From Elephants to Ants kicking off with Stanford University and Volvo CE

The Product Development Research Lab at BTH are for the fifth year starting up a ME310 project in collaboration with the Design Division at Stanford University. As with the last three iterations, Volvo Construction Equipment are the industrial partner.

The Challenge: From Elephants to Ants - from Earth to Mars

As is popularly reported in automotive industry, also the construction equipment industry are moving towards greater use of autonomous machines and capabilities. Volvo Construction Equipment earlier this year displayed autonomous prototype machines at their Exploration Forum. With autonomy and electrification, the machines are likely going to be conceptually different from what we know today. This would likely mean that, although we're still going to be moving dirt, the construction site and the way to operate it is going to change as well. 

Volvo CE HX1 (img src: volvoce.com)

This is the starting position for the team to explore and come up with designs that shows the future of construction. Offering this kind of challenge to high-performing students allows Volvo CE to accelerate the exploration into the lesser known quarters of what-ifs. 

The Swedish  team

The Swedish part of the team consists of four students in their final year of their MSc programmes. They will undertake this project as part of their master thesis projects.  

Kristian Elawad, Hassan Safawizadeh, Louise Karlsson, and Noor Ameen in the BTH ME310 team

Louise Karlsson, Noor Ameen, and Hassan Safawizadeh are students in their fifth year in Mechanical Engineering, while Kristian Elawad is a student in Industrial Engineering and Management. 

The Swedish team has gone through a number of design challenges to get acquainted with the problem as well as the development process applied in the ME310 course. 

Back in October, the students and some 20 of their peers took part in a one-day challenge to rethink how to move dirt in an autonomous way, using various rapid prototyping tools at their disposal. 

Then the students have moved into needfinding, tech-watching, and early prototyping of machine-to-user communication with use of 3D-printing and Arduino-based technologies. 

Early concepts of communications prototypes.

The final roster of the American team is due to be finalised following a number of team rotations where they have similarly, and in collaboration with the Swedish side, explored the preliminary design space. 

Now the teams are preparing for the real project kick-off, which is scheduled for mid-January at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Here the teams will kick the projects into high gear by doing a prototype iteration together, while at the same time also ensuring that the team gels as a truly productive global team. 

From the Volvo Construction Equipment side, Jenny Elfsberg, Director Emerging Technology, is the main corporate liaison: 

“To be a corporate liaison in the ME310 course is fantastic, we are part of a larger community where universities and companies participate, communicate and learn from each other. The prototypes that the students present in the end of the course are always very intriguing and inspiring – we learn from all teams, even if the Volvo team always will be out favorite of course. Every year the results have added value to Volvo CE, the students always work hard, document well and develop amazing prototype showcases in the end. Also, to be part of this course have also given us insight in the design thinking process and actually now, after a few years of participation in this course we know enough to apply design thinking method on customer challenges.”

Also from Volvo CE, Martin Frank, Research Engineer and Specialist Intelligent Machines, return also this year to the role of being the company coach and liaison: 

“ME310 adds value to our company in so many dimensions and therefore we are very excited to be part of the collaboration again. Our challenge this time opens up a huge design space and, as usual, gives a lot of possibilities to the team. It will be very interesting and fun to see the students' interpretation of the challenge and what they will develop during their journey.”

From BTH, Christian Johansson and Ryan Ruvald are participating as faculty and teaching assistant respectively. Christian has had the role for the past two projects, and before that has been a student of the program, when it was run at Luleå University of Technology:

"I find it truly exciting to once again return to the ME310 community and have a project a topic that seems like a really interesting for the students to dig into. The challenge provided by Volvo CE provides an opportunity for some interesting and explorative solutions. This setup allows the students to make their most valuable contribution given their freshness to the problem area at hand and also the application of the design thinking approach."

Ryan was a student of the program last year, being a representative on the BTH-team, and now returns to take on a role of sharing experience as well as guiding through the culture of working in a global innovation engineering team. 

"I’m elated for the opportunity to share last year’s team experience with the ME310 Design Thinking approach with this year’s team as a coach. The path of radical innovation is treacherous and at times confusing, I hope to help side step some of these avoidable pitfalls in their creation of a “Wow” result for our benevolent project sponsor Volvo CE.”

This has been an ongoing collaboration for some years now. 

“We’ve been collaborating with Stanford and the Design Division (and d.school) for several years going back to 90'ies and since moving to BTH we've been deepening the collaboration between BTH Mechanical Engineering and Stanford Mechanical Engineering to be able to offer continuous project collaboration in global innovation projects together with industry. It is truly a great opportunity for our students to take part in such a live projects with all its aspects and challenges“,

says Professor Tobias Larsson.

Have a look at previous projects:

For more information, contact Christian Johansson (christian.m.johansson@bth.se) or Professor Tobias Larsson (tobias.larsson@bth.se).