Start-up of the day: Energy Floors is making smart parking spaces in Rotterdam

Over the coming year, Rotterdam’s Energy Floors wants to sell smart surfaces for public outdoor spaces that generate data, measuring how many cars, pedestrians and cyclists are passing by. These can be used to regulate traffic flows and lighting, for instance. These Smart Energy Floors also generate energy via the solar cells that are integrated in them. At the moment, the Rotterdam municipality is on the lookout for a suitable location for the application of this kind of energy surface in a city parking lot, says Michel Smit, CEO of Energy Floors. A trial of this is planned for 2020 in cooperation with the Engie energy company.

What motivated you to set up Energy Floors and what problem has this resolved?

“Our first idea was to create a Sustainable Dance Floor on which people can dance to generate energy, something that you can actually see because the tiles light up. (By converting the vertical movement of the dancer on the floor into rotational movement through a mechanism underneath the flexible floor tiles so as to generate energy, ed.) That idea originally came from two companies: Enviu and Döll. In 2017, they brought me in as a hands-on expert from the club scene. I had been running a large nightclub in Rotterdam for four years, called Off-Corso. They wanted to bring sustainability to the attention of young people and thought that the Sustainable Dance Floor could help with that.

Unlike today, it was difficult to get young people interested in sustainable energy at that time. It had a bit of a stuffy image. We initially tried out that first version of that dance floor at the Rotterdam pop stage Watt (which went bankrupt in 2010, ed.) – that made it the first sustainable club in the world. We started building our business around that first Sustainable Dance Floor.”

What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

“That we had customers for the Sustainable Dance Floor before we had the actual product. At first, we only had a drawing of the floor, an artist’s impression. We worked out the concept and technology with TU Delft and TU/e in Eindhoven. And together with Daan Roosegaarde, we were able to further develop the interaction between the public and the technology. This is where our Sustainable Dance Floor is unique: the interaction between people and sustainably-generated energy. When they dance harder, they generate more energy.

This is what we want to offer people when it comes to our business proposition. That they themselves have an influence on improving the sustainability of energy. We want commitment. This is what we are specifically focusing on. The second obstacle was how we could go about expanding the scale for things that this product can be used for. So that it has a real impact. That’s why we wanted a surface that was suitable for large permanent fixtures in outdoor areas. We had to drop our initial unique selling point – as in ‘human energy’ – for this type of surface. Instead, we came up with our Smart Energy Floor. We use solar energy rather than kinetic energy. Otherwise, the project would be impossible to complete. The system has to be cost-effective, robust and resistant to wear and tear.”

What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

“That we sold 25 of those Smart Energy Floors to schools last year. Three of them in Germany and the rest in The Netherlands. As a company, we have three business propositions: the Dancer for clubs and discotheques, for example, the Gamer for schoolyards and the Walker for large outdoor facilities. The first Walker in the Netherlands is located near Croeselaan in Utrecht on a crossing opposite Rabobank’s head office. Rabo has partly financed this floor. There is also one in the palace garden of the President of Malta. He found us via Google. It is a public garden with a Gamer and a Walker. A Gamer costs 13,000 euros including the installation. While a Walker is available from 25,000 euros.

The fact that we appeal to people all over the world doesn’t surprise us at all. Our first signed contract was with the producer of Absolute Vodka. He wanted to make a road show around New York with our dance floor in 2009. So, that’s what we did. We get two to three requests a day. Our challenge is to be able to deal with these properly. Because we want to keep on innovating too. As an example, you could also use the Smart Energy Floor on motorways if you developed the software for that.”

 What can we expect from Energy Floors over the coming year?

“We want to start selling more Walkers. This is a new market for us that has a lot of potential. Smart city projects that you can use it in are much larger projects than what we have done so far. You could equip bike paths with our technology so that you can turn them into walkways. We are going to do a smart parking trial next year together with Engie and the municipality of Rotterdam. We will be installing  a Walker for that reason. The energy generated by the solar cells in the surface goes to the electricity grid and can subsequently be used to charge cars. Currently, we’re looking around for a suitable location.

We are also planning to enter the German market. This fits in well with our product and company. There is plenty of capital there and focus on sustainability. And the German way of doing business isn’t that different from the Dutch way of doing business.”

What is your ultimate goal?

“Ultimately, we want our Smart Energy Floors to be used in all the world’ s major cities and have their data connected to each other. You can learn a lot from each other’s experiences. You could monitor and influence the behaviour of the users of our surfaces on city roads. For example, in order to regulate busy situations at certain locations. You can apply the technology in a smart way. If there are very few people driving or walking on the road, you could turn the lights off in the evening.”

Best read: Professor says – ‘Don’t panic about the rise in sea levels’

Soaking wet feet through flooded streets. We are increasingly faced with heavy rains or periods of drought as a result of climate change. The municipality of Eindhoven is taking all kinds of measures to mitigate flooding. Last week’s best-read article featured a measurement tool developed by the municipality to figure out how much water building constructors need to divert from new buildings in order to reduce the risk of flooding. The municipality of Eindhoven is also addressing problem areas with new water storage systems aimed at reducing the disruption caused by heavy downpours.

Great, all these measures, but they won’t help you if The Netherlands floods. There is the idea among some sea-level experts that unstable ice sheets cause the sea level to rise faster than is presently thought to be the case. But according to Bas Jonk, professor of hydraulic engineering at Delft University of Technology, at the moment we will be able to technically cope with a rise in sea level of 1 to 2 meters. “It is expected that the water will rise by 20 to 30 centimeters by 2050. This is not a problem right now. We could raise dikes and replace storm surge barriers as the water rises.”

According to the professor, the Netherlands has things pretty much under control when it comes to flood protection: “Many flood barriers have been designed with an increase of 1 meter in mind. Every year, the government invests around 1 billion euros in flood protection. Which is something we can maintain and that’s a good thing. Compare it with other countries – there are plenty of areas in the United States that are not yet well-protected so they still have a long way to go. Thought is being given to constructing dikes or taking other measures over there now.”

Not acting is not an option

He gets that the Dutch are worried. However, there is no need for panic. “60 % of The Netherlands is low-lying and vulnerable to flooding. This can have many consequences. So yes, that concern is justified. But you should put it in perspective. Between now and 2050, the sea level will rise by a maximum of 30 centimeters, only after that will it rise faster. The threshold of 2.5 to 5 meters will probably not be reached until the 22nd century. This means that we still have ample time to see what can be done technically. Nor would it be a bad idea at all to raise that budget by 2050 from 1 billion to 2, maybe even 3 billion euros a year.”

The Maeslandkering storm surge barrier near Rotterdam is designed to close about twice a year. If the sea level rises above 1 meter, this barrier would then have to close every day. This is far from ideal because ships will no longer be able to sail freely. And the Oosterscheldekering storm surge barrier will also have to close every week if the sea level rises that much. This in turn will have negative repercussions on the wildlife environs.

Dams, dikes and drainage

“That’s why it’s good to think about alternatives now. Start by figuring out and planning what is needed to replace these barriers. What happens to the area if you build a permanent dam? Perhaps a new flood barrier would be a better idea. This involves a lot of work and the implications are considerable. These are expensive projects that have an impact on the environment and the economy. Planning and all the procedures surrounding these projects take up a lot of time. This is where the biggest challenge lies for the time being,” Jonkman explains.

In Jonkman’s opinion, we are more likely to be affected by other climate factors, such as heavy rainfall and temperature hikes accompanied by drought. “Recently a report was published by Deltares (a Dutch research institute) on this and their conclusion is that rising sea levels have not accelerated. Even though we are already suffering from drier summers. e.g. rivers are becoming less navigable as a result of low levels. Drought is endangering constructions built on piles and dikes. And in cities there is heat stress to contend with. In some places, drainage of water after heavy rainfall is also a problem.”

Advancing innovation, also outside of The Netherlands

Not only the Netherlands suffers from heat stress, drought or heavy rains. This is why various partners from fifteen different countries within the European Union are working on local solutions to climate-related problems. Brigaid helps entrepreneurs and inventors to flesh out their ideas. Bas Jonkman is also busy with this on behalf of TU Delft. “Often you see that innovations are difficult to get off the ground. Not much is put into practice. We want to support innovators in advancing their innovations through this project,” the professor explains.

The EU project runs until April 2020 and so far, Jonkman has already seen solutions from twenty different European countries. From a smart green roof in Antwerp that retains water during heavy rainfall and releases it during drought, to solutions for water basins in Spain where the water evaporates at high temperatures. “In Romania there is a test facility where you can test a smarter alternative to sandbags. And you are able to simulate all kinds of situations with temporary flood barriers here in Delft.”

“Furthermore, project participants receive advice with regard to the technical side and help with building a business case. Another objective is to boost education and research. Students who are doing an internship or are in the process of graduating are able to participate in various projects. You bring each other further this way.”

Start-up of the day: Field Factors recycles rainwater in a compact modular system

De waterzuivering bij Sparta in Rotterdam

Field Factors enables purification and storage of rainwater with the use of their Bluebloqs circular system. It can be applied in an urban environment like that of the Sparta football club in Rotterdam. The system offers the advantage that it takes up very little space. The water can be recycled during dry periods several months later.

Commercial director Wilrik Kok (36) talks about the innovative character of Field Factors.

