Bram van der Waaij works for TNO and is contributing to the curriculum at HIT. His background is in IT, but at TNO he became involved in sensor technology.
Learning by doing
Bram: “Sensor Applications is an international, 4 year bachelor programme. Talented students can apply to the 3 year programme. ASA is very suitable for students who like to put theory into practice.
“The second year offers the basis for working with sensors. Each quarter we choose a different subject. Agriculture, health, energy and so on. Each sensor subject is developed in close collaboration with a company in that particular field. You get to work on a real life case. And in this way, you learn by actually doing.”
Third and fourth year
Bram: “The third year offers more in depth knowledge. Students learn about electrical, biological, chemical, mechanical, thermic and other types of sensors. We also look at areas where sensors are actually applied. Health, safety, agriculture, consumer goods, water management and so on. We could ask you to do research about heart rate sensors, electrical, biological, chemical...up to you. In this way you find out how to measure things best. How do you measure the strength of a dyke? You could measure temperature in the dyke, or noise. What other ways are there?
Another third year subject: ‘context’. What should the sensor measure? Who uses it? Farmers don’t need fancy statistics; they need to know which plant needs more water. You have to put yourself into the customer’s position.
“Another example is reliability and robustness. Sensors break down. What do you do? Or what do you do when you are not aware the sensor has broken down? In health care you sometimes need to use new sensors as a preventive measure, just to make sure they work right. In the fourth year a students chooses one of three graduation routes: (A) entrepreneurship, (B) research or (C) work at a company.”
“The education is more than just technical subjects. You learn how to work with people from other disciplines. You have to focus on the result and be aware of where, how and by whom the sensors will be used. And you have to learn to take the effects of what you do into account. At TNO I worked with RFID, a kind of wireless barcode. With this, every product can get a unique code. This has advantages but also offers people with bad intentions to see what’s in the trunk of your car. You always need to consider the entire perspective of new developments.”
“Sensor technology really helps people. There are endless possibilities. Think of healthcare workers or road safety. We don’t need more in quantity, we need more efficiency. Sensor technology can be a key factor, but it’s very costly. That’s why it’s interesting to make sensor systems usable for more than one customer or purpose. The Central Station of Groningen has a sensor system that recognizes aggression. They send the data to the police station. But those expensive cameras could be used for more purposes. Register data about trains, give a signal when the dustbins are full. Things like this are very challenging. And this makes the profession of sensor technologist so fascinating.”