Students for a Smarter Planet ..leaders with conscience

Our very first IBM Students for a Smarter Planet Blog to kick-start this long-term project on big data analytics for environmental problem!!
On the 5th April, 2014, we finally have a chance to meet with our collaborators on this project, the professional staffs at the Hong Kong Clean Air Network, which is a non-government organization (NGO) that focuses on air quality issues in Hong Kong (and to certain extent those in Mainland China). Air pollution is a serious major problem that has plagued Hong Kong and also increasingly in many cities in Mainland China. This problem requires all levels of involvement from the society, and definitely long-term commitment. Trained as future engineers and computer scientists, we want to do our part as well, no matter how small it is.

The staffs at the Hong Kong Clean Air Network also provide all kinds of air quality monitoring equipments for loan to the public and to encourage the public to know more about the health impacts of air pollution. Truly altruistic bunch of great people!

We learnt a lot about scientific approach to air quality from them, probably things that we would never be able to learn at a university.  We borrowed an air quality monitoring sensor from them for our project. This is actually a product from TSI Inc. Here is the official website for this product: Here are the things we have:


Basically, this sensor can measure the air quality by the amount of fine particulate matter in mg/m3. The sensor can displays real-time aerosol concentration readings and can be recorded at programmable time intervals of 1 sec, 1 minutes, 5 minutes, 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes. The measuring area is the worker breathing zone, or area measurements with a respirable cyclone for this sensor. In order to capture the air quality statistics at the street level, we need to connect the sensor with a tube, and place the mouth of this tube near our noses as shown in the picture below. 


We are so excited to have a first recording soon!

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This month we have begun setting up the UTest House.  The UTest House is a 1300 square feet manufactured home at the University of Texas’s Pickle Research Campus. This test house is equipped with materials needed to monitor power use (W) and energy consumption (kWh), and understand how varying amounts of refrigerant in the HVAC unit, and air flow restrictions of the condenser HVAC unit change the performance of the system.

X10s are plugged into outlets, and are controlled through commands sent through electrical wiring. The X10s allow us to turn lamps and other electronics on and off through a remotely accessible computer. This allows us to control these amount of heat and moisture generated during different times of the day so that we can accurately recreate the amount of heat (sensible loads) created at different time of the day from people and other heat generating sources (e.g. appliances and electronics) . For instance, during the night, the amount of heat increases because occupants return from their jobs. Now that we understand these patterns, we are programming the test house to reflect this.smRT x10

In addition to producing heat, occupants also produce moisture. To recreate this in  the test house, humidifiers will beused. The amount of water evaporated was measured to determine how much moisture was released into the air. In our initial attempts, too much moisture was being released. The amount of heat and moisture we want to create is based on an algorithm, which determined the number of occupants in a home based on the number of bedroom in a home; the UTest House has three.

smRT Humidifier

According to the Building Simulation Protocol by National Renewable Energy Laboratory, we should expect to see 220 Btu/person/h produced in sensible loads. Sensible Loads refers to temperature and can be detected using a typical thermometer. We should also expect to see 164 Btu/person/h in latent loads. Latent heat cannot be detected using a typical thermometer. Latent heat refers to changes in the moisture in the building, but does not result in changes in temperature.

smRT image

Setting up the UTest House is in progress. Repairs to the weather station, which will measure wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, and sunlight, will be needed before we can start testing. We will begin testing and measuring the power used by the HVAC unit shortly. Using CT collars, the current and voltage of the HVAC unit will be measured. This will be used to calculate the power required to run the unit.

Once testing is successful and complete, we will compare our experimental results with the results predicted by energy modeling software. The goal is to create an algorithm that will show if there is a fault in the HVAC system.

