Innovation Sprint 2021
Effective support for start-up projects
Innovation Sprint as a bridge between research and start-up
A year ago, the RWTH Innovation Sprint was developed as part of the "Exzellenz Start-up Center.NRW" initiative. The funding mechanism supports researchers who are interested in founding a company in cooperation with a chair or institute of RWTH Aachen University to develop a prototype and validate the commercialisation potential of their research results. In this way, it can significantly facilitate the acquisition of further funding or a later foundation. Participating teams can be funded with up to 90,000 €. The aim of this measure is to effectively support researchers in the critical step from research to application.
"Especially in this phase, financial support is important to find out whether the idea and the concept developed from it are viable by developing a prototype. A positive validation can, in turn, help to attract further funding programmes and thus remove a crucial hurdle on the way to a successful start-up," explains Begüm Guse, the project manager of the programme.
The projects submitted by the founding teams are evaluated by a high-profile external committee of researchers, business leaders and members of the start-up community and finally approved by the rectorate of RWTH Aachen University.
Pioneering projects with high innovation potential
The RWTH Innovation Sprint has entered its second round. Six promising projects have been selected for funding this year. The projects come from a wide range of disciplines and cover diverse fields of applications. From autonomous package delivery from the air and the reduction of emissions in the field of mobility to the efficient monitoring of plain bearings and cost-effective process automation in additive manufacturing to the production of eco-friendly biosurfactants and the use of microrobots against viruses. In the following, we briefly present the selected projects.
Urban Ray: Autonomous air delivery of parcels
With Urban Ray, an autonomous and reliable system for deliveries in urban areas is being developed and established. The concept is to build a dense, adaptable and reliable network for last-mile delivery of parcels to businesses, public institutions and private individuals, allowing safe operation at a low price per delivery. Business or private customers thus experience a tremendously reduced time from order to delivery compared to traditional delivery networks. The system offered with Urban Ray does not involve any inconvenience or additional costs for sender and recipient compared to traditional delivery networks. In addition, Urban Ray's focus on safety and low noise emissions during development puts great emphasis on social acceptance. Within the framework of a pay-per-use concept, both large companies with existing logistics chains and retailers as delivery customers can benefit from the advantages of a highly scalable and flexible delivery network. In particular, there is a need in the short and medium term for the fast and flexible delivery of medical goods, samples and medicines. In system-relevant infrastructures, Urban Ray can help to significantly reduce critical waiting times.
Contact: Institute of Aerospace Systems - Faculty 4
How2StorEnergy: One-step manufacturing process for type V braided FRP pressure tanks
In the course of efforts to increase sustainability, the use of hydrogen as an alternative energy source is increasingly coming to the fore. However, due to the low specific volumetric density of hydrogen, high pressures (up to 700 bar) are required to store hydrogen for use in the mobility sector. Today's lightweight solution for storing gases at high pressures is type IV FRP high-pressure tanks, which are produced in a three-step manufacturing process. In addition to the manufacturing costs, the high dead weight of type IV pressure tanks compared to a pure FRP solution (liner-less, with weight-reduced boss structure) represents a major challenge for the serial use of this tank generation. How2StorEnergy therefore wants to implement the one-step production of a type V pressure tank with the help of an innovative braiding and tooling concept. For this purpose, a prototype of a liner-less lightweight high-pressure tank, constructed from carbon fibre thermoplastic tapes, is being developed through an integrated braiding and consolidation process. With this technology, How2StorEnergy not only supports the reduction of emissions within the mobility sector, but also supports the overall structural change of society towards sustainability and renewable energies.
Acoustic Edge: Reliable, cost-saving diagnostic unit for signal analysis
Although wind turbines are a key technology in the quest for sustainable energy production, the comparatively high price of electricity is a problem. This is due to frequent bearing damage and insufficient diagnostic and maintenance measures. The prevention of unforeseen plain bearing failures, for example in planetary stages for wind turbines, is not guaranteed with existing condition monitoring systems, as these systems are still mainly focused on roller bearings and their typical damage. For the monitoring of plain bearing systems, high-frequency structure-borne noise monitoring (Acoustic Emission, AE) has been identified as a suitable method, whose high effort in conventional signal processing and vibration diagnosis is in no relation to its benefit. Acoustic Edge therefore relies on a time-frequency transformation (Continuous Wavelet-Transformation, CWT) and machine learning methods for the analysis of AE signals in an edge cloud environment, which lead to significant improvements in the analysis with simultaneous data compression. The described methodology with the core elements AE signal measurement, CWT, data transfer to a cloud and ML methods thus enables economical continuous monitoring of plain bearings in operation.
