Benefiting from universities and new perspectives
The guest author is campaigning for closer cooperation between business and science and presents a successful example of a technology transfer.
We are right in the middle of it: there is now no stopping the transition to new forms of mobility and transport. Mobility sector actors are engaged in research and development, shaping and discarding ideas, and thinking, creating and debating to ensure the bus industry is constantly improving too and making its contribution. The hope is that customer-focused innovations and ideas will ensure that the industry will in future continue to be an attractive mainstay of local and long-distance transport. Regardless of whether innovations are developed in an incubator, supported by market research or the result of intense brainstorming sessions – companies depend on them to stay relevant. But to what degree do innovations that have emerged over many years take the short-term trends of a dynamic environment into account? Mega trends such as environmental protection, sustainability and digitalisation will remain clearly recognisable for years to come, but micro trends are less easy to detect. It is these barely perceptible trends that make it possible to take a holistic view of new inventions.
In order to ensure the innovations they are developing are in sync with the needs and potential trends of the next generation, many companies go to where the Zeitgeist thrives, namely universities.
The HTW Berlin – University of Applied Sciences is regarded as a pioneer of collaborating with enterprises, and for many years it has established partnerships between students and companies. Consequently, many university courses have made practical projects a firm fixture of their curriculum. The Bachelor’s course in Industrial Design features a practical module each term, and university professors actively search their networks for partners who can collaborate. Alternately, companies can apply in response to any partnership offers. Once a partnership framework has been established, companies provide a use case which students work on during the university term. The benefits are obvious to everyone involved and become apparent in the following example:
Taking as its project ’Image change in bus transport – design the bus of the future’, the Industrial Design course of HTW collaborated with MAN. The bus that was being designed had as far as possible to replace personal transport in cities and provide a genuine alternative to cars. With the help of design thinking, the students first established current pain points in bus transport. Subsequently, an evaluation took place of users’ desires and demands, in order for them to finally create a concept for the bus design. And the results are worth noting. As part of the ’Image change in bus transport’ project of HTW and MAN, the students Erik Schumann and Khaled Hanafia designed corresponding prototypes.
As this is a driverless bus, alternative ways of communicating with road users were looked into. On the prototype, LED bands displaying colours were installed for this purpose. White lights indicate normal service and progress, while red lights signal “the bus is out of service“ and green lights “passengers can board safely“.
MAN has been working with universities for many years. “Collaborating with the students is like a breath of fresh air“, said Thorsten Bergmaier-Trede (Transportation Designer at MAN) in an interview. Despite not every idea making its way into a product, the discourse helps many companies obtain an outside view and find out about different perspectives. MAN regards this type of partnership as an obligation to society. As well as getting a glimpse of the industry early on, students also gain their first practical experience. Out of fictitious projects are born ideas, innovations and perspectives that can benefit the industry. Each project makes it possible to combine theory and practice and gives students a chance to explore which industry they would like to work for in future. Other benefits are acquiring new skills and a feeling for the market, along with expanding one’s personal network.
As a result of a practical project undertaken with MAN, a student recently developed great interest in the mobility sector and briefly decided to join MAN as a trainee and complete an in-house Bachelor’s degree. In today’s cut-throat competition for talent, partnerships of this kind are also helpful for securing specialists.
So in conclusion, what can the bus industry learn from this example? Those driving the transition to new forms of transport and mobility must keep an open mind. In these fast-moving, constantly changing times, a holistic view often seems to be the best approach. But those who incorporate the needs of this and the next generation in their innovations will be ready to take on the future and can only benefit. So let’s collaborate!