The Solar Team Eindhoven has once again presented a beautiful and innovative solar car, with which they hope to win the Solar Challenge in Australia for the third time. Looking at the student teams from technical universities, you notice that they are especially successful in the field of Automotive, and continuously devise and realize innovative concepts. The Delft students have already often been the fastest in the 3000 km race between Darwin and Adelaide, the TU/e students demonstrated that you can also win gold with a family car, and last month the Twente Green Team won the Shell Eco marathon with their hydrogen car. But apart from the competitions, we also see that the engineers of the future come up with innovative ideas all the time, and apply them in practice as well. For example, the STORM team Eindhoven demonstrated last year that you can travel the world in 80 days with an electric motorbike they built, and a team of bachelor students from the TU/e presented their Lina last week, a car made from plants.
The question is therefore how so many successful teams manage to amaze us with new concepts, in a time when students have to borrow money to pay for their education, and carry the burden of a strict regime of study credits. Nearly all members of the student teams have to put their studies on hold for at least a year, and often work on their projects day and night. So not only do they fall behind in their studies, but they also have no time for a job to earn some extra money. There is no clear answer to this question, but what all teams have in common is motivation, social engagement, perseverance, and the will to work together in a multidisciplinary team.
NXP has been sponsoring student teams from the Technical University Eindhoven for years. And time and time again we are amazed at the resourcefulness and motivation of students to realize their dreams. Each time, they manage to form a real team, composed of students from various disciplines that work together towards one and the same goal. That goal can be winning a competition (Solar Challenge), completing a journey around the world (STORM 80 day tour), or an innovative goal: demonstrating that drones can be of help in hospitals. What is especially striking is the social involvement that the students have; their vision of society and their urge to contribute, through innovation, to social problems in the field of mobility, environment, or a combination of the two.
Most student teams operate under the flag of their university, but work independently, almost like a startup. NXP has been on faraway journeys with student teams to give them the opportunity to tell their stories in other places, such as Singapore, Shanghai, London and San Francisco, and amaze and inspire others with their vehicles. And each time they are asked the same question: Who is your professor who has conceived all this and supervises you? How does the hierarchy work? Their reply that they have devised it themselves, and built it without any real hierarchy always produces surprised reactions.
Compared to many educational systems abroad, technical education in the Netherlands has special characteristics that enable students to form teams based on motivation, knowledge, skills and equality. When devising new concepts you can certainly have intense discussions, but there is no shine without friction. And exactly because they have to arrange and sort things out for themselves – with limited coaching and supervision from the university – ranging from sponsoring and teambuilding to customs forms and insurances, they learn more in that year than they would in the lecture hall.
It is also a win-win situation for industry. After all, technical talent is scarce, and the days that you could recruit students by putting an ad in the paper are long gone. By working together with the best student teams, you are working with the young professionals of the future, who learn how to use our products, but also how to work in a team and with people from the industry. Working with students is also a rewarding experience for engineers in companies such as NXP. It is inspiring and motivating to help a new generation of engineers to solve technical problems.
As a country and certainly as a technical university we should show our appreciation of our student teams a bit more. If a Dutch athlete or team wins a title, thousands of people are out on the streets cheering, and the mayor presents awards. And although this is rightly so, (too) little attention is paid in the Netherlands to the remarkable achievements in the field of innovation. If the Solar Team Eindhoven manages to win the Solar Challenge for the third time in a row, this is mentioned only very briefly in the media, and the university organizes a modest celebration on campus for students, and family and friends. And that’s it. No more is said about how this was achieved, or about the special cooperation between universities, industry and knowledge institutes that made this unique achievement possible. A real shame, and what’s more: a missed opportunity!
When you talk to people about this, people voice their admiration and are proud, but somehow we seem to forget to express this pride in the Netherlands and beyond.