Bluejay | Made with Eindhoven

For ten months they worked on the development of a drone that assists both firemen and residents of nursing homes in case of fire. Now that their year is over, the students of the TU/e student team Blue Jay look back one more time. "The support you get from each other, and from companies in the region, is essential."

For this story, we talked with four members of Blue Jay. We went to the testing location, a spacious VDL warehouse along the A67 near Veldhoven. And we had coffee in front of the small office on the TU/e Campus, which was almost extinct because of corona. In the conversations Marieke, Rahul, Jort and Niels tell us about their experiences and we get acquainted with Blue Jay version 5.2. The drone that is central to this story and that even gave us a smile.

Collaboration with the fire brigade

The Blue Jay team was established five years ago by students to experiment with indoor drone technology. Usually, each team sets a goal for the year. In 2016, for example, the Blue Jay was able to serve a beer (almost flawlessly), another team tested how the drone could help to rescue drowners.

"This year we considered doing things differently", says Marieke Vermeulen, who took a break from Biomedical Engineering to work as the PR & Finance manager at Blue Jay. "We decided not to start a new project but to focus entirely on the further development of the drone. But often I got the question, what exactly are we aiming at? We realized that it was good to have a specific goal after all. That resulted in a collaboration with the fire brigade. We are now looking at how our drone can be used in the event of a fire in a nursing home. How it can warn the residents and guide them to the nearest exit. And how it can support the fire brigade in the meantime by sharing data, such as forwarding the floor plan of the building and the exact location of the fire. In this way, emergency services can act faster on the spot.”

Facial Expression

In the warehouse in Veldhoven, Niels Verstappen and Jort Moor show us how the Blue Jay works during a fire. But first they calibrate the device. Jort picks up the drone a couple of times and ten turns it around. When the reset is done, he places the drone in the middle of the hall. With quite a bit of noise, the drone rises up. Reducing the number of decibels is still a challenge to be solved. But, it stays stable in the air. The LED lights all around are changing colour from time to time. Inside the warehouse, a number of sensors allow the drone to fly autonomously. The interaction design team spent a lot of time perfecting the drone's 'facial expression'. With just one pair of eyes and a pair of eyebrows above it, Blue Jay can express emotions on a screen. And so now we’re staring at a flying device that seems to be smiling at us. We smile back.

There is a total of eleven student teams at the TU/e. From teams developing a car that runs on solar energy to taking part in the World Cup robot soccer. Why did these students choose Blue Jay? For Rahul Ramesh it was clear that he wanted to put his theoretical knowledge into practice. After studying in the south of India, he left for Eindhoven to study Embedded Systems for two years and joined Blue Jay. "I really wanted to understand better how to apply artificial intelligence."

Blue Jay

Illustration by: Rik Stabel

High-tech ecosystem

Rahul calls the support you get both inside and outside the team 'essential'. The fact that there is now a drone that can fly independently through narrow corridors, that recognises people and communicates with them in emergency situations is not only the work of sixteen students who have worked very hard for a year. The involvement of alumni is also great. For example, there is an app group that includes members of previous teams. Marieke: "If you ask a question there, you immediately receive useful tips.”

But there is also a whole ecosystem of high-tech companies in the region that assists Blue Jay. NXP provides electronic equipment, Fourtress helps with software and Siemens with a very advanced flow simulation package meant for airplanes. And then there is the VDL and ASML warehouse which can be used free of charge. The team is surrounded by an invaluable informal network.

What are their personal takeaways from this year? Marieke: "I have learned what real teamwork is. I would love to join a young and innovative company after finishing uni. Rahul: "I now want to enrich my practical experience in AI with theoretical knowledge. After the summer I will continue studying at TU/e with a focus on machine learning." And Blue Jay? Blue Jay will be carefully handed over to a brand new team in the coming months.

This week there will be a demo with Blue Jay at the TU/e for the fire brigade, partners and press. During the simulation the students will show how the drone works in case of a fire in a nursing home.

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