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From rose-pruning robot to smarter electricity network

10 November 2016

Surprisingly practical inventions often issue from the University of Groningen’s labs. Not only the scene of fundamental research, the labs are also favoured by engineers who use the latest technology to develop practical applications for their findings. The new Groningen Engineering Center (GEC) should give new impetus to engineering research and teaching at the University. Over 250 visitors came to the opening on 25 October.

At the opening many researchers showed what they were up to on big posters, including building a robot that uses cameras to find its way around a garden and can mow the lawn and prune the roses without any outside intervention. Groningen researcher Nicola Strisciuglio is working on the image-recognition software that the robots use. Another example is studying how liquefied natural gas sloshes around in transport ships, because this can compromise stability.

The business community also attended the opening. Sustainable Buildings, for instance, a small business run by two former researchers from the University was one of them. They use smart software and sensors to reduce energy consumption in buildings and have already set to work in a number of buildings used by the Municipality of Groningen. Innovatiecluster Drachten is another, a collaboration between 15 high-tech companies from the Northern Netherlands. The University supplies it with technical staff and collaborates in its research.


The position of engineers at the University of Groningen is unique in the Netherlands, says Professor of Applied Mathematics and Chair of the GEC Jacquelien Scherpen. ‘We work at a general university. This is fairly normal abroad, but in the Netherlands we have specialized technical universities’, she explains. So what is the advantage of working at a general university? ‘My work includes researching smart energy networks, but that is not just a technical problem. There is also a legal side to it, and a social one.’ Which makes it handy to have researchers close at hand who know all about this, as Scherpen does at the Faculties of Law and Behavioural and Social Sciences.

Experimental prototype of the pruning robot | Photo TrimBot 2020 project
Experimental prototype of the pruning robot | Photo TrimBot 2020 project

The University of Groningen is the only general university at which students can earn the Dutch title of Ir - ingenieur (engineer). The number of engineering programmes has rocketed in recent years. The University is set to invest over EUR six million in engineering research and teaching in the coming years. Two new Master’s programmes will be introduced: Mechanical Engineering/Advanced Instrumentation, in collaboration with SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Astron, the UMCG proton therapy centre and KVI-Cart, and Systems and Control, in collaboration with the University of Twente.

Additional professors will also be appointed. President of the Board of the University Sibrand Poppema highlights the importance of engineering research: ‘It is the link between our fundamental research and business.’ Prostheses, new forms of electronics, a robot that prunes your roses… you name it, Groningen engineers are building it.

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Last modified:12 March 2020 10.14 p.m.
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