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Brainport Industries Campus’ Drone Challenge came to its final stage with the unveiling of its winners. The Black Widow concept – ideated by team number 5 – was awarded the winning prize by the jury. 

The Drone Challenge involved Fontys University of Applied Sciences and Summa College students in developing a transport drone. Divided into 8 teams, the young designers spent five months working on their concepts, learning from their mistakes, and changing their plans when their ideas didn’t work out as they should have.

Each team took the floor to present its drone, highlighting the features, the seatbacks in the making, and the outcomes team members acquired during the process. Then, the teams had a 1 on 1 with the jury – to provide more detail on their projects. Then it was time to fly. In a 10-minute time span, every cohort had to try to complete some assignments. From the easiest ones – such as flying from one point to another – to the most challenging ones – such as flying below an obstacle, gripping an object, or flying below a wooden bar. 

20 weeks after the beginning of this journey, Mark Aelmans from Fontys looks back at it proudly. “It took a lot of effort and energy, but the energy the students gave us back today was amazing. I’m surprised by the progress teams made during these months.”

Learning curve 

To create the drones, Fontys and Summa at Brainport Industries Campus offered them the facilities and the tools to 3-D print, laser-cut, or model their components. After building a cardboard prototype, students created the final version of their concepts. The tutoring during these months made participants acquire knowledge of manufacturing techniques. 

In addition to flying, all drones had to have a grip. All 8 projects came out with different solutions. Being transport-oriented devices, it was essential to have them able to grab something as well as withstand a load. Design, manufacturability, and trail performance were the judging criteria. 

Drone Challenge
A team presenting its concept – Ⓒ Innovation Origins

Red and dangerous 

Made out of wood and 3D-printed light components, with two layers made of sponge and PLA for the landing gear, the Black Widow was the drone that completed most assignments during the showcase. The frame shape and the red color of some components resemble the deadly spider, which was the one that came closest to gripping an object. Along with a trophy, the winners also got some vouchers. 

“We showed that our gripper could extend, move, and pull back. The drone went just millimeters away from picking an object, but we showed that the Black Widow could fly under and through obstacles,” says Yordan Bakalov, part of the winning team. 

The Black Widow – Ⓒ Innovation Origins

There is much more than the victory, as per Bakalov. “It was an amazing learning journey. We learned a lot about how to design and manufacture a drone – when we started we had little or no knowledge about 3-D printing, laser cutting, or water jetting. Most importantly, we acquired how to work as a team.”

Attracting talent

Given the success of this first edition, the initiators of the challenge are thinking about a 2023 edition already. “Similarly to what happens in solar challenges, we’d like to have a similar competition, that builds up on the progress made year by year,” explains Aelmans. 

These kinds of initiatives can help Brainport Industries Campus – and the companies in it – retain young talent. “Youngsters like challenges, so this competition is a way to stimulate them and to make them come up with innovative ideas. And Brainport Industries Campus needs them,” concludes Aelmans.