Teams of 11 separate our construction waste in shifts from 5 a.m. until midnight. “Completely outdated”, according to Twence. That’s why a solution must be found quickly. In addition to its technicians, Twence has engaged a remarkable group in the search for the golden idea: children from primary school groups 7 and 8. “The best thing would, of course, be that this group of students finds a way to automate this work,” says Albert Vos, manager of advice and policy. “Even though I don’t expect them to, we might be inspired by their ideas and pushed into different directions. This would be an amazing scenario.”
That's why Saxion University of Applied Sciences and the University of Twente initiated the RED Engineers Challenge. This year, it is organized in collaboration with energy producer Twence. The challenge is good for all because of many aspects: it sparks kids’ interest for technology, helps the region to move forward concerning sustainability, helps companies solve real problems, and it interests students to continue or choose for technical education.
Jan Volbers is a project manager at Pre-University, the science hub of the University of Twente. The hub aims to strengthen the relation between (primary) education and the world of science and technology. “One of the means through which we hope to achieve this is the RED Engineers Challenge,” he says. “With a group of students from UT and Saxion, we want to maintain the natural curiosity of children. This curiosity can then later be used science and technology. Sometimes students do not choose for further education in a technological and science direction, simply because it was never presented to them. We solve that problem.
7th-grade primary school students from De Kubus are one of the participating groups of students. Matthijs Koridon, science coach at Pre-U, explains this years’ challenge on a hot Monday morning.
A large RED Box contains all kinds of construction waste: wood, metal and a broken ice scraper. “We need your help” says Koridon. “We cannot manage to separate this waste without people. We ask you to design a smarter process.” The students are eager to take on this challenge. “I already thought of a solution,” says ten-year-old Evelien de Wals. “It is a technical solution. I think of a robot with a sort of eye that, for example, recognizes and takes out all the plastic. Then you could have another robot to take out metal, and so on.”
“It is fun to think about this” she says. “I love technology, but cooking and baking as well. So, I don’t yet know what direction I want to go. I think Twence could really use our help. Why? Because kids think ahead and grown-ups don’t. I often wonder why things are not organized differently. For example, why don’t we have one universal charger? Or, since taking a shower after physical education is such a hassle, why can’t we have some kind of conveyer belt that we could stand on to be showered and dried?”
Exactly those kinds of thoughts are what Twence is looking for. “Children don’t yet have a reference framework. They never thought about such problems before, and that’s why they can offer such a fresh look”, says Vos. “Even though I don’t expect the kids to come up with the perfect solution, they can inspire us, helping us to take another step forward. I like to compare with how start-ups are created: often with young out-of-the-box thinking people.”
Vos expects Twence to be able to spark interest in technology by participating in such projects. “All participants get a tour at Twence. This is how children see craft and technical work in practice. The separation process still has a traditional component in addition to an otherwise high-quality technological process using the various incinerators. I notice that children around this age are very concerned about what is happening in the world. We have jobs that exactly fit such people. Sustainability is the future.”