How did the idea for Field Factors come about?

We all have a background in spatial planning, including at TU Delft, e.g. landscape design, architecture and industrial design. We saw that rainwater was often just being drained off while there was a demand for water for irrigation and cooling later on. This awareness existed even before the very dry periods of recent summers. As an example, that you could take advantage of this opportunity when a sewage system gets replaced. Field Factors wants to manage water differently and in a natural way.

What kind of things does it do?

The application of Bluebloqs is key. It is a compact, green system that collects and purifies 95% of the rainwater through biofiltration in conjunction with underground storage technology. This allows parks to remain green and sports fields can be kept in optimal condition every season. The water is good enough for industrial use too.

For example, at the Sparta stadium in Rotterdam the rainwater drainage system has been disconnected and is being prepared for recycling which happens in four steps. Rainwater will be collected in the stadium and at the nearby square. Together these cover an area of six football pitches in total. This water will be collected in a reservoir underneath one of the Cruyff Courts (mini football fields made of artificial grass in public spaces, ed.) This polluted water is then decontaminated using plants and sand. The purified water is stored in an underground water reservoir. W hen it’s hot This water can be used by children who are playing to cool them down. As well as for watering the Sparta sports field. Flooding is prevented during heavy showers. The square is greener and the football club has a sustainable water supply.

Location, location, location

It is a comprehensive approach, from the beginning to the end and where maintenance is concerned. We base our work on the location and use it to make a quick scan. What is the ground underneath like, and is decoupling possible? We then make a draft sketch to offer an idea of what is feasible and what it will cost. If the interested party agrees, we work on it up until the specifications phase when a contractor can take over and get to work. After it is completed, we remain involved in monitoring and maintaining it.

Het team van Field Factors, plus een onderzoeker en twee afstudeerders
The Field Factors team, including a researcher and two graduates. With founders Wilrik Kok (left) and Karina Peña (right).

What makes your company stand out?

What’s special is that Field Factors is busy with the design of the water system at a very early stage, but also remains involved afterwards. That usually doesn’t happen. Construction of water drainage systems and their management are usually carried out separately from each other. Aside from that, the actual physical integration is unique to Bluebloqs.

How have the reactions been so far?

When we first started out, the problems surrounding dry weather were not yet apparent and it was really a matter of first seeing, then believing. In retrospect we did choose the right momentum as it is very topical nowadays. Up until now, we had primarily been working on unique locations and pilot projects which can also serve as an example for regular application of our system in the vicinity.

What has been the biggest obstacle?

Initially the local community – even people out and about on the streets -was reluctant and they found it difficult to accept the way it works and is built. Or even that a water purification system can actually be used in a public space. Usually these are hidden underground, but we have deliberately opted for visibility. And by that I specifically mean the location. That in the first instance, you pick a particular place where many people flock to, and use that for the Bluebloqs Biofilter.

What have been the highlights?

That was last year at Sparta in Rotterdam. Then you’ve built something and it’s exciting to see if it works properly. A lot of water is being processed at that location. So, if things go wrong you’re bound to get a lot of unwelcome attention. And in October we won €100,000 as finalists of the Green Challenge. This is an annual, international sustainability competition held by the Dutch Postcode Lottery.

What can be expected in the coming year?

We are racing to build five systems. One of these is definitely going to succeed, but all lights are green for the other four projects as well. Besides that, we are expecting an answer from our patent application. And we are launching a new product, an extension of the Bluebloqs product line. A rain garden, so to speak.

Where will Field Factors be in five years’ time?

We will have grown and have a team of fifteen people. By that time we will have fifty systems operational in The Netherlands. We will also have shifted our operations to Spain. Our director Karina Peña is in fact a Spanish speaker. Spain is likely to suffer more and more from increasing drought as time goes by.

Read moreStart-up of the day: Field Factors recycles rainwater in a compact modular system

ECsens wins 4TU Impact Challenge with sensors that enable faster diagnosis of cancer

ECsens has won the 4TU Impact Challenge. The start-up from the University of Twente is designing sensitive sensors for a faster diagnosis of cancer. This year, for the first time, the technical universities in the Netherlands have organized a joint innovation competition where students can showcase their groundbreaking solutions to social problems. The winner will go together with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a number of companies on a trade mission to the World Expo in Dubai.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance that we have got to take,” says Pepijn Beekman in response to his ECsens company’s victory. “It’s great that it was a success.” His aim with this start-up is to ensure that every patient can be given personalized treatment. A major elimination round preceded the final in the Zuiderstrand Theater in The Hague. The technical universities in Eindhoven, Delft, Twente and Wageningen had each held their own preliminary rounds last spring. A total of around 800 students took part in the competitions, 80 teams per TU. In the end, sixteen finalists made it through.

Impact on the lives of many

One of the reasons why the independent jury chose the Twente start-up was because their product solves a major social problem. It has the potential to have an impact on the lives of many people. Nevertheless, jury chair Esther van Someren, deputy general of the Dutch consulate in Dubai, admitted that it was a tough decision.

Each and every one of the teams has brilliant solutions for social problems. For example, from more efficient healthcare with eye tests at home, to the smart repair of coral reefs. The food industry and the impending food shortage are also popular themes. As an example, students researched the substitution of meat with insects as a way to get sufficient protein. Another team devised practical products with a clear goal. Such as a tool for recognizing PTSD symptoms in aid workers and care providers early on. This would mean that employers, for instance, could offer professional help at an earlier stage. Or a toy train that grows along with children as it teaches them programming in a playful way.

LoCoMoGo’s pitch, the play- and programming train © Cindy Langenhuijsen

Pitch boot camp

A few months ago, the students received pitch training so that they could present their story in a clear and concise manner. “The students had demonstrated in the preliminary rounds that their idea has potential in technical fields. But transferring that idea is a profession in its own right,” Pitch Academy trainer Nathalie Mangelaars told IO at the time. “To do that, students need to get out of their comfort zone.” The students learned to pitch in three different ways: for journalists, politicians and the general public during the final. At the end of the training, students stated that explaining the idea in a simple way is not always easy, but it is important.

You can read more about the pitch bootcamp here.

Visit to the Dutch parliament

Prior to the final e-pitches, a number of students handed over their ideas to the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Binnenhof, the Dutch parliament building. “Rutte was open to our ideas and asked several questions,” says Beekman. Now there is hope among the technical universities that the Dutch government will actually invest more in innovation. According to Robert-Jan Smits, chairman of the Executive Board at TU/e, this will not nearly be enough. He would find it a good move if, for example, the government were to support start-ups through incubation programs.

© Cindy Langenhuijsen

“We want to remain at the forefront of innovation and technological development in the Netherlands,” says Victor van der Chijs, chairman of the 4TU collaboration. “It is essential to continue to invest in young talent and the innovations they come up with. The social importance of this is tremendous. Moreover, companies are eager to get in touch with young talent who are able to shape the future and who can work well together.”

Cooperation is the key word

Eindhoven University of Technology does this together with TU/e innovation Space, among other things. Student teams, start-ups and companies can meet each other and work together on innovative solutions for social problems through this community. Four teams from this community participated in the 4TU Impact Challenge. For example, Team RED is making a model for quickly providing insight into changes within the field of sustainable energy. Team CORE is building an incinerator that recycles metal which is becoming increasingly scarce. Intense Keyboards is designing a pressure-sensitive keyboard that helps to recognize stress-related complaints more quickly. And SpaceSea came up with a solution for the impending food shortage using seaweed.

Read more on TU/e innovation Space here.

Robert-Jan Smits is convinced that being part of a student team is a worthwhile experience within a study program. “I daresay that students learn more in one year in a student team than in two years during their regular studies,” he tells IO at the end of the event. He emphasizes that gaining knowledge is extremely important, but that students in student teams develop other skills such as presentation, communication and solution-oriented thinking.

In his opinion, these skills are also crucial when the students eventually start working for a company. This is one of the reasons why Eindhoven University actively involves companies in the creation of student teams. One of the partners is ASML. Herman Boon also gave a speech on behalf of ASML during the event, which focused on the start-up mentality they started out with. “It’s great that ASML still continues to show and cherish that,” says Smits. “Companies have to contribute to student teams because it is about their future employees in many cases.”

Things are looking good for that future. Smits: “Of the hundred ideas from students, perhaps only two or three actually reach the market. These are the companies that will really change the market and society.”

© Cindy Langenhuijsen

Broader 4TU cooperation

The 4TU Impact Challenge is part of the overall cooperation between the four Dutch technical universities. They are joining forces with a view to making optimal use of knowledge and creativity in the technology sector. They are doing this in the areas of education, research and knowledge valorization. This event is an example when it comes to the knowledge valorization category. The students transfer the knowledge that they have gained back to society through start-ups and student teams. Their products and services contribute to solving social problems.

Hardt rules the hyperloop market with their lane switching technology

Optimism is putting a smile on the faces of Hardt‘s founders in Delft. This week they announced that they had once again managed to attract major investors. Including the renowned Tukker, technician and investor from the very outset in As well as Kees Koolen, one of the original investors in Uber. They are investing millions in the construction of a new, longer test track at an as yet undisclosed location in the Netherlands for the high speed suspended metro system – the Hyperloop. Within ten years, it should connect all the major European cities to each other. That means you could, for example, travel from Rotterdam to Milan in the blink of an eye.

