Meet The Maker: BlinkLabs

In this post series we are going to portray stories of the makers at the Student Project House. In our first episode we did an interview with the co-founder of BlinkLabs, Lucas Vandroux. Read the interview and watch the video to find out how they are optimising manufacturing with Machine Learning techniques:

Tell us a little about who you are and what you do…

We are a team of 5 on a mission to codify and enhance human judgment to solve manufacturing automation problems faster. We developed a software based on Deep Learning that is able to learn from humans how to judge if the quality of a finished good is enough for it to be sold. Using our product manufacturers can automate their production line by having a measurable quality output.

What are your current biggest achievements and challenges?

We already been to China 3 times to demonstrate the capabilities of our product to some of the biggest manufacturers in the world. We are even building a custom prototype for one of them. We also already won 2 startup competitions and are supported by world-class advisors on the technical side but also on the business side.

Why you use the Student Project House and what you do here?

In order to prove that our software is able to deliver what we promise we need to build machines to run it. For that we build the prototypes of the machine in the SPH using all the tools available. We try to do this as fast and as iteratively as possible. All of this would not be possible without the infrastructure and the support provided by the SPH.

Can you give any recommendations to students that want to start their own projects?

Don’t aim for the perfect product from the start. Scope it down that you can reach the next step in a day and then scope it down even more for half a day. Small iterations are the keys to progress fast and in the right direction. The SPH is perfect for such approaches 😉

Thanks for reading and we hope you got inspired to start your own project!

Here two pictures of their prototype:

A Bandsaw, a Bandsander and two DLP 3D-Printer

New machines arrived in the Makerspace. Starting on the 1st of Dezember the Makerspace will also offer a bandsaw, a bandsander and two DLP 3D Printer. The bandsander can be used after a quick 5 minute introduction during the Open Hour. For the introductions to the other machines check out our website.

Last June’s Design Challenge exceeded all expectations. Eleven highly motivated students from ETH, ZHAW and ZHdK took up the challenge of creating a unique e-bike charging station in five days. In interdisciplinary teams – from bachelor to doctoral student and from engineer to designer – the participants went through a real development process at a turbo-tempo.

Day 1 was themed “User & Technologies”. The participants conducted interviews with users, formulated problems and researched technologies and competitors in alternating teams. On day 2 solutions for subproblems of the challenge were worked out. Then the three teams “Poly Charger”, “Blinkers” and “booster” were formed. Each team now had the task of developing two overall solution proposals. During days 3 and 4, the teams built full-size paper prototypes to test geometries, define functionalities and perform tests with users. With the help of four polymechanic apprentices from ETH, who were responsible for sheet metal cladding, functional prototypes were now built.

Makerspace experts helped the teams design the electronics, build racks, program apps and control motors. All this was done continuously in consultation with the e-bike rental company smide.

On day 5, the teams presented their sophisticated charging stations to a jury. There was a lively discussion and critical questioning. Jury member and smide founder Raoul Stöckle expressed his thanks for the professional presentations and was impressed by the innovative ideas for improving the charging station.

Finally, the “Poly Charger” team was able to convince the jury the most with its simple, modular and functional design, which looks great, works and is easy to produce. The price includes a premium subscription from smide. Since the market ultimately determines the success and failure of a new product, smide will implement all three prototypes and test them on the ETH Campus. So it remains exciting! Don’t miss anything and follow us on Facebook!

 

The interdisciplinary cooperation was a great experience. We complemented each other perfectly: Simon from the ZHAW brought practical relevance to the project, Tim from the ZHdK the design aspect, Ricardo from the ETH the management know-how and I, an ETH student in Energy Science and Technology, the technical aspect.

Chia-ling

Participant of the Smide Challenge

Do you want to be part of the next challenge?

Then click here to see our upcoming events.

 

The Student Project House offers plenty of space for students to share their creativity. The recent “Unbox your idea” initiative gave them ten weeks to turn a budding idea into their very own project.

Text:  Samuel Schlaefli, Pictures: Marvin Zilm

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The Student Project House (SPH) opened on ETH’s Hönggerberg campus in spring 2017 – and it’s the perfect tinkering and makerspace for anyone with a passion for technology. Funded by donations to the ETH Zurich Foundation and spread over 400 square metres, the SPH is divided into a workshop space and a coworking area. Arranged on one side are four 3D printers, a laser cutter, soldering equipment, a CNC milling machine and a selection of traditional cutting and drilling tools for woodworking.

