A boost to product development from Aaltonaut

The minor programme combines different academic fields encouraging students towards curiosity and initiative.
During the Bootcamp Weekend, the teams' task was to design and produce a prototype of a piece of equipment that supports the head.  Students Jukka Song (on the left) and Janne Pärssinen devising their solution to the problem.

The bachelor students studying product development got down to business as the studies for this current year’s Aaltonaut minor programme started at the Design Factory.

Aaltonaut brings together bachelor students from all of the six Aalto University schools. 30 of them were present at the Bootcamp Weekend held in October. With a focus on team work, the problem-oriented product development education is only the starting point.

– We want to get designers, business people and engineers to do the same work right at the beginning of their studies and to teach them to communicate with one another. Seeing problems from different perspectives brings new insights to everyone. In the work environment, the person hinting that we are in need of a designer is not another designer, but an engineer or a business graduate, notes Elina Kähkönen, Aaltonaut's teacher-in-charge.

Saturday's assignment was provided by Planmeca, a company manufacturing dental care equipment. Each group of six had to design and produce a prototype of a piece of equipment needed for dental x-rays that supports the patient's head. The head must remain still during the imaging procedure, and the instrument must also be pleasant to use. The students had six hours for the assignment and had to consult at least one person outside the team for the task.    

The curious person knows how to ask

There was an immediate buzz of activity in the workshop at the Puuhabunkkeri space. Using a glue gun, Timi Tiira of group two attached fabric to wooden beams for a forehead support apparatus. The group had found old insoles, foam rubber, corrugated fibreboard and pieces of plywood for their building material from the material storage.

– I am fascinated by the problem-solving nature of Aaltonaut. We just went to the Otaniemi campus' grocery store to talk to people and surprisingly many of them had experiences of dental x-rays. I also called my godmother, a dentist, and she told me about the difficulties of getting small children to keep their heads still, explains Tiira, who studies at the School of Electrical Engineering.

Aaltonaut brings together students from different fields to work together in teams. Students Saana Sainio (on the left), Aleksi Miettinen and Suvi Majande planning their solution to the task at hand.

The students at Aaltonaut are encouraged to be curious, show initiative and be pro-active.  Those interested in joining the programme must create a motivation letter, which Mari Hirvi did in the form of a video presentation.

– I explained that I wanted to experience a different way of doing things that would otherwise not be part of my degree programme. It is nice to see how I can combine my own competence with this kind of a way of doing things, says Hirvi, a second-year student at the School of Science.

Teachers Meri Kuikka (left) and Tuomas Paloposki (second from the right) assisted the teams to progress with their task. Students (from the right) Jukka Song, Aino Ruohola and Tuomas Burakowski.

A teacher consultation held during the afternoon includes a presentation of the students’ progress so far and considering, among other things, how the facial shape of the imaging patient should be taken into account, and how to prepare for clients in a wheelchair. One student explains that they had to call a friend who studies design. The prototypes of group three are currently outdoors to be tested by passers-by.

Out-of-the-box thinking

After six hours of work and joy fueled by free pizzas, it is time to present the final work. The time is limited to three minutes, but the presentation itself can be anything, from a song to theatre. The presentation though must be in English, the working language in all Aaltonaut courses.

One by one, the product development teams take the stage. One of them has transformed the patient experience for dental x-rays, another has introduced mindfulness exercises as an aid, and a third one is telling their story through a role play. Peer feedback includes praise for good knowledge of the client, out-of-the-box thinking as well as innovative design. The winning team is awarded their own blue Aaltonaut hoodies.

The first course of the minor programme starts in January. The Product Analysis course starts with the students disassembling a piece of equipment from a corporate partner. This begins a new journey of exploring the product from an idea to appearing in shops. 

Elina Kähkönen hopes to hear similar insights from the new students as from one engineering student in last year's group: 'The starting point for product development is what the user needs, not what we can or want to do.'

Text: Marjukka Puolakka

Photos: Aalto University, Aino Huovio

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