But why Hardt instead of the competition?

The question is – why are they buying shares in Hardt’s hyperloop? And not in any of the other four hyperloop system developers that are currently out there? There is Zeleros in Spain (in Valencia) and Hyper Poland in Poland. You have HTT (Hyperloop Transportation Technologies) in the US, and Transpod, a Canadian-French company. Then there is Hyperloop One, a company that is also designing a hyperloop and has built a test track in the desert near Las Vegas with capital from the British Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson. Not that it matters at all, but Branson is rather more well-known than Kees Koolen from Hengelo. Though Hardt has the former professional football player Gregory Van der Wiel as an angel investor. He is world famous as well, albeit that Van der Wiel would rather stay in the background when it comes to this kind of thing, or so it seems. The key question is what distinguishes Hardt from these four hyperloop companies which all seem to be making good progress too. And are they rivals?

‘Lane Switching’ is the magic word

If you ask the investors in Hardt why, you always get the same answer: “Lane switching,” Anne Koolen says. In other words: the possibility to change the route of these magnetically-suspended capsules.

Koolen has a technical qualification and is spokesperson for her father Kees’s company Koolen Industries. The two of them assessed the potential for an investment in Hardt. “Hardt has been the only one of all those hyperloop developers who has shown that they have the technological know-how to do this.”

That’s what marketing manager Martijn Koerts at InnoEnergy (an investment company that invests money from the European Commission and from private investors in innovative, sustainable start-ups) says. “The most important thing about the lane switching technology is that you are able to plan several routes in a single tube which the hyperloop moves through.” You can use it to divert a hyperloop to a stop in a city between, say, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. If you didn’t have that lane-switching technology, you could only go from Amsterdam to Frankfurt. Therefore, a stop in for instance Cologne, a city of 1 million residents, wouldn’t be possible. “Because all the hyperloops that come afterwards will then have to wait until that one moves on. That takes too much time and is not what the intention is.”

‘Lots of carriages makes the Hyperloop affordable’

Without lane switching a hyperloop network would just not be affordable, says Jelte Altena, marketing manager at Hardt. “Then you would have to build separate tubes for the various stops and routes. This isn’t feasible because it takes up too much space on land. What’s more, it’s far too expensive. Those costs can’t be recouped. You have to make sure that enough carriages can glide through one tube, so that the construction costs for those carriages can be repaid.”

Regardless of how you look at it, if the European Commission, in consultation with the individual member states, decides to build a network of pipelines for the hyperloop, then Hardt’s lane switching technology will be indispensable. After all, what can’t be paid, can’t be built. It is that simple.

It’s not that the other hyperloop companies should pack up and dump everything just because they lack this lane-switching technology, according tto Altena. Hardt is currently discussing the standardization of hyperloop technology with the other four developers – including the American and Canadian developers – as part of a workgroup led by officials from the European Commission. Hardt took the initiative for this with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. Altena expects that at some point there will be a tender from the European Commission which the various companies can respond to. “It is conceivable that we might work on specific points in cooperation with each other. That we will form a consortium of companies where we would combine the necessary technologies together.”

Magnet in tube that diverts route can be switched on and off

The Hyperloop technology used by Hardt is based on a tube which is 3 meters in diameter. The carriage that glides through it is pulled by a magnet located at the top segment which it almost but not quite touches. There is therefore no contact at all with the tube walls. The tube itself uses vacuum pressure to move. This means that there is no resistance from air. As a result, the suspended metro can reach a speed of up to 1000 kilometers per hour using less energy than a train. The motor will be electric so there aren’t any CO2 emissions.

Switching lanes can be done at the junction by switching on the magnet in the segment of the tube that curves towards the other route and by switching off the magnet on the main route. This way the magnetic field draws the suspended metro into the other tube going in a different direction. “It sounds so simple,” says Altena. “But someone had to come up with that bright idea.”

Will we soon be living in Rotterdam and working in Paris?

According to Altena, passengers should be able to board the Hyperloop in 2028. He can’t say how much a ticket will cost. “If it turns out that the tube needs to have a larger diameter, this will affect the price. But we are already looking into what passengers are willing to pay for their daily commute using the various modes of transport that are currently available, such as airplanes or trains.

If the Hyperloop really does get going in 2028, that will drastically change work-related commutes. You will then be able to commute between Paris and Rotterdam, for example, in the time it now takes you to travel from Amsterdam to Rotterdam by train. You won’t have to move. “That’s exactly what we predict,” says Altena. And when seen from this perspective, the suspended metro should be packed.

Aquatic robot mimics motion of tuna to break speed record

A TU Delft graduate student from Soft Robotics, Indu1strial Design Engineering, has created the fastest swimming flexible robotic fish. Mimicking the movement of real fish, the prototype is able to go as fast as 0.85 m/s. Which is at least 27% faster than what the previous record holder was able to accomplish.

It all started when Sander van der Berg was looking for a graduation project that would make a significant contribution to robotics. But also one that could be carried out within the brief time span that he had for it.

He found that opportunity in the topic of oscillating fin propulsion (robotic fish). It is a very promising field that is still in its early stages of research, which meant that there was plenty of potential for an innovative design within a relatively short time frame.

After reading a few papers, I soon saw that there was room for improvement. Which I eventually managed to do using a single direct current (DC)  propulsion system. This system is the first system that uses a single DC motor which can generate a higher number of the precise swinging movements that a robotic fish needs in order to move faster. This got its top speed up to 0.85 m/s,” said van Der Berg to Innovation Origins. 

The previous record was held by Jun Zhong and his associates. His bionic robotic fish swam at a speed of 0.67m/s back in 2017.

®Sander van den Berg

The flexible robot was able to surpass this record speed by using a fluent S-shaped motion to swim, similar to how a fish flaps its fins and tail. The part that is is actively used for this is pulled from side to side by a single DC motor. Another section bends according to the resistance of the surrounding water.

Moreover, unlike conventional propulsion rotor blades, the whole system is watertight.

Building the underwater robot required printing rigid 3D parts, a sheet of plastic which was used for the compliant section and needed to be able to bend, plus a soft silicon skin which was used to make the hydrodynamic shape. In addition, computer modelling was used to program the precise movements of the fish.

According to the graduate student, this robot could achieve even faster speeds.

“The goal was speed and so a higher speed was accomplished. The system isn’t totally optimized as yet, so an even faster speed might still be achieved, probably with the same prototype,” said van der Berg.

“It is important to note how important it is that our fish is able to swim freely and that it is compliant. There are robotic fish out there that swim faster when they were attached to a rig, for instance. They can’t turn their heads, that’s why they can swim faster and better than if they were actually swimming around freely. The compliant design allows for a more fluent motion (more efficient) and uses a single motor (also more efficient, less costly and less complex). And what’s really of paramount importance – it doesn’t harm the environment it swims in. If it hits something, it will just bend,” he added.

Van der Berg has now left the project as he has since graduated. However, there is currently a new graduate student hired for the project and a new paper is on the way.

Moves Like a Fish

The way in which tuna swim was used foremost in the creation of the robot.

Thunniform swimming is well documented as one of, or even the most, efficient forms of swimming. It uses vortexes to create a peak thrust at the back instead of a simple reactionary force. This is called a reverse Kármán vortex street.” 

®Sander van den Berg

What also appealed in this research, was the fact that thunniform swimming activates only a small portion of the tail. This in turn allows a large portion of the body to be able to carry a load. “This means that practical applications are possible. The gearbox system we designed is also quite wide, which turned out to be similar in width to that of a tuna’s torso. All in all, it was not designed like a tuna, but its capacity to carry a load, its efficiency and speed made it look and act like a tuna.”  

What is its contribution?

When discussing exactly what this prototype has to offer, van der Berg said that “there are many short term benefits. But the ultimate goal is to design a more efficient propulsion system as an alternative for most underwater rotor blade propulsion systems.” 

He does see potential in the route that this work is taking.

“Even before this can be achieved at a reasonable cost, there are already plenty of benefits to consider. I have already mentioned the reduced risk of harm to the environment. For instance, conventional rotor blades make a lot of noise and suck in debris. Sea life can easily be harmed by these fast and sharp rotating blades. Oscillation is much quieter, doesn’t harm anything it comes into contact with and doesn’t suck up any debris.” 
The way in which it respects wildlife makes it an ideal vehicle for research in this area.
As well as all of that, he believes that the benefits of oscillation systems can be used for underwater drones or submarines as it can increase efficiency in deep dives. This is mainly due to the fact that the flexible fin oscillation system is completely watertight.
®Sander van den Berg
Yet what this machine offers is not only limited to the underwater world. It just needs some extra research.
The prediction model for how well the compliant section works and the system’s design for higher speed could perhaps also be applied to airborne drones (using an oscillation system). More uses that I haven’t yet thought of might be discovered by someone else.” 
Consequently, the researcher states that it has major potential for efficiency in general. Even on water surfaces, fin oscillation can be 100% more efficient. This means that the possible areas of application are huge.

Aviation industry to European Commission: ‘money is needed to develop zero-emission aircraft’

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who is fighting against climate change, is triggering mixed reactions among the general public. However, this is certainly not the case when it comes to the top of the European aviation industry and the European Commission, who are currently trying to shape research and environmental policy for the coming years.