The coworking area is equipped with wooden tables and whiteboards, providing a space for ETH students and staff to work in teams and tinker with their latest ideas and projects. There’s also room to relax and network at the coffee machine in the adjacent kitchen or on the sofas in the lounge. “Our goal is to give students the space they need to try out whatever ideas popped into their head that morning under the shower or on their bike!” says Moritz Mussgnug, who is responsible for projects and programmes at the SPH.

Our goal is to give students the space they need to try out their ideas.

Moritz Mussgnug

Project Coach

A garden hose with a micro controller

The SPH was chosen as the venue for the first “Unbox your idea” initiative. The format is simple: 18 students, who have never met before, form teams and are given ten weeks – and 500 Swiss francs for materials – to bring an idea to life and present it in a final pitch. To help them on their way, they get practical guidance from the SPH workshop crew and two coaches. Right now we’re in week seven. On the wooden table in front of us is a garden hose, an azure roll of plastic, a small transposing gear wheel and two pieces of chipboard cut into the shape of a holder. These are materials you could find in just about any DIY store, but according to Ferdi and Javier, they will soon be transformed into a robot irrigation system for the garden, complete with mini motors and sensors and an Arduino microcontroller that can be custom programmed. However, Ferdi has identified a problem with the transposing wheel that is meant to automatically keep the hose in the right position when winding it in and out.

It’s time for some input from the coaches Moritz and Mattis, two former mechanical engineering students with a wealth of expertise in product development. Moritz throws Ferdi a pen and says: “Draw it on the whiteboard!” Ferdi starts sketching out his idea, and soon it’s taking shape and becoming clearer. Moritz makes a suggestion: “Maybe you could use the 3D printer in the workshop to quickly print out the parts for the reinforced holder so you can test them out?” There’s no time to waste when you have just ten weeks to present something, so decisions need to be made fast.

That’s where Moritz and Mattis come in. They meet with the teams once a week to discuss their ideas and progress, pose challenging questions, suggest alternative approaches, and give tips on useful resources. Neither of them are limited to one particular  area of specialisation, because the students’ ideas are simply too varied.

Recent projects have included new styles of frames for displaying digital art, a platform to match up doctoral students and professors, and a wheelie bin with a built-in filtration system to produce clean drinking water in Asia and Africa. Moritz and Mattis regard themselves very much as enablers, clearing obstacles from the teams’ paths and helping them overcome mental barriers and creative blocks. They are also gifted motivators who know how to get projects moving at record speed with enthusiasm, creativity and a reassuring, calm presence.

Paper prototyping for wind turbines

At a nearby table, Arthur and Ramis are developing a foldable, electricity- generating wind turbine that is designed to be as simple as possible to assemble and dismantle, a concept they came up with while out surfing one day.

The idea is to use the stiff sea breeze that often blows on beaches to power a generator that could provide lighting for caravans or recharge electronic gadgets. Of course space is at a premium when travelling, so the wind turbine in this case needs to be lightweight and flexible. Arthur and Ramis spent their materials budget on a small commercial wind turbine. After studying it carefully, they began drilling and sawing it into shape.

Now they’re standing in front of the whiteboard with the dismantled rod assembly and Moritz is noting down key questions. How will you attach the rotor blades – screws or push-fit? How does the system need to be constructed to make it foldable? And what’s the best way of packing it all together? It takes just a few seconds for the team to put together a list of requirements. The coaches also suggest using a paper prototyping technique for the various possible

It’s fantastic to see these young people pursuing their ideas with such passion.

Sarah Springman

rotor mountings. That means using paper and cardboard to quickly assemble models, plus making creative use of egg boxes as a wind turbine base. Once they’ve identified the most promising design, they can visualise it in a drawing application and then produce it with a milling machine or 3D printer.

Arthur is busy sketching a carry case for the wind turbine on the whiteboard when he suddenly comes up with a new idea: “Maybe the case could also double up as a base if we filled it with sand to weigh it down?” Arthur and Ramis are soon immersed in taking this idea further, and the coaches move on to the next table. A young man with sparkling blue eyes, long hair and a beard is sitting on  a bar stool at a high table in one corner of the SPH.

