History - Success stories - Helsinki 1996

Tobias Kippenberg (D)

First prize: A Car Ice-detection System Based on Electromagnetic Waves. ISEF prize to Louisville (Kentucky).
He had a great time with George Albanis (George Albanis - Despina Scholidou. Third prize and ISEF prize in Helsinki 1996: "Boundaries and stellar content of the LH52 and LH53 associations" - Greece) in Louisville. They stayed in touch for a long while. He also stayed in contact with Hanna Bengtsson (Hanna Bengtson - Karin Larsson, in Helsinki 1996: "Biological Method to Determina Nutrients in Different Soils - Sweden), from Sweden, who spent a year in Australia just after the Contest and later on returned to Sweden in order to continue her studies.

He does meet his fellow German contestant, Andreas Derr (Andreas Derr. Third prize in Helsinki 1996: "MediNet: an intelligent system for medical diagnosis"-Germany), a few times every year: "he lives in the same city as my parents".

Concerning his project on "A Car Ice-Detection System", he confesses that he made various efforts to get the project to be applied in industry: "however, it is a long and enduring way". Daimler-Benz are very interested in its implementation, and Tobias obtained a joint patent with the company. Last summer he tried again with a small company and "they are currently developing a prototype", although there are some technological problems, i. e. cheap and reliable conventional components must be used to make it cost-wise.

California Institute of Technology. He has been a graduate student at Caltech (Pasadena - USA) in the field of Applied Physics since August. The application process seemed to be endless but is paying off. He assures that "graduate life here at Caltech is pretty intense at the moment, but exciting as well!" The coursework is overwhelming but, on the other hand, professors are not very strict regarding grades. Once his coursework is finished, he will start to research properly. He believes he will be ready by next summer. Tobias obtained a financial aid from Caltech, which provides for his tuition and small expenses.

He would like to have a general meeting of the EU Contest participants, because he would love to see some of them again.
The Contest was undoubtedly "a great help to get to Caltech" since the Californian Institute gives admission on a highly competitive basis. Tobias is sure that "participation in the EU Contest was strongly recognised by the admission committee as something that was very special. I have no doubt that it was a major contribution to my admission". Besides, the Contest gave him "self-confidence to apply for Caltech and to address its professors and ask for some interviews with them".

Wouter Couzijn (NL)

First Prize and Nobel Prize Ceremony Travel Award for his project titled: "Locator: A Self-positioning Robot". His machine was able to determine its own initial position in space and navigate itself to any destination, based on commands from a TV or VCR remote controller. It combined sophisticated computer programming, signal generation, sensing and analysis, and a mobile wireless robot into an integrated system. The simplicity of the design of the robot means that it can be easily adapted to function in a factory environment, as a wheelchair or even a fire fighter.

He remembers very clearly "the delicious and exclusive dinners, the warm welcome in the Eureka museum of Technology, which really was exactly the right place for such a Contest". Although they were competing against each other, he reckons that there was a deeper admiration for each other's impressive and high quality projects. The interviews with the Jury were "profound" and he reckons they did "a very good job".
About his project, he explains that "it was equipped with a positioning system that measured the angles between incident light beams, coming from infrared beacons, in order to determine the position. The biggest disadvantages were its low mechanical endurance and its slow operation, both due to the rotating light sensor that was needed for the detection of light beams. I have now replaced this positioning system with a new one that is based on ultrasonic sound waves. This speeds up the measurements about 40 times and contains no moving parts at all.

The math formulas are a bit more complex, but that is no problem. Four ultrasonic beacons at some well-known positions (e.g. the corners of the field) are sequentially transmitting unique codes, synchronised with each other, which are then received by the ultrasonic sensor of a robot.
By comparing the time-differences between received codes with the known differences at the transmitters, the relative distances to the beacons can be easily determined. The position of the robot is the intersection point of two hyperbolas, defined by these calculated relative distances. There were a few tricky problems to be tackled, though: reflections of the sound waves and the so-called Fresnell-effect, being the latter a disturbing interference of waves very close to a transmitter, thereby making the transmitted signals useless. Besides, the batteries can be recharged now with a wireless and magnetic field. The contacts of the charging device got dirty very soon, so I had to find another solution" In general, in the past four years he has been working mainly on two concepts: the learning capabilities of the robot and signal recognition.