During the Research & Innovation Days held in Brussels this past week and organized by the European Commission, Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Officer of the European aircraft manufacturer Airbusm, began her contribution with a description of the brave young Greta, who sailed to the United States in order to make it clear to the world that she means business as far as a cleaner environment is concerned.

Radical inventions are needed

The world must do away with greenhouse gas emissions and invent a radically new technology for aircraft propulsion in line with the European Commission’s target for 2050, Vittadini argued during the session. All Airbus suppliers, such as engine manufacturers, will need to be involved.

The statements made by the CTO of the second largest aircraft manufacturer in the world serve as input for the new version of the European Commission’s ‘Horizon Europe‘ research program. The European Commission will reserve about €100 billion in total for all research in these areas.

Vittadini said that the most important goal for the aviation sector between now and 2050 is to produce aircraft that no longer emit CO2. Otherwise she believes it will no longer be possible to keep aviation accessible to the growing numbers of passengers it attracts nowadays. There are currently 130,000 flights a day for millions of passengers worldwide. As a consequence, the democratization of aviation may falter, she concludes. “Even though that is precisely what has been achieved in the past century.”

CO2-free aircraft by 2030

The only problem is that the technology for clean flight is not yet available. With Airbus, she hopes that she will be able to deliver a zero-emission hybrid electric airplane with room for 100 passengers for air travel on a regional level by 2030. However, at the moment there does not seem to be such a solution for long haul flights.

The problem is that in the meantime, air traffic is increasing exponentially, as Professor Henri Werij at Delft University of Technology emphasized during the input session. As a result, the benefit of a more efficient use of energy (which also saves on CO2 emissions) of 4.5 per cent per year has already been cancelled out after just two years, he explained. Because if there are more passengers, more planes will fly in and out, and together they will emit more CO2. That’s not making any progress.

Time is of the essence. “We have to move forward,” he said, and received support from Vittadini as well as from the other European aviation industrialists that took part in the discussion.

‘EU money needed for new technology’

“All disciplines must work together. The chemical sector, the car industry. They all have to deal with the fact that they have to replace fossil fuels with clean energy.”

That’s why Werij is advocating that the European Commission invests money in research programs that transcend member states and disciplines. “I understand that this can be difficult. But a bit of support from the European Commission could help here.”

TU start-up boot camp: the idea was already top notch, now just pitch it

The leading talents from the four Dutch universities of technology are competing with each other.  They will be presenting their innovative technologies to an independent jury during the upcoming Dutch 4TU Impact Challenge. Last week they worked on the presentation with the help of a pitch training. “The students have to get out of their comfort zones. They are learning to pitch in a targeted way for a variety of audiences,” says trainer Nathalie Mangelaars from the Pitch Academy.

In any event, there is certainly no lack of enthusiasm. The sixteen participants from various technical disciplines are eager to learn how they can sell their product or service even more effectively. The winner of this Dutch 4TU Impact Challenge will go to the World Expo in Dubai. “They will be allowed to join representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a number of companies on a trade mission”, says Roelyn van der Hoek, co-organizer of the event. “Many international companies and investors are attending the World Expo. This is a good opportunity for them to broaden their network.”

First of all, each technical university organizes their own competition whereby students with diverse innovations compete against one another. The Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) has been organizing the TU/e Contest since 2015. In 2017, the University of Twente followed with a similar competition in the form of the UT Entrepreneurial Challenge. Delft and Wageningen are organizing the TU Delft Ideation Contest and the WUR Rethink Protein Challenge as well. During these competitions, prizes are awarded in various categories, such as student teams, prototyping and start-ups. “Some eighty teams took part in the competition at each university,” Van der Hoek states. “It was a huge knock-out battle.” In total, four teams from each university will participate in the national competition on the 7th of November in The Hague.

Useful tips

The pitch of these teams must be completely up to scratch before that time. That’s why there was a pitch boot camp last Friday. “The students have proven in the qualifying rounds that their idea has potential technically. Yet conveying that idea is a profession in its own right,” says coach Mangelaars. That’s why the participants prepared three different pitches: one for journalists, one for politicians and one to present to a large audience during the final. “Everyone has made really huge strides,” she says. “A lot of students would explain their idea as if they were reading a recipe from a cookbook. Anyone can do that. It is important that participants make a connection with the audience and really let them feel how cooking affects them.”

© Bart De Gouw

Out of the comfort zone

A metaphor with a message that participants Pepijn Beekman and Jaime Ascencio both agree on. “The training pulls me out of my comfort zone”, says Pepijn Beekman from the University of Twente. “I don’t pitch every day, so this is great preparation for the final.” According to the student, it is a good learning experience to have to think about various scenarios in which they will have to pitch and the different aspects that are important therein. “I found it very difficult to explain quickly and easily what our product is.” He and his team make a chip that is able to analyze blood. This can be used in the treatment of cancer.

© Bart De Gouw

In order to explain this simply, coach Mangelaars uses a handy exercise: try to explain the concept to a five-year-old child. “This made me look at it in a different way. That was very useful.” Participant Jaime Ascencio from Delft University of Technology adds: “The most important tip was to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. This allows you to determine which aspects of the technology you will need to highlight in more detail for a particular audience.” Ascencio aims with his start-up, TBI, to reuse sand in ports for eco-reefs that will safeguard against rising sea levels. The students are looking forward to the final and say they will definitely be making use of the tips.

Broad 4TU collaboration

The Dutch 4TU Impact Challenge is part of the overall collaboration between the four Dutch technical universities. They are joining forces so as to make optimal use of knowledge and creativity in the technology sector. They do this in the field of education, research and knowledge valorization. This event is an example of this when it comes to the category of knowledge valorization. The students bring the knowledge they have acquired back into society through start-ups and student teams. Their products and services contribute to solving social problems. Pitch coach Nathalie Mangelaars saw this during the boot camp from the outside. “It is amazing to see that the students listen so well to each other and share knowledge in an informal way.”

Delft student team Forze successes lead to new version of hydrogen racing car

The performance of the Forze VIII is so good, that the Delft student team behind this hydrogen-powered racing car have set their sights on a ninth version of their racing car. The Forze Hydrogen Electric Racing student team has been working on this for over 12 years and has built eight cars during that time. The team’s mission is to promote hydrogen technology. “We’re building an inspiring model, a racing car, and using it to showcase the potential of hydrogen technology,” says team captain Zhi Wei Cai. ” Over the past two years, that model has been the Forze VIII, and we have gotten the most out of it for now. Designing, building and testing the new hydrogen racer, the Forze IX, is the next challenge for our team.”

The latest push for these new steps came last weekend, when Forze VIII was the first hydrogen racing car ever to win a podium place in an official race. The pink racing car from Delft finished second at the Supercar Challenge on the TT Circuit in Assen. The team defeated all but one of its 8 rivals in its competition, all of these were conventional petrol-driven racing cars. In total, the field consisted of 43 cars, with Forze as the only hydrogen-driven.

“We are extremely proud of our performance,” says Cai. “Never before has a hydrogen-powered vehicle beaten other cars in an official race – least of all in a race against these kinds of petrol-driven cars. We’ve worked hard for this podium finish not just this year, but for the past 12 years. To be the first student team in the world to achieve this global premiere is incredible.


In mid-July, the car also took on petrol cars in the Supercar Challenge twice, then at the Zandvoort circuit. The first race wasn’t completed due to technical problems, the second race went more smoothly. After having set the fastest lap time, however, the car actually stalled for a brief period and the accumulated time lag could not be made up.

Cai: “After Zandvoort, we knew we had the speed. The greatest challenge for that weekend was being able to maintain that speed for an entire race. That’s why we gave all we could last month to get the most out of the racing car. Not without results, we finally secured a place on the podium in this race.”

From 0 to 100 in 4 seconds

The student-built Forze VIII is a hydrogen-electric car. Just like a battery-electric car, the wheels are driven by electric motors that run on electricity. With the hydrogen car, the electricity is produced in the fuel cell while driving, by combining hydrogen from the tank with oxygen from outside air. The only emission released is water. The car can be refueled within three minutes.

The pink racing car is not technically similar to the petrol-driven competition, but when it comes to performance, the car comes close to that of the Porsches and BMWs which both take an active part in the race, says the team manager proudly. “The Forze VIII accelerates to 100 km/h within 4 seconds and reaches speeds in excess of 210 km/h. The maximum torque the engines can deliver is 780 Nm. This is the same ‘torque’ as a 10cm long wrench with a weight of 780 kg at the end. In comparison, the Ferrari 812 Superfast, one of the fastest models from the Italian sports car manufacturer, gets stuck at 718 Nm.”

Team Forze Delft © Hexashots

Delft students create exoskeletons that allow spinal cord injury patients to step aside

Exoskeletons are there to help people with partial paralysis walk. They are technological tours de force, but to date, they have only provided limited movement possibilities: forwards or backwards. A student team from Delft is changing this: with the fourth prototype of Project March, for the first time, a sideways movement of the hip is also possible, so that the spinal cord patient can also step aside.

