WHU General

Capstone Course on Robotics, AI, and Programming

Master's in Entrepreneurship students build multifaceted robots

If students cannot travel to international start-up hubs due to the pandemic, then an innovative and relevant local solution is called for. This has now been made possible at WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management through the Master in Entrepreneurship Capstone module. Students are usually abroad during the module and placed within relevant start-ups. This year, due to and despite the pandemic, they were able to work together – in small groups and with comprehensive hygiene measures and daily testing in the WHU test centers – on-site rather than just virtually. 

The first task was to set up a robot equipped with sensors and AI-capabilities on wheels, bring it to life, and assign predesignated tasks through programming tools. "Above all, it was fun to be able to do things haptically again," shares Professor Dr. Christoph Hienerth, Chair of Entrepreneurship and New Business Development and head of the module. "Everyone had to learn a bit of Python programming in advance, including me. But if all you do is sit in front of a PC, you hardly get any visible results. On the robot, on the other hand, you can immediately see what you've done right or where you still need to tighten things up."

The presentation at the end of the project was a surprise for everyone because the groups, two of which were also live from Cologne and Berlin, had the same initial criteria for the robot but were allowed to determine for themselves of what it should be capable. All MiE students entertained spectators and instructors alike with creative and entertaining ideas. Alexander Schmidt, Philipp Hoffmann, and Joel Haas were particularly creative. Their robot could serve drinks, make commentary, and perform dances to music it played itself. "We had to program the robot to dance to the beat of the music and make it look good," says Joel Haas, explaining the challenge. "For programming, we used Scratch, which translates the commands into the Python programming language. That makes it easier to get started and helps with understanding the codes." While the students would have been happy to travel abroad for the module, the alternative was just as welcome. "When Professor Hienerth presented the idea of robots to us, everyone was immediately enthusiastic," says Philipp Hoffmann. 

What initially appears playful has great relevance for the entrepreneurship students' later professional lives. "If management has no idea about the technology and doesn't speak the same language as the developers, that's problematic for companies. Then projects go back and forth ten times, and that causes high and avoidable costs. Essentially all large companies that have warehouses and rely on logistics also work with robots. That's why our students need to gain experience in this area during their studies," says Professor Christoph Hienerth. Participant Alexander Schmidt takes a very similar view, "We will probably not build robots later in our professional lives. But understanding this technical component is important and can also help us develop new business models."

A TV report by TV Mittelrhein on the robotics course is available here (in German).