Skip to main content
European Year of Skills

Vocational students and innovation hub join forces to build life-saving robot

A Belgian creative hub recently teamed up with a vocational school and its students to build an affordable demining robot, destined for Ukraine.


It all started in late 2022, when a Belgian entrepreneur with Ukrainian family, Kris Vancraen, hatched a plan to produce a low-cost robot for clearing landmines in his war-torn country. He took his team's idea to BUDA::lab, a Belgian public innovation workshop, which boasts a skilled crew of volunteers and state-of-the-art equipment. They immediately set about creating the robot’s hardware and electronic components, but they lacked the resources needed to finish the job. Thanks to a longstanding partnership, BUDA::lab kept the dream alive by enlisting support from a vocational training centre, the Provincial Technical Institute (PTI). PTI’s talented students were keen to lend their skills, and before long the partners completed a working prototype, at a fraction of the cost of similar alternatives. 

A cost-effective and urgent life-preserving technology 

The impressive innovation is a much-needed lifeline for the people of Ukraine, where more than 174,000 square kilometres of territory is covered in unexploded ordnance and landmines. 

By using standard components for construction and having a new vision for the design, at €40,000 the robot costs just 4% of the price of typical alternative technologies, which tend to start at €1 million. 

The partners hope that their breakthrough will make robots affordable to the Ukrainian cities, municipalities and provinces who urgently need them in order to step-up minesweeping efforts. The small robots will focus on recreational areas, schools and walking paths to make public spaces accessible again to citizens. 

It’s an outcome that chimes perfectly with BUDA::lab’s goals, as Coordinator Stan Dewaele explains, ‘My job is to bring citizens, education, industry and governments together… and build a better future. This project fits this mission perfectly.’ 

A once in a lifetime chance to demonstrate students’ skills 

It was a perfect opportunity for PTI too, giving their vocational students a once in a lifetime way to demonstrate their incredible skills. Some used the workshop and its tools for specialist welding and others worked on the robot’s electronics. Stan also points out that ‘PTI students are tomorrow's specialists in science, technology, engineering and maths. Involving them in the process is a great added value for all stakeholders.’ 

When it comes to involving students in future projects at BUDA::lab, Stan believes it has the potential to help solve many other issues: ‘We are facing gigantic challenges in this world: switching to circularity and the resource shortage, digitalisation and its sustainability, energy supply, food supply... To respond to each of these challenges, we need people with expertise to invent and make products and systems in a different way!’ 

Check out the project and discover new opportunities 

The project team will be exhibiting their work on 23 February 2024 at the Meet the Champions of Excellence event to give visitors the chance to meet the robot and the people who built it. Stan hopes the team’s presence will show how ‘technical solutions can often have a big social impact’. 

The European Year of Skills helps people get the right skills for quality jobs and supports companies in addressing skill shortages in Europe. Are you considering vocational education or training? Then check out the inspiring stories of some of the Champions of Excellence who’ll be showcasing their skills at the event and talking about their journey to success.