Jorick Kamphof, Team Manager of Project MARCH, about the new hip joint: “To ensure that the exoskeleton can be used on a busy street, its movement possibilities still need to improve. The hip joint is an example of this. Our solution helps to move sideways, which, for example, can be useful when moving through a busy shopping street. This new hip could also help to make walking with the exoskeleton more stable and natural in the long run.”


The students have also worked on a system that makes it easier to optimise different walking patterns. Kamphof: “For example, if the user wants to make larger steps, this is now easy for us to implement. This makes it possible to respond to the personal wishes of the user. We have taken into account a design that is as simple as possible so that the parts can be replaced quickly and easily.” According to Kamphof, this will make it easier in the future for people with different physiques to walk in the same exoskeleton.

Translated with

Paris, Berlin, Drimmelen: Brabant first province with self-driving minibuses on public roads

Paris, Berlin, Drimmelen. The self-driving minibus is on the rise and is gradually conquering the world as a way of bridging short distances. At least as long as the passengers take the minibus to heart and are willing to continue using it. And as long as the bus can be used without endangering their own lives. In the coming weeks, the province of Brabant will attempt to close the small gaps in its transport network with a robotic minibus from the Arriva transport company. This will involve, for the first time in the Netherlands, driving on the public road alongside the Biesbosch marina.

Aside from Arriva and the Drimmelen municipality, other parties involved in the trial include the NAVYA vehicle supplier, The Future Mobility Network, the province of Noord-Brabant, the West-Brabant region, Breda University of Applied Sciences and TU Delft.

The minibus travels at a speed of 20 kilometers per hour from one end of the marina to the other over a distance of about 3 kilometers. On the sides, front and rear and on the roof of the vehicle are sensors that enable it to detect movements within a distance of several meters.

As soon as it detects any movement on the route, the vehicle abruptly stops. This is also the reason why passengers have to buckle their seatbelts, says Jeroen van Rheenen, who is supervising the trial on behalf of Arriva and is sitting in the bus during the trial runs.

Kamikaze grannies

During one of the trips a woman cyclist aged around 70 suddenly shot in front of the bus. The wee bus braked abruptly, causing the passengers to knock their backs up against the seats. “She is what I call a kamikaze granny,” jokes Van Rheenen. ” Yet you can see why we make it compulsory to fasten seat belts. The brakes in this bus are very powerful. They have to be, for safety’s sake. But when they do brake, it’s not exactly comfortable.”

The reason behind the trial with self-driving minibuses is a motion that the Drimmelen city council approved two years ago,” says spokesperson Anouk van Bragt from the Drimmelen city council. “In recent years, many stops and bus lines in Drimmelen have been discontinued because they were no longer commercially viable. At the same time, we see that the number of elderly people who are obliged to stay at home is on the increase, which makes them even more dependent on public transport. We hope that this form of public transport will offer a solution.”

The Drimmelen robotic bus drives past five bus stops along the marina.

Numerous pilot projects

According to transport specialist Arthur Scheltes with the Goudappel Coffeng consultancy agency, there are currently about thirty locations in the Netherlands where pilots with self-driving vehicles are taking place or are about to take place. This is a solution that will help rural municipalities in particular in keeping residential areas accessible and reducing public transport costs. “In the case of a traditional bus, 50 to 60% of expenditure is made up of personnel costs,” says Scheltes. If there are then only a few – or even no other passengers boarding each trip – that’s just no longer affordable.”

At the moment, the robotic minibuses drive on short routes in small areas so as to offer ‘first and last mile‘ transport. This means that they drive from a public transport stop to a final destination such as a hospital or a regional airport. Where regular buses, trams or metro lines do not go, for instance. Usually this entails just a few hundred meters or a few kilometers that you would otherwise have to walk or cycle.

This is also the case in Drimmelen. There are two large parking lots near the marina which are about two kilometers away from each other. From there, the minibus drives to various places along the harbor so that you don’t have to walk to them.

Low speed

Scheltes does not expect that self-driving minibuses can replace the traditional public transport when it comes to longer distances. “The complexity of traffic on public roads over long distances is high. You are now seeing that the self-driving minibuses are used to cover short distances and that they drive at a low speed. However, they are designed to add to the existing public transport system in order to make it function better.”

He does think that the trend towards using self-driving transport for short distances will persist. “It is a good way to stay accessible particularly in rural communities.” At the same time, Scheltes also warns against high expectations. “These pilot projects are worth learning from. If you do not make any progress at a particular location, the pilot project might stop there. But a pilot project can continue with newer technology at another location. The aim is to learn from these pilot projects so that a new, fully-fledged public transport product will eventually emerge”

‘Show pilots’

Robotic minibuses are also appearing around the rest of the world. “You see a lot of ‘show pilots’,” says Scheltes. “Compared to other countries, the Netherlands is at the forefront in the development of legislation. We also distinguish ourselves by linking research programs to these pilot projects in order to develop the technology step by step. For example, we are now seeing this happening in the metropolitan region of Rotterdam and Den Haag. But also in the province of Groningen. For instance, a self-driving minibus will have to drive through a very narrow gate in the village of Boertange. This requires sensors that can detect movement over long distances in order to anticipate a possible oncoming vehicle on the other side of the gate. The technology of self-driving transport is becoming better and better as a result of these developments.”

Best read: how a radioactive cloud from 2017 is a still a source of concern

Most of the clicks on Innovation Origins this week went to the Start-up of the Month competition, where five European start-ups competed for this coveted title. This is logical, because next year the first Start-up of the Year will be chosen from the twelve monthly winners. However, since this competition has already been highlighted in another report, today the best read article deals with another subject that has been well covered in recent weeks. Namely the mysterious radioactive cloud that migrated across Western and Central Europe in October 2017. According to European scientists writing in the professional journal PNAS, it was inevitable that the cloud came from the Russian Majak factory. But how do you find out where such a cloud actually comes from? Read the subtitles in English on the following video.


In the Netherlands, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) continuously measures the level of radiation and the amount of radioactivity in the air throughout the country. The least harmful form for people who keep track of the measuring posts, is alpha radiation. The particles are relatively large and do not penetrate your skin. You could breathe in these alpha particles and they would then be harmful to the mucous membranes in your lungs. More dangerous is beta radiation, as these particles do penetrate your skin and cause damage to the entire body. RIVM monitors this alpha and beta radiation at fourteen locations in the Netherlands.

Most dangerous radiation

The most dangerous form of radiation is gamma radiation, which the institute measures at over 165 different locations in the Netherlands. Unlike the first two forms,  gamma radiation does not consist of particles but rather of electromagnetic waves that move at the speed of light. These waves can reach your body from hundreds of meters away and cause serious damage to you. In order to stop gamma radiation, you need a huge concrete wall.

The National Radioactivity Monitoring Network (as part of the RIVM), does issue a warning if there is too much radioactivity in the air. An alarm of this kind did not go off in 2017, even though the cloud carried 100 times more radiation than what was released during the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. Although by now the radioactivity has become so diluted that it has remained below the threshold level. In Vienna, a relatively high level of radioactivity was measured, although in reality this level barely added anything to the radiation that is already naturally present. In this case, we gained an extra 7 microsieverts as a result of the mysterious cloud, on top of the 2,500 microsieverts that we take in every year.

The National Radioactivity Monitoring Network is also connected to monitoring stations in other European countries. By comparing these measurements with each other, researchers are able to map out the journey of a radioactive cloud like that as well as its origin. Bert Wolterbeek is director of the Reactor Institute Delft, a research center at TU Delft. On the Dutch Radio 1 station this week, Wolterbeek once more gave an excellent description of how researchers work. “Measuring stations are located throughout Europe. So in order to find out where the source is, you have to combine all of the data. Rutheen-106 in this case. Although you will also be checking whether other substances are being recorded. At first it was thought that it was a reactor leak, but that was soon ruled out. So what is it then?”


When fuel rods in a nuclear reactor have reached the end of their lifespan, we can dissolve the fuel and separate all the by-products caused by that process. “This results in a kind of fingerprint. You measure whatever is released during the production of a material, including any unintentional substances. By taking all this into account, you will be able to say something about where a material comes from.” This way, measuring stations all over the world not only measure whether there is too much radioactivity in the air, but are also able to monitor shadowy regimes in order to check whether they are not secretly building nuclear weapons. In this case, the fingerprint led to the factory in Majak, in Russia, the largest nuclear complex in the world.

Although other Dutch media sources also picked up the news about the Viennese investigation into the radioactive cloud, our Austrian correspondent Hildegard Suntinger was just too quick off the mark for them. That’s why people who googled ‘radioactive cloud’ often first clicked on Innovation Origins. And that’s why this story became our ‘best read’ of the past two weeks.






Superfast floating metro to replace European flights

Founder Tim Houter van Hardt called CNN about the development of the European hyperloop network. In the background is a prototype of a steel tube through which the floating metros are to travel. Photo: Lucette Mascini

In ten years’ time, a European network of superfast floating metros is to be constructed which will travel through magnetic fields in a vacuum tube system. This will replace flights within Europe, thus drastically reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions. This was demonstrated on Thursday during the unveiling of the latest test results of vacuum train Hyperloop, which is currently being developed by the Delft-based company Hardt. The results showed that they are now able to switch the vehicle from one tube to another.