Dressed in a black Metallica T-shirt, Peter is midway through a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering – and backcountry skiing is one of his passions. On the table in front of him are a dozen different -coloured post-it notes with key thoughts he has jotted down about his project, from “exposure” and “my position?” to “preview mode” and “easy slide”. Together with Karen, who is studying for a doctorate in polymer science at Empa, he is hoping to develop an app to tell ski tourers how steep nearby slopes are, which is one of the key criteria in assessing avalanche risks. He’s already spent six weeks putting his idea to the test in real-life scenarios, talking to skiers, and quizzing Swiss Alpine Club members and experts.

Their original idea of incorporating a display on the skis themselves or in the ski goggles had to be discarded as too impractical. Peter holds up their first paper prototype of the app: using a small wooden frame to simulate a smartphone screen, he pushes a piece of paper through the opening which features a printed map of a mountain range shaded in different colours to indicate the incline of each slope. Although the paper prototype lacks any digital rendering of the proposed app functionalities, it makes it easy to grasp the basic idea and understand how the app would work.

Presentations with crisps and beer

Fast forward two weeks and the time has come for the final presentations. It’s six o’clock on a sunny Wednesday afternoon and the seven teams have gathered in the SPH in front of around 30 people, mostly students. Comfortably seated in front of a large flat-screen monitor on green and orange sofas and an assortment of chairs, the audience will get the chance to select the best idea at the end of the evening. It’s clear that Moritz and Mattis have spent considerable time working with the students on their presentations over the past week. Each one is well structured, with a clear dramatic arc. The students give precise explanations and provide a wealth of visualisations, videos and images to bring their ideas to life, even though some of the teams can only present their actual designs as preliminary paper prototypes. Once the presentations are over,

the SPH opens its improvised bar, offering cans of beer, soft drinks and packets of crisps. The visitors take a quick tour of the various tables, quizzing the teams about the prototypes and project information arranged in front of them. Right in the thick of the action is a tall lady in a colourful suit: Sarah Springman, Rector of ETH. She’s clearly enjoying chatting to the participants, asking probing questions and enthusing about their work. “It’s fantastic to see these young people pursuing their ideas with such passion, staying positive even when things go wrong and persevering until they have a product they can present to their peers,” she says, praising the importance of this learning experience.

Peter is also happy with how things have gone: Günter Schmudlach – a  Swiss “ski touring guru” who runs the eponymous skitourenguru.ch website for planning ski tours and backcountry skiing trips – made the journey to ETH this evening specifically to see his presentation. Peter had previously contacted him to discuss ideas for his ski touring app. “Later we’re going to talk about where we go from here,” he says enthusiastically. Meanwhile the “carry case turbine base” developed by Arthur and Ramis for the wind turbine has proved to have real merit – but they haven’t had time to test whether the foldable turbine will offer the performance they are hoping for under real-life conditions. “We want to use the experience we’ve gained over the past ten weeks to rethink the whole system again. Then we’ll keep working on it at the SPH,” says Arthur.

Ferdi and Javier’s robot irrigation system has also come a long way – even though much of it is still held together by duct tape. But will they be continuing with their project? “We’ve worked really, really hard on this,” says Ferdi.

He quickly adds, however, that his studies have essentially been on hold for the past few months because he has simultaneously been working with a team at ARIS, the Swiss academic aerospace technology initiative that is harnessing the SPH programme to build a rocket. So now it’s the robot’s turn to take a back seat while Ferdi prepares for his upcoming exams.

 

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(Pictures: Goran Basic / NZZ)

The Swiss newspaper NZZ recently honoured us with an in-depth article. In January this year they released a portrait on our young ETH initiative, the Student Project House in order to inform the public about our doings.

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Comparing us to the innovative spirit of the Silicon Valley the article reported on the motivated teams and their hands-on technology projects represented at our space such as Acos, Solas 3D and PowerPaddle.  The author neatly captured the inspiring and energetic vibe prevailing at our location. Furthermore he introduced our plan of opening a 1000 m2 space in the ML building located in the city center, opening in 2020.

Stay tuned for more articles to come and a big thanks to NZZ for the  positive coverage!

Link to the full article