Budget It Yourself

BIY LogoBudget It Yourself (BIY, for short) is an Android application developed for the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Apps for Energy” competition in the spring of 2012. I teamed up with my longtime friend and fellow computer engineering classmate Bryan Marty and CIA student alumna (’12) Patty Ni (whom I met through my second advanced game development project class) to develop an application that makes use of Green Button Data.

If you’re interested in the story, read on. Otherwise, feel free to skip ahead to the app details. I also added some details about the Energy Datapalooza at the end.

Background & Story

(for those that are interested in such things… )

We had received a mass-mailer from our EECS department regarding the competition in mid April. I spoke with Patty about doing the artwork & design, and emailed Bryan about working on the app & website. Soon after, Team BIY was born!

Of course, we were not “Team BIY” until much later – it took a while to brainstorm the app  idea. We initially wanted to do a game, but at the time it wasn’t really feasible to automatically download a customer’s energy data from their utility provider (privacy issues, if I remember correctly, not to mention no real API support).

After much discussion, we settled on a “budgeting” paradigm – taking the guesswork out of how much energy a residence should be using (of course, there are issues with “should” – more on that later). We figured that if people were given a target, or energy goal, and were given intermittent reminders about how much they’ve used so far and have left for a given interval (i.e. a week or a month), they’d be more likely to budget their usage — turn off lights when they leave the room, shut down their computers at night, and in general, be more conscious of their home energy usage.

Given that the app was due right in the middle of finals, neither Bryan nor I had much of a chance to actually sit down and code anything. Meanwhile, Patty was busy with her own graduation requirements, so time was scarce. Somehow, Bryan found the time to develop the website & database backend, while I worked on the app’s UI, the green button data parsing, and the budgeting code. Later – crunch time – we both tweaked the app, and proceeded to package & upload it to the Google Play store (listed under Bryan’s developer account, link is in the footer). We submitted the link to our website & demo video, and crossed our fingers – all just a few minutes before the deadline.

App Description & Design

The basic idea was to simplify the process of budgeting as much as possible. To this end, we developed the idea of a “budget bulb” (or so I called it, I don’t think it caught on with the team… ), a stylized florescent light bulb that would empty out (think the battery meter on your phone or tablet) as you used your energy for the month. The app would tell you how many days were left of in the month, and what percentage of your energy you’d used up to that point. For those that like the numbers, we provided a graphing utility that could display the daily energy usage by month, or the monthly energy usage by year.

There are still many features we’d like to incorporate – namely, a smarter budgeting algorithm that takes into account more variables. We are currently working with CWRU faculty to set up a field test for the app; I’ll be sure to update if & when that happens.

Energy Datapalooza

Turns out, the DOE really liked the simplified budgeting idea, and BIY took 2nd place in the student competition! With this came a good amount of media attention:

Even more exciting was the (basically) all-expenses-paid trip to DC for the Energy Datapalooza on Oct. 1, 2012. Patty, Bryan, and I drove from Cleveland a couple days early to take in some of the sights, and we even spent some time in the hotel lobby for some last minute UI adjustments to the app.

Monday was the big day – first we heard from several speakers, all CEO’s of companies focused on clean energy. We heard from Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer of the U.S., and Stephen Chu, the U.S. Secretary of Energy. Chu was an incredible and inspiring speaker; his full datapalooza speech can be found here (you can actually see our backs in the video – I’m in the light blue shirt and Bryan is sitting to my right).

After all the talks, we were invited up on stage to shake hands with Todd Park and Stephen Chu and get our picture taken with them!

Afterwards, we set up shop in another room, and after a quick lunch it was time to demo our app! We set up two tablets (ASUS Transformer Infinity), two phones (my older Galaxy S, and Bryan’s newer Droid RAZR MAXX), and Bryan’s laptop to show the website.

Check out some photos of us making last-minute adjustments, of our setup & the Energy Datapalooza, and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building exterior (where the event was held).

And finally, here’s one more video about the event – Team BIY features quite prominently in it!