Power the Future: 3 teams formed at energy-focused hackathon - Technical.ly Baltimore


Nov. 5, 2013 8:33 am

Power the Future: 3 teams formed at energy-focused hackathon

Top prize at this weekend's hackathon went to a team that combined a software and hardware hack to control the internal temperature of a house via iPhone or Android app.

The SmartVent team finishing its hack on Sunday afternoon.

Full disclosure: Betamore cofounder Mike Brenner is a partner with Technical.ly Baltimore, which works on occasion from the Federal Hill incubator.

Top prize at this weekend’s Power the Future energy hackathon at Betamore went to a team that combined a software and hardware hack to not only control the internal temperature of a house via iPhone or Android app, but also to remotely open and close heating and cooling vents to precisely regulate the temperature inside individual rooms.

SmartVent, which won $3,000 to split among its six-person team, spent the 36 hours it was allotted this weekend to build the custom apps and a custom Arduino controller that attaches to the HVAC vents typically found in houses.

  • Ideally, each vent in a house would have its own thermostatic control — and, therefore, its own Arduino controller the SmartVent group called the ZigBee.
  • From the mobile app, a person could control separately the temperature inside each room outfitted with vents equipped with a temperature sensor and the ZigBee.
  • The ZigBee triggers a Servo motor, responsible for opening and closing the HVAC vent.

The ZigBee Arduino controller.

While Power the Future drew a small crowd, it was also a shorter-form hackathan than April’s Reinvent Transit, which was also held at Betamore.

The two other teams formed at Power the Future:

  • In second place, with a $1,500 prize, was MPower. Using public data, the team assembled a list of 330,000 houses in and around the Boston area, and then mapped the houses with the help of Google Fusion tables and the Google Maps API. The public data showed not only how much houses in the Boston area cost, but also how much different utilities would cost homeowners buying into the market. With that information, MPower was able to display the predictive energy costs over a 10-year period of ownership. (Why no Baltimore map? Because the energy usage data from Baltimore Gas and Electric required authentication the MPower team didn’t have.)
  • In third place, with a $500 prize, was Therml. It’s a simple web application that asks for a user’s zip code. From the zip information the application delivers the outside temperature, as well as a list of recommendations from EnergyStar on how a user can save money by adjusting the inside temperature of their house or apartment. So, for example: if it’s 55 degrees Fahrenheit outside, as it was during Sunday afternoon’s demo, EnergyStar recommends a person set their thermostat to 56 degrees just before going to bed. (Although, that doesn’t seem overly practical. Sure, doing so will save a person money, but it’ll also be mighty chilly inside their house.)

“We didn’t want this to be a competition, to build the best, most sustainable business for this weekend,” said Betamore cofounder and hackathon organizer Mike Brenner. “We wanted people who could build cool stuff.”


Andrew Zaleski

Andrew Zaleski is a freelance journalist outside Washington, D.C. He's written for Wired, Backchannel, Popular Science, Fortune, the Washington Post Magazine, the Atlantic and elsewhere.


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