The high speed is achieved because there is no air in the tubes and there is no contact with rails and the vehicle. This combination of the lack of resistance and the propulsion by magnetic fields means that speeds of up to a thousand kilometres per hour are possible.

Energy efficient

The interior design of the vehicle looks like the interior of a regular high speed train. The tube through which it is to float looks like a large steel sewer pipe. Now the idea is to create a network of these tubes both over and underground that will run through the whole of Europe and connect the major cities. This way it should be possible to travel from one European city to another within a few hours.

You can find more stories about hyperloop experiments here

The advantage of this vacuum train over air and train traffic is that it consumes much less energy and that CO2 emissions are much lower. Moreover, according to the Hardt model, there will be no delays or accidents, for instance because there is no interaction with other types of traffic. The Hyperloop, for example, does not have to deal with busy crossroads or inconveniences caused by extreme weather conditions such as heavy snowfall that obstructs the road network. The network is expected to be operational in 2028 and will initially only be used for the transport of goods.

Political support

During the festive meeting on the campus of TU Delft, Transport Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc and chairman of the technology industry association FME, Ineke Dezentjé-Hamming, expressed their support for the project.

They would not have been able to imagine receiving this from this high-ranking government delegation four years ago, when they started the project, says CEO and co-founder Tim Houter van Hardt.

Houter, 26 years old, halted his mechanical engineering studies at TU Delft in 2015 to take part in the Hyperloop Pod Competition competition organised by engineer Elon Musk, director of Tesla and SpaceX, amongst others, to invent a vacuum tube system that resembles the tube post system used by banks to transport money. “The idea already existed in 1800,” says Houter. “But the need to save energy and reduce CO2 emissions has only now made its development a matter of urgency.”

Elon Musk

Inventors from all over the world took part. But Houter and his group of fellow students with whom he had previously worked on the design of an electric racing car won the competition.

They then continued under the name ‘Hardt Hyperloop’ with the help of financial contributions from professional investors such as Eindhoven-based InnoEnergy, which invests EU money in technical innovations. Gregory van der Wiel, a well-known Dutch footballer, also joined the team at an early stage. Companies in various European countries such as Tata Steel, Royal BAM Group, Busch, Continental, ABB and Prysmian Group all contribute to Hardt Hyperloop.

“A project like this can only succeed if you take a European approach,” according to FME chairman Ineke Dezentjé-Hamming, during the round table discussion on the Hardt Hyperloop with European Commissioner Bulc and Transport Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen.

CNN Travel

The fact that Hardt’s latest test results have attracted worldwide interest in this new form of transport is also shown by a phone call that Houter received from the US. The American news channel CNN was interested to learn how the floating metro will work. “It was just CNN Travel,” says Houter. In other words, the travel editorial team. But still, the first steps of the Delft student company Hardt on the world stage have now been definitively taken. That is clear.

Model for the European network of tubes through which the Hardt Hyperloop is to float. Source: Hardt

Start-up of the day: Installing giant wind turbines at sea in record time

It is generally known that today’s wind turbines are giants, reaching up to 100 metres in height. But the latest models, which will be on the market within the next few years, will be even bigger – they will have a capacity of 12 to 15 megawatts, a hub height of 150 metres with blades of up to 105 metres long. Installing them in the sea on account of the strong winds is not possible in a safety-guaranteed manner with the current vessels and installation methods.

That’s why engineer Jan Lanser came up with the idea of developing a better method – the sit up system method, or SUS. In this method, wind turbines are assembled in the harbour, including the foundation that will be placed on the seafloor, which can then be transferred from the harbour to the sea in one day. This allows a wind park of 30 turbines, for example, to be placed at sea in one month, whereas it currently takes about four months to complete transport and installation.

How does the Marine Innovators method work?

Engineer Jan Lanser

“We are developing a vessel that horizontally ships the wind turbine assembled in the port, including the foundation, to the location at sea. The SUS vessel consists of a small pontoon at the front and a large submersible pontoon at the back which are connected to each other by means of a rotating framework. The wind turbine and the connected foundation are attached to the framework. After sinking and anchoring the large pontoon on the seabed, the framework and the windmill are rotated upwards by the upward force of the pontoon that is pulled under water. Once the wind turbine stands upright on the foundation, it is then placed vertically on the seabed in a controlled manner. By pumping water out of the suction anchors underneath the foundation, it can be anchored in the seabed at a low noise level, up to about ten metres deep.”

What was your motivation for developing this new installation system?

“In theory, our sit up system allows a wind turbine to be placed at sea within about 9 hours. Depending on the transport distance between the harbour and the wind farm of 50 km, the total transport and installation time takes between one and one and a half days. With the current method, this can take up to four or five days.

The short installation time of large wind turbines as well as the relatively low investment in a SUS vessel results in a relatively low cost price for the transport and installation of wind turbines at sea. The installation of wind turbines using a SUS vessel will be highly automated. As a result, the very large and heavy wind turbines can be installed with a minimum of manpower, but with a high safety level.

What is the biggest challenge for Marine Innovators?

“Ensuring that the design for the vessel with the sit up system is calculated statically and dynamically. It must then pass the model test in the Marin water management lab in Wageningen. This will show whether the calculations we have made using computer simulation techniques are consistent with the results of the test. In addition, we have to market the vessel. The construction of this type of vessel costs around 80 to 100 million euros. So we are looking for an investor, such as a company or a consortium of companies. Although the Netherlands is an offshore country, our national character lends itself less to the investment of venture capital in innovative concepts. In this respect, the US seems to offer a more suitable breeding ground.”

Which moment during the innovation process was the most rewarding for you?

“There were two moments. The first was in 2017, when we collaborated with Professor Andrei Metrikine of the Faculty of Civil Engineering & Geosciences at TU Delft, who brought in graduates who are involved in the development of the SUS concept. The second was in 2018, when the government invested more than 100,000 euros in the development of the SUS concept.”

What can we expect from Marine Innovators in the future?

“We want to launch the concept on the market within four years. Because the sit-up system method for placing wind turbines at sea costs ten times less than the existing installation methods, we are expecting a great deal of interest from both contractors, owners and operators of wind farms. Large CO2 consumers, such as Tata Steel in Beverwijk, also have an interest in CO2-free energy because in two years’ time they will have to pay high CO2 taxes. They therefore have an interest in installing a wind farm at sea to generate energy that they can use for their production processes.”

Founder: Jan Lanser
When: 2017
Where: Papendrecht
Turnover: approx. 50,000
Employees: 1 + partnerships with KCI Engineers and TU Delft
Ultimate goal: to bring a certified portfolio of technical drawings and calculations onto the market

Need more inspiration: Check all our Start-ups of the Day!

Hydrogen cars as a power source in a sustainable energy system

The Green Village TU Delft

The city of Utrecht will soon have charging stations that can charge and discharge electric cars. This allows the car to return electricity to the network in times of energy shortage. This new energy and mobility system is a result of a collaboration between We Drive Solar and Renault. A similar system, but based on hydrogen, is being developed at TU Delft.

Hydrogen cars can act as a buffer in a sustainable energy system. This “Car as Power Plant” concept, initiated by TU Delft’s Professor Ad van Wijk, uses parked fuel cell cars as power stations. In addition to the necessary technology, this also requires things like incentives for car owners to participate in such a scheme. Esther Park Lee recently obtained her PhD for her research of various forms of contracts for this purpose.

“On average, we only drive our cars about seven per cent of the time, the rest of the time they are parked”, says Esther Park Lee, a researcher at the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management. A fuel cell car converts hydrogen into electricity, heat and clean water. The stationary hydrogen car can also supply that electricity to the power grid and thus act as a buffer in a sustainable energy system because the supply of energy from renewable sources such as wind and sun fluctuates.

In a sustainable energy system, the traditional roles of consumers and suppliers are changing. This can already be seen in households that supply the surplus energy from their solar panels to the grid; they have become so-called prosumers: they use and produce energy. This is also leading to the emergence of new services, such as those provided by aggregators: parties that mediate on behalf of groups of households or companies between the flexible supply and demand of electricity. Esther Park Lee investigated the interactions between such prosumers and aggregators in a system in which fuel cell cars supply electricity to the grid, the so-called vehicle-to-grid system.

“As a carrier of solar and wind energy, hydrogen can a substantial contribution to this transition, but it can also contribute to the decarbonisation of the energy, mobility and transport sectors, and of the process industry”

Based on realistic mobility data, Esther Park Lee designed simulation experiments for different situations. “As the energy demand, the availability of the car for the energy system shows fluctuations”, she says. She looked at how different contract forms could be used to increase the supply of vehicle-to-grid energy, and thus the reliability of the system. Such contracts could, for example, be based on a minimum price at which a driver makes their car available for the supply of vehicle-to-grid energy, or on a certain amount of energy that must remain available to the car owner for a certain period of time. The results of the study provide insight into how the potential of fuel cell vehicles can be exploited through contracts that define the rules for availability and other parameters.

