‘Our test demo was a perfect example of Murphy’s Law: as the rotating parts were moving, the whole mechanism shifted from its base,’ concluded Kadri Muuga, now an 11th grader in Tallinn Secondary School of Science, while describing the process of building a product called CurtainWise. ‘Now we know how to fix that problem: we will have to use a stronger material than the cardboard we initially used for the test.’
Kadri was completely right: more solid 3D printed plastic rings enabled the rotating parts to open and close the curtain much more precisely and they completely rocked the stage of the final demo of the Eesti 2.0 summer school Springboard that was held in Telliskivi Creative City.
On a scorching hot Friday afternoon in late July, ten teams from 24 schools across Estonia, and some also studying abroad, presented the products they had built over the week. Among other things, the teams built mobile apps that help you find your lost possessions or organize lunch dates with new colleagues in a big company, or a solution that enables work meetings in a virtual reality (VR) setting.
Think out of the box
The problem the CurtainWise team faced proved the main point of the rapid prototyping cycle that the Springboard event was supposed to test: when one part fails – and something always does! –, you just need to try a different solution until it does work.
Kadri’s teammate Andrius Matšenas, who is now back to his high school studies in the UK, explains how their team came up with the smart, hassle-free curtains that would merge into their everyday lives: ‘We started thinking of the curtains that would close automatically when you turn on the light in the evening. It took us a lot of time and intense thinking to get all the components to work just right.’
CurtainWise, a team of six students, was not alone in their pursuit to find the best solution to make the curtain open smoothly. They were assisted by Ronald Tammepõld, who has extensive knowledge in electronics and robotics since he works as a developer of the charging stations for the carrier robots of the internationally acclaimed Estonian startup Starship Robotics. It was already the second year for him to mentor the teams of the summer school; last year he worked closely with the team that built Safe Sack, a smart backpack containing solar panels, GPS, Bluetooth and a fingerprint-controlled lock.
Kaarel Reinvars and Sander Tammer, who came up with the Safe Sack idea last year, also returned to building new products in the summer school. This year their team Powerbox was working on a solution to build a fingerprint-proof charging station for phones that could be used at schools or supermarkets. Their solution would solve several problems instantaneously: your phone charges while you have to attend classes or buy groceries and kids will spend less time on their smartphones.
‘Springboard has proven that technology enables us to build cool things and create solutions that might one day help change the world,’ Kaarel and Sander sum up their enthusiasm. The 17-year-olds are already working on mobile puzzle games they plan to launch later this year. They have already registered their company, have found investors and hired people to help them develop the games.
Virtual classroom complements the classical one
Magnus Tohver, a student of Tallinn European School, was also back for the second year along with his teammates Grete, Kaur and Markus, to build VReaction, a virtual reality (VR) solution that will make learning chemistry much more fun than the old way of just memorizing different formulas.
‘Our team of five had 60 minutes of combined experience on VR,’ Magnus starts with a joke to explain how they started from a template to build a virtual classroom where the student can mix different elements to create new substances and then take a closer look at the molecules and the atoms of each one of the elements. Curiously enough, the team spent a considerable time getting water to look as realistic as possible as that is one of the most difficult substances to design in 3D after humans, claims Magnus. He stresses that his team sees VReaction as a complementary playful solution that will not replace real-life experiments with actual substances in the school labs.
PocketID team had an even more ambitious idea: ‘Based on personal experience, we were thinking of replacing plastic cards with a mobile solution in order to avoid situations where one might not be carrying or has lost his/her physical ID-card,’ explained Mirko Nõmmsalu from the team. ‘For example, if you are entering a crowded event, the security guard can scan the QR-code generated by PocketID to identify your identity and age.’
Supporting the budding talent
‘The youngsters had very ambitious ideas and they really deserve recognition for being able to complete these ideas by the end of the week,’ said Hardi Meybaum, the founder of Eesti 2.0 who has previously founded GrabCAD, the largest online community of CAD-engineers, and after selling the company became the partner of a Boston-based venture capital firm Matrix Partners. For the second year running, he also took a week off of his summer vacation to be the main mentor at the summer school.
‘Learning from last year’s experience, we added some practical workshops on product design as well as on building software and hardware products to help the teams be more successful in their pursuit of building cool products.’ To support the summer school project, Eesti 2.0 recently launched a new online learning platform www.eesti2.ee that will help students interested in technology to communicate, learn and share materials. The platform is open to share educational videos for online learning, start discussions on new technologies and get an overview of the latest projects the youngsters are currently working on.
In addition to Meybaum, several mentors from leading Estonian start-ups like TransferWise, Taxify, Starship and GrabCAD supervised the kids during the week’s program. TransferWise was also the largest supporter of Springboard, contributing all the service fees from transactions made in Estonia in February as a present to the 100th birthday of the Republic to Estonia and Eesti 2.0 summer school.
‘Our team really got a lot of help from 3 mentors,’ recounted Magnus. “Madis was our main mentor with VR and gave us some much needed psychological support in team-building. Mikk helped us a lot with design and UX, creating and correcting flows and flowcharts. Mikko helped us with posing the right questions that helped us to improve the product. I really enjoyed the design workshop, that opened many new perspectives for our team, and the talk on MVP (minimum viable product) was really useful.’ Magnus also added that he would always love to hear more of the latest scientific achievements as he did in the presentation of Allan-Hermann Pool, an Estonian neuroscientist, currently completing his post-doc studies at Caltech in Southern California.
‘Springboard changed my view of what is possible for me to do and achieve,’ Magnus concluded. ‘I made new friends and it opened up new doors. Before, I didn’t even know what making a startup entails, but now, my mind is full of new ideas.’