The Force Awakens at TU Delft

The Star Wars series will officially blast back into the Netherlands when The Force Awakens opens in cinemas across the country on December 16, 2015.

This week, students at TU Delft will also be celebrating the film’s release with screenings of the six prior instalments at the Sports Cafe beginning with Episode I: The Phantom Menace at 18:00 this evening. Admission is free and you can view the entire schedule on their website.

But this isn’t the only way that the Star Wars universe has recently drifted onto campus. Currently, several groups located at TU Delft are developing futuristic vehicles and devices similar to those featured in the cinematic saga. Here’s a look at three of them:

Robotic Appendages

As Luke and Anakin Skywalker could tell you, duelling with lightsabers can be very dangerous. Each of these characters lost an appendage (or two or three…) in the Star Wars films and later had them replaced with robotic versions. “When I was a little boy, I was always surprised to see the big gap between the fiction about prosthetic hands in movies and the bitter reality,” Doctor Gerwin Smit said.

Dr. Smit works in the department of BioMechanical Engineering. He conducts research on high-tech prosthetics and has been involved in projects like the recent Robot Hand Battle, which gave first-year mechanical engineering students the opportunity to design and construct mechanical hands capable of picking up paper cups.

“Currently, people are using sophisticated ‘robotic hands’,” Dr. Smit said. “These prosthetics look really impressive and they can perform multiple basic grip patterns. There are, however, still big challenges that we have to overcome.” Creating a replacement hand as sophisticated as the one Luke receives at the end of The Empire Strikes Back will likely require at least another decade of research and development.

“Having a hand that is lightweight and capable of performing many demanding tasks, without breaking, is not currently possible,” Dr. Smit said. “For example, fighting with a laser sword, working in the garden, or riding a mountain bike is not possible with the current hands because the fingers would break off. This is one of the things that we are hoping to solve within the next few years.”

The Kavli Institute

‘Droids’ with internal computer systems so advanced that they can speak 6 million forms of communication? Spaceships capable of zooming across an entire galaxy in a few hours? These are all concepts that are being researched at the Kavli Institute. Established in 2000, the organisation currently has 17 labs located around the world and the one at TU Delft opened in 2004. In recent years, its researchers have conducted experiments involving quantum mechanics that could one day help power everything from a real-life Millennium Falcon to the transporters used by Captain Kirk and his crew in a certain other sci-fi series. The lab is also used for the research and development of nanotechnologies that could eventually be used in robotics, futuristic medical procedures and much more.


Delft Aerospace Rocket Engineering (DARE) has been receiving a lot of attention lately. The group, which was founded in 2001 by students from the faculty of Aerospace Engineering, has focused much of its energy in recent years on Project Stratos. The ambitious venture seeks to launch the first student-designed rocket into outer space. In 2009, DARE made a major step towards this goal when a rocket dubbed ‘Stratos 1’ reached an altitude of 12.5 kilometres. Last October, the group broke a world record for amateur rocketry when they sent one of its successors, ‘Stratos II+’, all the way up to 21.5 km.

Looking ahead, DARE hopes to use a liquid oxygen system to increase the efficiency of the engines they’ll be using during future launches. They still have a ways to go. The Karman Line, which is considered the barrier between our planet’s atmosphere and outer space, sits at an altitude of 100 KM over sea level.

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