TL;DR

Cleantech East took their Clean tech hackathon to University Technology College Norfolk where the winning team, OneLife, conceptualised an idea where a single app on your phone would bring together every electrical appliance in your house.

The students at University Technology College Norfolk (UTCN) were set this challenge:

What challenges does Norwich and the surrounding area face for the future, and how can we make communities more sustainable and resilient to environmental change?

The idea of this is to push students to come up with innovative solutions to very real problems. Immediate ideas from the students involved problems with transport infrastructure, clean energy, smart technology and unsustainable city facilities. Buses, specifically, were a key pain point for the students, as many of them get the bus every day and so there were various ideas with how to improve the network in the area.

Smart Bus Stops

One group theorised that bus stops could be much smarter and alleviate issues with getting the bus. Their plan was to create a bus stop which had a ticket machine built into it, as well as a relevant app. Some of this technology already exists, bus tickets on apps are already in use in Norwich. However, the group wanted to push for total use of the app, effectively charging people 10p more if they wanted to have a paper ticket. They also combined solar panels and built in screens to share real time information with bus users. Instead of estimated minute counts, they proposed a screen which showed you the exact location of the bus, similar to the Uber app.

What’s interesting about this ideas is that it uses almost no new technology, it merely combines existed technology in a new way. Something that is often overlooked in innovation, most infrastructure for change is already in place, it just requires someone with the right idea to see how it can be combined.

Another group wanted to implement kinetic floors across areas of Norwich. Using technology developed by Pavegen they foresaw large areas of pedestrian walkways being converted into kinetic flooring. Kinetic flooring works by converting the pressure exerted on it by a pedestrian into circular motion below the surface. This produces clean energy from nothing but people walking by.

Hackathons are Productive

Pushing for innovation is something that is at the very heart of what Hackathons are about. Innovation doesn’t come from nothing, but instead attempts to answer a specific problem. Local young people are the engineers, entrepreneurs, investors and inventors of the future and so Hackathons can give an amazing insight into the ideas that they already have. That isn’t their only use though, as hackathons are an approach any business can use, put forward a specific challenge with no obvious solution (sometimes called wicked problems) and give small teams the opportunity to explore the issue in depth and pitch their solutions to the group.

Working like this is intense and challenging, but the way in which ideas can bounce around the room is amazing. At UTCN we used 60 students in 15 teams. That’s 15 separate ideas for innovation, with pitches, within 5 hours. That level of productivity is hard to come by in day to day business life. Which is where the power of hackathons really comes in. By providing a structure to innovate within, ideas are much easier to come across and the intensity of dedicating several hours to it really allows concepts to develop, instead of being a passing thought or a lost email.

OneLife

The winning group, OneLife designed an app for your phone that brought all your household appliances into one place. The idea is similar to Nest, who provide home temperature control, and were bought out by Google to incorporate their technology into Google Home devices. OneLife, however would go one step further and you could use the GPS of your phone to trigger certain events. For example the heating and lights could turn on once you are in a certain radius. You could also set all non-essential items to turn off at the wall when you are out of the house. No more need to worry about leaving your straighteners on, or wondering if you turned the heating off.

The OneLife team won because they demonstrated the three key qualities being looked for:

Professionalism

Originality

Feasibility

Their pitch was incredibly professional, very well made and clear. Their idea took something that existed and really built upon it, highlighting ways it could be expanded and the innovative consequences of their it. On top of all that it was an incredibly feasible idea, with companies like Nest already showing huge success there has been a demonstration of the possibility of this technology.

So congraturations OneLife team! 

If you are interested in having the Cleantech Hackathon brought to your school, please get in touch with the Cleantech East Team here: ishipperlee@hethelinnovation.com