He is currently studying Electrical Engineering at Delft University of Technology (the Netherlands): "I started in September 1996, after the EU Contest for Young Scientists in Helsinki, and I'll be graduating for my Masters degree by the end of June 2000". Wouter is currently working on an extensive graduation project with many mobile robots. This is an improved version of the project he presented to the EU Contest: "It is a large chessboard, measuring 3x3 metres. 32 mobile robots, being a modified version of my Locator robot, serve as chess pieces. The main purpose of the project resides in the investigation of decentralised decisions: the robots will have to discuss their local situations with others, therefore to decide which robot will be moving. The robots won't have a global view of the situation, so they will have to share information with each other to estimate that global situation. Finally, the chess strategy is based on a new genetic algorithm, which allows the system to learn from its errors and to get stronger every day. In my view, these three ingredients: autonomy, decentralised decisions/sharing of information, and automated learning will become very important in the near future".

Apart from this, he has been working in his spare time as a freelance designer of micro-electronic circuits, as well as programming embedded software. He has also founded "an international organisation" alongside with another PhD student: Europe-X. The aim being "to advice governments on all kinds of educational topics". They are more than 100 students from European and non-European countries and they have already written two extensive reports and held a 3-days Forum meeting in Frankfurt and two surveys. Wouter assures that: "we are now trying to make our organisation known, to spread out our reports, and to elicit serious discussions about them".

He thinks that "it was the best contest I have ever participated in, and it really stimulated me to continue with my projects".
The EU Contest "sort of proofed my capabilities as a future software and hardware engineer in an international framework. After the contest it was really clear for me that I had to continue in this direction, to improve my robot, to do many other interesting projects, and to think not only as a Dutch citizen, but also as a European one. The prize I won at the EU Contest gave me the financial possibilities to buy the necessary tools and components to realise this dream, to work out the concepts and to find some completely new and possibly important theories".

George Albanis (GR)

He won a Third Prize and the ISEF travel award to Louisville (Kentucky) at Helsinki 1996. He presented a project alongside with Despina Scholidou, whose title was "Boundaries and Stellar Content of the LH52 and LH53 Associations".

The project was later improved by utilising more sophisticated techniques and software packages. The original research tackled star counts, and the results of the additions will "make sure that the outcome of the spectroscopic analysis and the star counts were right. Apart from that, I searched for more information about the Large Magellanic Cloud on the Internet". The Large Magellanic Cloud, or LMC, is the nearest galaxy to the Milky Way but less than one tenth as massive.

Many memories come back whenever Helsinki is mentioned to him: "some of the funniest moments happened during those informal gatherings organised in our hotel rooms at night. Even though we were all exhausted after a busy day, we would all be in the mood for dancing, singing, and chattering. I miss my conversations with Aida Omerovic, from Norway, and with the members of the Irish team" (Patricia Lyne - Rowena Mooney - Elsie O'Sullivan: "Analysys of Indigenous Irish Strains of the Honeybee" (IRL). Third Prize at Helsinki 1996 and ISEF Travel Award to Louisville, Kentucky).

George is currently studying electrical engineering and computer hardware at the National Technical University of Athens. He intends to specialise in the field of telecommunications, and he has already applied for a CERN's (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) summer programme dealing with accelerator theory, beam dynamics, and hardware.

He describes the experience of participating in the EU Contest as "a springboard for me to pursue a scientific career. It made me understand that I could not be happy and satisfied with my life unless I worked on scientific and technological projects". He therefore realised the value of creative teamwork all over the European Union and beyond and, according to him "this is the only way to drive forward European science and technology in the near future". He believes that the EU Contest for Young Scientists makes every participant realise that, above all, "we are Europeans. Which is something to be proud of -as one of my Irish friends' mother used to say-. We should all try to do our best in order to achieve technological progress in Europe".

Emil Laslo (H)

Second Prize at Helsinki 1996 for his project on a "Braille Display".
He remembers well that "a group of children from a kindergarten or primary school came to visit our exhibition and literally invaded the exhibition hall in a matter of minutes. I was a bit worried then because I thought I would not be able to explain my project to them. I assumed they could not speak English, therefore I decided that the best thing I could do was to explain my project to their adult escorts and show them round my models, pictures and video.
However, it did not happen this way. To my surprise, the little kids eagerly gathered at my exhibit and began asking numerous questions, and all in English!

After the EU Contest, he started his degree at the Technical University of Budapest. He has recently founded his own company, related to the Internet and web sites design. He is in charge of producing the web pages of the Hungarian Association for Innovation, which is the institution that runs the National Competitions that give access to the EU Contest for Young Scientists.

Amongst other fields, Laslo's company deals with both the technical and the marketing aspects of computer and security system design .