BY NORBINE SCHALIJ
This year’s finale differs significantly from the ones we’ve gotten used to during the first five editions of the TU/e Contest. In the age of corona, candidates in the finale of the contest for the best innovative ideas or prototypes felt nervous at an entirely different moment, namely during the pitch, which was recorded previously and without an audience. ELECTUDE, GOAL 3 and Fruitpunch AI were declared the winners of the TU/e Contest 2020 last Tuesday afternoon after an online voting round.
A week before the Grand Finale on June the 9th, candidates held their pitches in Matrix hoping to convince the jury and visitors online that theirs was the best innovative idea. Just one person per team, no contact in between, and a technical camera team were present. Candidates and spectators watched those presentations from home on a screen Tuesday afternoon, instead of in the Blauwe Zaal of the Auditorium. The organizers tried to make the event as enjoyable as they could by sending people who registered in advance some microwave popcorn.
What hasn’t changed, is that twenty candidates take part in the contest in three different categories: ideation, prototyping and student teams. During the finale, two teams per category need to answer the jury’s questions. These takes place online now by one or two people, who can’t rely on the help or encouragement of their teammates.
The ideas of this year’s finalists range from a platform for educational reform (ELECTUDE) and the improvement of construction projects (GAP), to fighting food waste (Union AI) and replacing microplastics in scrubs with coffee grounds (VeVi). Both ELECTUDE and Charge BnB (which wants to connect electric vehicles and private charging stations) got to answer the jury’s questions. ELECTUDE won this category.
Students who are further along with their initiative can already present a prototype: a printed bar that uses insects as an alternative protein source (Printec Bites), or rechargeable bicycle lights (KEBL). Printec Bites went head to head in front of the jury with GOAL 3, which developed a medical technical solution to help decrease infant mortality in third world countries. The way in which Jelle Schuitemaker and Bart Bierling hope to enable clinicians to make an early diagnosis eventually won GOAL 3 first prize in the prototyping category.
Teams that have been working together for some time already compete in their own category. This year’s initiatives include a platform for student housing accommodation for internationals (A place for now) and a biosensor for patients with epilepsy (T.E.S.T.). Both teams weren’t invited to clarify their plans. That honor fell to Syfly and FruitPunch AI. When pitcher Buster Franken heard that FruinPunch AI was declared the winner, he had good news for Syfly: “We’re already collaborating with Syfly on AI for Wildlife in an AI for Good Challenge. We’re developing an autonomous fixed-wing drone for locating poachers in national parks in Africa. I think that it would be a great idea to make both teams winners by spending the prize money (5000 euros) on our joint project.”
The three students of Union AI also made it comfortable for themselves on Tuesday. They followed the finale from the student house of team member Stef Creemers together. “We’re not nervous anymore, but the excitement is comparable to a soccer match,” said Romek Vinke before the finale started. They want to offer a solution to the problem of food waste. Their idea is to use artificial intelligence to minimize the time products spend in the supply chain, so that less food will be thrown away. “The TU/e Contest came at just the right time for us,” Romek says. “We were already busy applying the knowledge we gained during our bachelor Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences to a social cause. We see that a significant amount of food is discarded by end users because the expiration date has passed. Our idea is to increase the ‘shelf life,’ as we call it, by enhancing cooperation between various parties in the supply chain.”
“As a result of our participation in the TU/e Contest, we came into contact with food manufacturers, distributors and supermarket chains,” Romek continues. “Milk, custard and curd products spend a greater part of their shelf life stored in warehouses and trucks than in supermarkets, and that is why we focus on dairy.” For Union AI, taking part is more important than winning. “But the fact that we made it to the finale confirms our idea. We’ve made considerable progress, even though we didn’t win. So, we will continue with our initiative, and we already have some appointments with entrepreneurs scheduled for next week.”
In the run-up to the finale, 150 coaching sessions between participating companies and students took place, as well as 120 speed dates. The organization has become a bit wiser, because, as the participants say: “you learn by doing.” Online voting by the public ran less smoothly than expected, which is why it was deferred. People can cast their vote via the website until 18:00 hrs. today. TU/e innovation Space will announce the winner of the audience prize on Thursday.