Business & Economy

HackVT winners invent way to track daily carbon footprint

BURLINGTON – Dozens of developers and students gathered last weekend at the fifth annual HackVT to crack open the state’s voluminous environmental data to develop a software application that would help to abate the impact of climate change.

The hackathon attracted 54 participants who slogged through a mostly sleepless 24 hours to compete for a total of $20,000 in cash and prizes.

Hack the Climate was the theme of the Oct. 9-10 event, which was held in the FairPoint building at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, a co-working and small-business incubator that’s hooked up to the city’s 1 gigabit super high-speed Internet connection.

Competitors were given more than 140 data sets, collected by the contest’s organizers, the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce.

Team ManBearPig, L to R, Beau Cameron, Roger Rodriguez, Ian Scott and Tyler Ortiz from Competitive Computing in Colchester. Photo:Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce/LaunchVT
Team ManBearPig, L to R, Beau Cameron, Roger Rodriguez, Ian Scott & Tyler Ortiz. Photo: Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce/LaunchVT

The winning team, ManBearPig – a set of professional software developers from Competitive Computing, which goes by C2 – took home $5,000 for creating a Web-based application called One Day.

The One Day application measures greenhouse gas emissions for daily energy use, including time spent in the shower and the night-time temperature of a home. The app is designed to help consumers learn how they can cut back on energy use and contribute to a greener environment.

“On a typical day we take a shower … how long do we shower for? I don’t know, let’s say 15 minutes,” explained Roger Rodriguez, as he entered the information into the app using a drop-down menu.

The One Day app interface. Photo courtesy ManBearPig.
The One Day app interface. Photo courtesy ManBearPig.

“We get some feedback here, saying if we took just a five minute shower, we’d be preventing 332 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere every year,” he said, as the app, playing on screen displays around the room, did the calculations and translated them into a visualizations.

The One Day team, which also included Beau Cameron, Tyler Ortiz and Ian Scott, used data from the Vermont Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report, the Vermont Town Energy Report supplied by Efficiency Vermont, fueleconomy.gov, and various state resources. All but Cameron work at C2.

Second place went to Burlington’s Daft Labs, a software and marketing firm, for creating a mobile app, Requiem, similar to a fitness tracker or calorie counter, that allows the user to compete for redemption points for improving the CO2 emissions on their commute. The team took home $3,000 for the app.

James Thompson, Zach Lincoln, Jonathan Blair and Dan Mowchan (L-R) from Daft Labs in Burlington, won second prize in HackVT, 2015. Photo: Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce/LaunchVT.

The third-place prize went to System42, a Massachusetts-based team, that developed a methane-sensor mounted on a drone that can deliver real-time readings for agricultural companies and environmental agencies by accessing areas typically hard to reach. In the demonstration to judges, they placed a sensor near an aerosol can, and showed how the readings could fluctuate as the methane was produced in various quantities. The team members were awarded $2,000.

The competition was stiff for the student prize, since 31 of the 54 participants at HackVT were in college or high school. Bennington College, Champlain College, Essex High School, Middlebury College, Norwich University, University of Vermont and Vermont Technical College all had teams at the competition.

A screenshot of Grow, an app built at HackVT by Bennington College students. By geo-tagging neighbors in a two-mile radius, the app allows them to sell, share, or barter their food products to others nearby and cut down on CO2 emissions. Courtesy of Rohail Altaf.
A screenshot of Grow. Courtesy of Rohail Altaf.

Three Bennington College students, Rohail Altaf, Asad J. Malik and Sarah Shames, landed the student prize for Grow, a mobile app that helps people find local food.

Grow connects people who live within a two-mile radius of one another and have an abundance of vegetables or homemade food items – such as preserves, breads or canned goods – and gives them a way to exchange, barter or sell the goods from their own supply to their neighbors.

“As we were eating Cheetos for 24 hours, we wondered how we could hack the climate in the meaningful way. Around the fifth bag we began to think about how a lot of the food we’re eating nowadays has a huge carbon footprint attached to it, because it’s traveling hundreds of thousands of miles,” explained Rohail Altaf as he introduced Grow as an “ecosystem that lets you sell or trade items that you grown in your backyard.”

Malik chimed in, adding, “Climate change has become almost a cliched kind of topic. We’ve heard about it so much that it almost doesn’t matter to us when we hear about it anymore. What we wanted is that everyone should be able to derive direct value out of it. Even if you’re a climate change denier, you want to use it, because it does you good.”

Bennington College student team
Bennington College student teammates Sarah Shames, Rohail Altaf and Asad J. Malik won the student prize. Photo: Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce/LaunchVT.

The Bennington students went home with a $2,000 prize for the concept, which was launched and working as of Saturday afternoon.

The green ingenuity didn’t end with the award winners. Influence, a Web-based application developed by Voight-Kampff Crackers, a team of engineers from Green Mountain Software, used a government open-data application program interface, to develop a way for Vermont voters to follow environmentally connected bills through the state Legislature. The app allowed users to directly contact state elected officials, and by writing letters or sharing their opinions and information about certain bills, gain points within the game-like space.

Another team, Strubik, used ocean water-level data to create a flood-mapping visualization of the earth, to project where future flood zones would be in increments of 25 years at a time.

CORRECTION: The Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies is in the FairPoint building, not Burlington Telecom, as was stated in an earlier version of this story.


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  • Jim Barrett

    The problem is the more we cut back, the higher the taxes go to compensate for lower usage. The state government lives on a system that encourages high consumption or the out of control spending will not survive. While we reduce the amount of gas we buy, the state complains they are not getting enough of our tax dollars…so expect higher gas taxes soon.

    • Randy Jorgensen

      Jim you are absolutely correct in your claims. I built a energy star home and got a higher property tax bill as the result.

      reason: “quality of construction”

  • greg Lapworth

    Did you notice none of these “Green” people were wearing white to help the earths albedo? They are not being very considerate of mother earth. They are part of the problem….when they “go white” we should maybe listen. Then get them to paint their houses white too. Help save the earth!