Esther Park Lee’s research is part of the ‘Car as Power Plant’ (CaPP) project that examines all aspects of a vehicle-to-grid energy system. Research is also being carried out at TU Delft into the role of hydrogen in the energy transition as a whole. “As a carrier of solar and wind energy, hydrogen can a substantial contribution to this transition, but it can also contribute to the decarbonisation of the energy, mobility and transport sectors, and of the process industry”, says Zofia Lukszo, professor of Smart Energy Systems and promoter of Esther Park Lee. At The Green Village, a living lab for sustainable innovations on TU Delft’s campus, a special Hydrogen Street was recently opened to investigate the conditions under which the existing gas network can be used for the transport of green hydrogen gas in order to ultimately transport hydrogen quickly and cheaply to almost every place in the Netherlands.

Smart*Light: X-Rays for use in healthcare and to investigate constructions and century old paintings

Smart*Light Table top X-Ray source

It’s one of the ten nominees for Dutch “National Icon” and maybe one of the lesser known ones. High time to show what Smart*Light, a scientific consortium of 12 organizations in the Netherlands and Flanders that works on a ‘tabletop synchrotron’, is all about.

In the research project Smart*Light, a compact and movable source of very bright X-rays with adjustable wavelength is developed. Smart*Light can ultimately be used in clinical applications for medical diagnostics, in research laboratories for the development of new materials and in museums to investigate important works of art. That combination of utilities is what makes the project extra interesting: it’s a health care initiative as well as an art project and an engineering aid. The project is led by TU Delft, with an important research role for the Eindhoven University of Technology.

Classic X-Ray

To screen a person for breast cancer, to inspect welding seams in pipelines and to view the chemical condition of artworks, all this usually happens with the same ‘classic’ X-ray technology, developed in the 19th century. This X-ray radiation, however, has a rather low intensity and is virtually unchangeable, so that only a snapshot can be taken and the information is often not sufficiently detailed. “For more advanced applications, such as the development of high-tech materials and new medicines, ‘coherent’ high-intensity X-rays are now indispensable”, Smart*Light’s researchers state. “However, this radiation is currently only produced in synchrotrons, large accelerators in which electrons move with almost the speed of light in a one-kilometre-long tube. With this synchrotron, radiation changes in materials and fabrics can be followed in detail in time and space.” The big problem is the limited availability of high-energy synchrotron radiation. “For various applications, travelling to a synchrotron – all outside the Benelux – is even unfeasible.”

Collisions between laser and electrons

Smart*Light uses new accelerator technology to convert laser light into intense and coherent X-rays by making them collide with a high energy beam of electrons. With this radiation, state-of-the-art analyses can then be carried out that are of value for various social sectors. “Although Smart*Light does not aim to replace existing synchrotron facilities, it will be an important addition to these facilities, thanks to the compact design. Users will, therefore, be less dependent on the scarce measurement time at large synchrotrons.”

Especially the mobile character is an important advantage, the researchers say: “The entire set-up will be less than four meters long and can, therefore, be used in any lab at will. For example, the instrument can be added on to a specific complex measurement set-up instead of the other way around.” The relationship between process conditions, microstructure and material properties can thus be more effectively investigated.

“This simplifies the development of new materials so that for example fatigue and corrosion in ships can be better counteracted, or the applicability of 3D-printed materials can be increased. In the long term, Smart*Light offers unique possibilities for medical diagnostics in hospitals and for research into top artworks by, among others, Rubens, Vermeer and Brueghel in museums. For example, the ability to analyze the chemical composition of artworks layer by layer is not only important for the preservation of art but also for authenticity research.”


The project involves intensive collaboration between universities, companies, museums and research institutes from different specialities. The X-ray source is being built at the Eindhoven University of Technology, and the universities of Antwerp and Ghent are developing the matching detection techniques such as X-ray diffraction, fluorescence and tomography. The involvement of TU Delft focuses in particular on the functionality of the instrument for material and art research. Other members are VDL ETG BV, Agfa Healthcare, Erasmus MC, Stichting tot Beheer Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, TI-COAST, XRE NV, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, and Stichting Materials Innovation Institute. TU Delft (MSE department at the 3ME faculty) is the coordinator of Smart*Light. The project received a subsidy of 2.85 million euros from the European Regional Development Fund (Interreg Vlaanderen-Nederland).

TU Delft scientists create world’s smallest autonomous racing drone

TU Delft

TU Delft scientists have created the world’s smallest autonomous racing drone. The main challenge in creating the drone lies in the use of only a single, small camera and in the highly restricted amount of processing. The main innovation, according to the university, is “the design of robust, yet extremely efficient algorithms for motion prediction and computer vision”.

Autonomous drone racing

Drone racing by human pilots is becoming a major e-sport. In its wake, autonomous drone racing has become a major challenge for artificial intelligence and control. Over the years, the speed of autonomous race drones has been gradually improving, with some of the fastest drones in recent competitions now moving at 2 m/s. Most of the autonomous racing drones are equipped with high-performance processors, with multiple, high-quality cameras and sometimes even with laser scanners. This allows these drones to use state-of-the-art solutions to visual perception, like building maps of the environment or tracking accurately how the drone is moving over time. However, it also makes the drones relatively heavy and expensive.

At the Micro Air Vehicle Laboratory (MAVLab) of TU Delft, the aim is to make light-weight and cheap autonomous racing drones. Such drones could be used by many drone racing enthusiasts to train with or fly against. If the drone becomes small enough, it could even be used for racing at home.

A 72-gram autonomous racing drone

The drone racing team of the MAVLab has presented the currently smallest autonomous racing drone in the world. The drone is 10 cm in diameter and weighs 72 grams. It uses only a single camera and very little onboard processing in order to autonomously fly through a racing track with a speed that rivals that of the fastest, bigger autonomous racing drones.

The main innovation underlying this feat is the creation of extremely efficient and yet still robust algorithms. “The wireless images in human drone racing can be very noisy and sometimes not even arrive at all”, says Christophe De Wagter, founder of the MAVLab. “So, pilots rely heavily on their predictions of how the drone is going to move when they move the sticks on their remote control.”

Although the images of an autonomous drone do not have to be transmitted through the air, the interpretation of the images by small drones can sometimes be completely off. The drone can miss a gate or evaluate its position relative to the gate completely wrong. For this reason, a prediction model is central to the approach. Since the drone has very little processing, the model only captures the essentials, such as thrust and drag forces on the drone frame.


“When scaling down the drone and sensors, the sensor measurements deteriorate in quality, from the camera to the accelerometers”, says Shuo Li, PhD student at the MAVLab on the topic of autonomous drone racing. “Hence, the typical approach of integrating the accelerations measured by the accelerometers is hopeless. Instead, we have only used the estimated drone attitude in our predictive model. We correct the drift of this model over time by relying on the vision measurements.” A new robust state estimation filter was used to combine the noisy vision measurements in the best way with the model predictions.

The drone used the newly developed algorithms to race along a 4-gate race track in TU Delft’s Cyberzoo. It can fly multiple laps at an average speed of 2 m/s, which is competitive with larger, state-of-the-art autonomous racing drones. Thanks to the central role of gate detections in the drone’s algorithms, the drone can cope with displacements of the gates.

“We are currently still far from the speeds obtained by expert human drone racers. The next step will require even better predictive control, state estimation and computer vision”, says Christophe De Wagter. “Efficient algorithms to achieve these capabilities will be essential, as they will allow the drone to sense and react quickly. Moreover, small drones can choose their trajectory more freely, as the racing gates are relatively larger for them.”

Beyond racing

Although racing is a quickly growing e-sport with more and more enthusiasts involved, autonomous racing drones are useful beyond drone racing alone. “For typical drones with four rotors, flying faster also simply means that they are able to cover more area. For some applications, such as search and rescue or package delivery, being quicker will be hugely beneficial”, adds Guido de Croon, scientific leader of the MAVLab. “Our focus on lightweight and cheap solutions means that such fast flight capabilities will be available to a large variety of drones.”

Source: TU Delft

TU Delft
© TU Delft

After Delft, Twente and Eindhoven, Groningen will be the fourth Dutch student team to participate in World Solar Challenge

top dutch solar racing

Student teams from the technical universities of Delft, Twente and Eindhoven have been participating – with great success – in the biennial World Solar Challenge in Australia for many years. This year’s edition, which takes place in October, will see a fourth Dutch team: under the name “Top Dutch Solar Racing” students from the Hanzehogeschool Groningen, the University of Groningen and mbo Noorderpoort will participate in the Challenger class of the competition. Delft and Twente are also in that category, Eindhoven competes in the Cruiser class.

What makes Top Dutch Solar Racing different is that it is not a university team, but a team with students from different levels of education. The solar car will be built in cooperation with governments, companies and educational institutions in the North of the Netherlands. Top Dutch Solar Racing was founded in February 2017 by a group of students from the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, with the aim to contribute to innovation and sustainability and to broaden knowledge. The team now consists of 26 students from different study programmes who share their knowledge with each other. Every day, they work on the car inside their own workshop on the grounds of the Hanze University.

During the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, student teams race 3022 kilometres through Australia with their own solar cars in three different categories. The race starts in Darwin, in the North, and ends in Adelaide, in the South. This race has been held every other year since 1987.