Contact: Institute for Machine Elements and System Development and Chair for Wind Power Drives - Faculty 4
PA Labs: WAAM control platform for smart production
One of the key technologies for the digitalised, efficient and decentralised production of components is additive manufacturing (AM). So-called Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) is currently the most promising process for the cost-effective additive manufacturing of large metallic components. Since it is based on the use of wire as a starting material and the use of an electric welding arc as a heat source, the investment and operating costs are significantly lower compared to competing powder laser/electron beam-based processes. The high process dynamics of WAAM pose particular challenges in terms of controllability and require a high level of expert knowledge from the plant operator. Currently available WAAM technologies merely transfer known approaches from other AM processes and thus prevent a full exploitation of the potentials of the so far largely unknown WAAM. At the centre of the PA Labs project is a process automation system that takes an innovative approach to dynamic process control compared to commercial technologies. In this way, the team aims to initiate a paradigm shift in the additive manufacturing of large metallic components.
Contact: Institute of Welding and Joining Technology (ISF) - Faculty 4
BioPHiel: Production of biodegradable biosurfactants for eco-friendly production
More and more companies are opting for sustainable alternatives in the production of their end products and are using completely biodegradable biosurfactants and platform chemicals. This is exactly where the BioPHiel team comes in, by aiming to bring a novel biosurfactant or platform chemical (HAA) to the market. The advantage of HAAs is that they can be used in the production of various products (e.g. cosmetics, plastics, lubricants, etc.) and are completely biodegradable. Another special feature is the use of a biotechnologically advanced microorganism. Thus, the strain can be genetically modified to use pretty much any substrate (e.g. sugar beet, molasses, plastic waste, etc.) for the production of HAAs. In addition, the HAAs are released from the cells into the medium during fermentation. Thus, a continuous production process can be established and at the same time the effort for purification can be reduced. Since sustainable instead of fossil carbon sources are used in the production of such surfactants, a sustainable contribution is made to the establishment of a circular, bio-based chemical industry and thus a better environment.
Contact: Institute for Applied Microbiology - Faculty 1
Anvives: Microrobots against viruses
Similar to the coronavirus, the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes many millions of viral respiratory infections every year. However, no vaccine or treatment has yet been developed against RSV infections. To be prepared for the next pandemic, the time-consuming and cumbersome antiviral drug development process needs to be optimised and accelerated. The goal of Anvives is to develop soft-matter microrobots that protect humans from the virus. These microrobots will be programmed to act like a "Pac-Man" by hunting and eating the virus. They can be reprogrammed against any type of virus within a few months. The team's innovative approach can reduce the risk of unexpected toxicity and failure during clinical trials, as only a small proportion of the microrobots will be adapted to fight a new virus. Initially, the technology platform will be optimised against Covid-19 and extended to RSV infections, with the long-term goal of developing novel treatments against these infections.
Contact: DWI - Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials and Chair of Macromolecular Materials and Systems - Faculty 1
On the road to success thanks to Innovation Sprint
Project manager Begüm Guse was enthusiastic about the diversity of the projects submitted and emphasised the importance of the Innovation Sprint as a support on the path to success. After all, supporting the projects not only ensures that the university's innovation potential is optimally utilised, but at the same time drives the positive development of North Rhine-Westphalia as a business location.
The teams from the first round of the Innovation Sprint prove how successful this support is. The financial support has enabled the teams to make very good progress and has achieved the expected leverage effect. The prototypes of the teams are well advanced. The teams are evaluating their findings and are about to move on to the next step. Some of the teams have already applied for the next funding programme or will start shortly. Exchanges were also facilitated with industrial stakeholders and with potential clients. Examples are the start-ups BioThrust, InTraSens, IonKraft and phyphox, which developed prototypes of their technologies with the help of the Innovation Sprint, advanced their foundation and obtained further funding.