very cutting edge of autonomous technology, using sophisticated hardware and software, ultimately integrating everything on world class race cars built from scratch right here in Trondheim, Holst excitedly explains.

Photo: Revolve NTNU. Autonomous car ATMOS

During the interview, there were several parts they agreed on. They all are working with cutting edge technology, they are educating students to be the engineers of tomorrow, and last but not least, they get to indulge themself in crazy ideas, and set their theories into practice. Even though it takes a lot of time, the challenges and experience you get through a year in a technical organization is worth spending time on. These students are in these organizations because it’s a steep learning curve, and they are driven by the opportunity to solve problems. 

I would say that students who are willing to take a chance and join one of the many technical organizations at NTNU, are not only gaining valuable experience, but they are also noticed by companies.  Many companies see the value of the experience the members gain through a year in a technical organization. They see students who have gained hands-on experience in fields such as project management, electronics, and mechanics, who are driven by innovation and strive towards the best solutions. That is probably why many students are headhunted by companies before they even end their studies at NTNU. 

A big thank you to Vortex NTNU, Ascend NTNU, and Revolve NTNU for taking the time. I, and Ocean Autonomy Cluster, wish you the best of luck, and we are excited to see what solutions you come up with next!

Aida Angell
Part-time intern at Ocean Autonomy Cluster
Masters student at NTNU Faculty of Information Technology and Eletrical Engineering

Check out more of Aida’s articles here:

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