Read more about Solar Team Eindhoven here

The Feast of Technology rolls as a High Tech Discovery Route through the Netherlands

Team URE, High Tech Ontdekkingsroute, Dutch Technology Week 2019, Strijp-T

For the eighth year in a row, the High Tech Discovery Route is the highlight of the Dutch Technology Week. This time the annual technology feast is bigger than ever: with new discovery routes in places like Tilburg, Nieuwkuijk, Assen, Oss, Breda and Nijmegen, the Dutch Technology Week is getting an increasingly national look. We visited two routes in Brainport Eindhoven: Strijp-T (at the Innovation Powerhouse and Additive Industries) and Brainport Industries Campus (BIC), where over 25 companies from the Brainport Industries cluster presented themselves.

High Tech Ontdekkingsroute, Dutch Technology Week 2019, BIC
High Tech Ontdekkingsroute, Dutch Technology Week 2019, BIC

The teachers at Summa College feel blessed: one group after the other gets an explanation from them about the education, the students, but especially about the changed relationship with the business world. “If there’s one thing that’s struck us since we moved to the Brainport Industries Campus, it’s the cooperation we’ve received from the business community,” says one of them. “Of course, first and foremost the companies here at BIC, but also from far beyond. Just look at the machines we have here: the latest, the newest and the best. We wouldn’t have dared to think about that in the past.” He also understands that there is some self-interest for these companies, because they are all looking for new personnel, so the better they present themselves to the employees-of-the-future, the greater the chance that they will report to them later. “But the fact remains that this gives us the best facilities we can imagine.”

Summa College
Summa College BIC, Photo © IO

In addition to a look at the practice areas, Summa also offers some fifteen stands where visitors can get to work themselves with robots, 3D printers and a racing car simulator, among other things. One hall further on, the many professional companies in the Brainport Industries network present themselves to the visitors. Both the ‘own’ BIC residents such as KMWE and Yaskawa, as well as companies like VDL GL, Frencken and Demcon. PSV’s e-sporters are also there – and turn out to be almost as great a hero as the ‘real’ soccer players. We see young and old engaged in digitally composing and assembling their own Lego creation, programming robots, printing a 3D version of themselves and playing table football with a robot. In the midst of all the big names, Tech Playgrounds gives one workshop after another with great interest.

High Tech Ontdekkingsroute, Dutch Technology Week 2019, BIC
High Tech Ontdekkingsroute, Dutch Technology Week 2019, BIC

John Blankendaal, the foreman of the more than 100 companies that have joined forces in Brainport Industries, is showing a VIP group around. Nobody notices that he has just returned from a field mission to Nuremberg, one of the most important markets of the Dutch high-tech manufacturing industry, and in between also gave a presentation at Kempentech in Hapert, where another High Tech Discovery Route takes place. “When I arrive here, all my fatigue is gone immediately. I still get goosebumps from everything we can show here – and certainly from the reactions we get from the visitors.”

High Tech Ontdekkingsroute, Dutch Technology Week 2019, BIC
High Tech Ontdekkingsroute, Dutch Technology Week 2019, BIC

A few kilometres away, Strijp-T opens its doors at VanBerlo’s Innovation Powerhouse and at Additive Industries. At both locations, in addition to their own highlights, there is also room for technical performances by guests. And, after all, the day is also for children, so there is plenty of room for experimentation. At the Innovation Powerhouse, this takes the form of a ‘Build Your Own Robot’ workshop. With the help of a number of standard parts and some cardboard boxes, the robots quickly take on form and function. Through constructions connected to sensors, they make sound, can move, or light up.

High Tech Ontdekkingsroute, Dutch Technology Week 2019, Strijp-T
High Tech Ontdekkingsroute, Dutch Technology Week 2019, Strijp-T

A team from the Delft University of Technology, Talaria, has been given the opportunity to explain the GoFly competition organised by Boeing. The assignment: design an energy-neutral one-person aircraft, which could one day be used for personal transport in urban environments. The prototype is ready, but the team is already looking further ahead. “Of course we’d like to win that competition in America, but we’re also looking very cautiously at the future already: this might be about a hydrogen-based propulsion system and a freight drone.”

High Tech Ontdekkingsroute, Dutch Technology Week 2019, Strijp-T
High Tech Ontdekkingsroute, Dutch Technology Week 2019, Strijp-T

At Additive Industries, the attention of the visitor must be divided between an expert explanation of the operation of additive manufacturing and a look in URE’s racing car, built by the Eindhoven University of Technology’s student racing team. In the meantime, the company that specializes in 3D printing for industries such as automotive and aerospace is also trying to draw attention to the many vacancies which it has. And of course, here too, there’s a workshop about building robots. Because if something appeals to the visitors during this High Tech Discovery Route, it is a self-made robot.

High Tech Ontdekkingsroute, Dutch Technology Week 2019, Strijp-T, team URE bij Additive Industries
High Tech Ontdekkingsroute, Dutch Technology Week 2019, Strijp-T, team URE at Additive Industries

Students from all over the world compete in Shell Eco-marathon Event in Oss

Students from all over the world will compete in the May 22-25 Challenger Event for the Shell Eco-marathon in Berghem (Oss). The event is part of the Dutch Technology Week that starts next Monday. It precedes the European edition of the Shell Eco-marathon of this year, which will take place in London from the 2nd to the 5th of July 2019.

There’s much more on Dutch Technology Week 2019

This is the first time The Netherlands will host an official Challenger Event – although the European edition was previously held in Rotterdam. “The Netherlands is a country of innovators and takes the lead when it comes to energy challenges”, notes Karin Liebreks from Royal Dutch Shell. “Shell Eco-marathon offers schools and universities a free platform to collaborate and bring theory into practice, and Shell wants to bring this platform close to the Netherlands, as one of the key markets, and Dutch teams play an important role in the competition in terms of results and collaboration.”

The Shell Eco-Marathon challenges students to build and drive the most energy-efficient cars. “An ultra energy-efficient car in our eyes is a vehicle of which the energy consumption is very limited. Hence we allow teams only to use a maximum of 1-litre fuel or the equivalent of 1 kWh. The current Mileage Challenge record stands at 3,771 km/l – that’s the equivalent of driving from London to Rome and back again on just one litre of fuel.”

To see the complete set of rules to participate, check Shell Eco-marathon. The Challenger event allows new prospect teams to present and test their projects; for new teams to practice and improve their cars to get selected for the Shell Eco-marathon 2020, and for experienced teams to test and improve their vehicles before the big race in London.

Stimulating Technical Education

Creating the most energy efficient car is not the main only goal of this event. The Shell Eco-Marathon is also perfect for encouraging technical education and for motivating students to think ahead and bring their theory into practice. There are several rules to take part in the race. However, it is imperative that the team members are students. The competition is open to high school students, vocational training and university students. “Together with partners, Shell aims to provide the world of more and cleaner energy. To realise this, we need more technical schooled people joining the workforce, hence we developed Shell Eco-marathon to promote STEM education.”

“It’s Shell’s purpose to thrive in the energy transition. Shell is continuously looking for ways to improve its business and to diminish its net carbon footprint; energy efficiency is an important part of this goal.”

Dutch Technology Week is the perfect place to stimulate technical education, Liebreks says. “Shell Eco-marathon is part of the Dutch Technology Week (DTW) because we support the purpose of DTW to activate STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education among youth. Shell Eco-marathon is a platform where STEM comes to life, as the students are bringing their theory to practise by designing and assembling their own hyper-efficient vehicles. Besides the Shell Eco-marathon competition, there is also a mini Generation Discover festival focussing on primary and middle school children from the surrounding to give these children also a STEM experience.”

Shell also takes parts in other activities during the Dutch Technology Week, such as the Night of the Nerds (21 May), which focuses on students age 14-18; and TechMission (23 May) for students age 8-14. “On Saturday 25 May, Shell Eco-marathon will be a “hub” on the High Tech Ontdekkingsroute of DTW together with a local initiative Week van de Techniek.”

A total of 45 students’ teams are expected to participate in the Challenger Event. 13 of these teams are Dutch.

“I believe that our project, driving as efficiently possible with a green fuel, is the ultimate form of sustainable mobility.”

The Eco-Runner Team Delft

®Eco-Runner Team Delft

One Dutch team has high expectation for this year race. The Eco-Runner Team Delft, from the Delft University of Technology, hopes to win the race again with this year’s car. The Eco-Runner 9 will be racing during the Dutch Technology Week as preparation for the Shell Eco-Marathon in London this July.

“I am sure that we have a really good chance at winning,” says team manager Ruben Hortensius. “It is time that we win again.” The Eco-Runner Team Delft aims to build an extremely efficient hydrogen-powered vehicle from scratch every year. The goal is to compete in the Shell Eco-Marathon, where this year the 9th generation prototype will compete for the title. The “new and improved” car has an in-wheel motor, which was custom-made. Also, the team won 8kg of weight reduction in comparison with last year’s car, which weighted 50kg as opposed to the 42kg of the Eco-Runner 9.

© Innovation Origins

What makes their vehicle stand out is the use of a fuel cell that converts hydrogen into electricity. “We are electrical, the difference between an electric car and our car is that we have a hydrogen tank and a fuel cell, and the fuel cell converts the hydrogen into electricity; from that point on we are the same as an electric powered car.”

Hortensius mentions that the team wants to promote sustainability. “The race is about energy efficiency, everything in the car is built to be efficient. For us, the hydrogen part is really important. What we try to do is educate people about hydrogen and the possibilities with hydrogen. So, by telling about our project and hydrogen, we want to educate people and inspire people to be sustainable.”