A zeppelin for transporting solar panels

Students from the University of Twente sink their teeth into complex social issues with ‘challenge-based learning’. It sometimes leads to unexpected solutions, such as using zeppelins to transport heavy building materials such as solar panels. “This approach can take us further.”

In short

  • Students from the University of Twente tackle complex issues with Challenge-based learning. This leads to unexpected solutions sometimes.
  • Space53 asked students to think about how drone technology can be used in urban environments.
  • The students also developed interesting solutions for FC Twente and Agar.

Global Goal

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The energy transition creates a lot of work for the construction sector in the coming years. Houses and business properties will need to be fitted with solar panels, hybrid water pumps and other CO2-reducing measures on a large scale. But using cranes and construction lifts is often difficult in urban environments. How could we use drone technology to solve this problem?


A multidisciplinary group of students from the University of Twente received this question from Space53, Enschede’s test and development centre for unmanned aerial systems. They study different things, but all follow the minor New Technology & Business Development. Programme Director Marc Sandelowsky of Space53 did not choose these students without reason: “Drone technology is complex because you need to consider many aspects. Not only is the technology itself involved, so is the question of what is or is not legally allowed and how the environment reacts to the use of drones. Such an issue cannot be tackled by students from just one course. You need several disciplines.

Less energy required

The UT students have diverse backgrounds, ranging from mechanical engineering and industrial design to behavioural sciences and public administration. The result for Space53 was a cargo zeppelin. “That’s what I like about it”, says Sandelowsky. “We work with drones as Space53 and assume that they are the answer to everything. But these students have looked beyond that and come up with a hot air balloon. I did not see that one coming.”


The problem with drones is that they need a lot of energy to get airborne and stay at the right altitude.  This is an additional handicap when lifting hefty weights, such as building materials. Helium balloons do not have this problem. Helium is light and floats on air. Sandelowsky: “They have united the best of both worlds by using drone technology for take-off and helium to keep the balloon in the air. This also solved another problem. Construction companies do not want noisy drones with large propellers on busy building sites. This zeppelin doesn’t have that problem.”

Mobile landing platform

This was not the only eye-opener that the students had in store for Space53. Another group of UT students started working on a landing platform for so-called UAM-drones (Urban Air Mobility). The expectation is that these drones will soon be used on a larger scale to transport people and packages or for inspections in urban environments. They are an alternative for transport by truck or car, and they can thus increase the quality of life in cities. The problem is that there are not enough suitable landing sites for drones in densely populated areas.


The students designed a truck with a foldable landing platform. These trucks can be put in the desired locations, such as next to a hospital, so that drones can quickly deliver organs or medicines. The students have developed and calculated their idea in 10 weeks. A test with a prototype was not possible (yet) in both cases. Programme director Sandelowsky would like to see both ideas progress to the next phase. 


“A start-up would preferably be established, too, to market the product. That is interesting for the students since they will learn how to start a company. Such a start-up can also return value to the university if it becomes successful. It would be nice if the concept of ‘challenge-based learning’ could be expanded.”

Clean stands

Raymond Loohuis, lecturer at the University of Twente, agrees with the latter. “Students leave the company with a cliffhanger after ten weeks. That’s a pity because they proved capable of developing exciting and concrete ideas in such a short time. They designed a cleaning method for FC Twente, for example, to clean the stands more effectively. They designed an app for Agar in Hengelo (a company with various sand and concrete businesses) to share knowledge, improve employees' health, and increase social cohesion. Students approach problems from multiple disciplines. Companies see this, too. We have been working with ‘challenge-based learning’ for two years now, and our experience has been positive. It is a good way of strengthening the university’s relationship with the business community. Hopefully, we can expand ‘challenge-based learning’ soon, so that good ideas can be developed further.”

Date: 29 July 2021 |

Source of tekst: INN’twente |

Author: Marco Krijnsen

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