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Update from Longhorn Lights Out!  Things continue to go well with our program thanks to IBM’s support!  We have now completed 6 LLO events, and continue to build on our experiences to create at great campus energy conservation program. This past month, after turning off lights on campus, we watch the documentary “Switch” by Dr Tinker, a UT Austin Faculty Member.  We are also in the process of making a video about LLO to share with the world, thanks to the support from the UT Environmental Science Institute!  Thank you to all the enthusiastic student volunteers who have helped out so far – we look forward to one last event before the end of the semester!  We also look forward to presenting about our progress at the Engineers for a Sustainable World national conference this Saturday! We hope other universities will develop similar programs of their own!

Below is a recent article a UT Student, Elizabeth Robinson, wrote about our March event. Enjoy!


Longhorn Lights Out encourages community to conserve energy

On Friday, March 28, students, faculty and staff are encouraged to turn off light switches, computer monitors and other electronics as part of Longhorn Lights Out. The monthly event aims to raise awareness of energy conservation on campus and in the community.

Longhorn Lights Out’s latest event on Feb. 28, garnered volunteers who turned off lights in 28 buildings on campus, including 363 lights, 15 projectors and 189 computer monitors. This yielded a 14 percent energy reduction to each building visited.

During each event, organized by the UT Energy and Water Conservation Program (EWC), groups of two to five students visit up to four buildings together to turn of lights and electronics.

Past events have drawn as many as 50 volunteers who turned off 631 light switches, 49 projectors and 266 computer monitors in 35 buildings. In Fall 2013, EWC increased the frequency of the event to once every two months. In November, the University of Texas showed its support for the event by turning the Main Tower’s lights off for a night.

“As an iconic symbol of UT, we are so grateful and encouraged by UT’s support of this event,” said Kristen Cetin, a civil engineering graduate student.

EWC organized the first LLO in the spring 2013 semester. Staff, faculty and students were asked to turn off their lights and electronics. The event accomplished a 2.9 percent reduction of energy.

“This was very encouraging, but student involvement had been minimal,” Cetin said.

Since its first event, EWC has been able to partner with other student groups, including Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), the Campus Environmental Center and ASHRAE (The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers). Longhorn Lights Out was held twice during the Fall 2013 semester. Now, the event is held monthly, on the last Friday of each month.

“Eventually we hope to expand [Longhorn Lights Out] to the wider community and hope to get schools and the general public involved or allow them to participate in LLO events in their own homes,” Cetin said.

With the support of the university and increasing participation from students, Longhorn Lights Out continues to work to achieve whole-campus participation.

In the ideal situation, the number of light switches and electronics we turn out each time we do Longhorn Lights Out should be close to zero,” Cetin said. “Then we know that everyone is participating.


The University of Texas at Austin, through partnership between the UT Energy & Water Conservation ProgramEngineers for a Sustainable World, and ASHRAE , have developed an energy conservation program called Longhorn Lights Out.  This program’s purpose is to engage students, faculty, and staff in reducing energy use. Once a month students meet on Friday’s at 6:30 pm, and split up to survey all the campus buildings to reduce energy use by turning off lights, and electronics.  

- post by Kristen Cetin

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Students for a Smarter Planet is supporting Berkeley in running  their hackathon at the Energy Institute at Haas / Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative.

Entrants build software-based business solutions and open-source code for energy and resource challenges. Around 75 attendees (from computer science, information science, engineering, business, energy & resources, and other departments) will compete over the course of a weekend to build apps under two themes: 1) Water: Solving California’s Water Crisis and 2) Energy: Revolutionizing Building Energy Efficiency. Last year’s hackathon resulted in two software-based business solutions, WattTime and Thermostatly. Additionally, we will have an open-source coding track, to build open-source data collection standards for smart meter data. See more at

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Students for a Smarter Planet is proud to support this project!

The mobile phone application warns patients, especially the elderly, about medicine intake time with mobile devices via push notifications. it follows and records daily activities with calorie information and create reports for doctor or dietitian and supplies a connection from doctor to patient with private messages. The system also includes a hardware module which connects to mobile devices and gathers air pollution conditions and if necessary sends warnings  to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease patients. Patients can easily share activities to social media platforms. The system supports sharing of unused medicines in the population with NFC tracking. Its technical structure is based on IBM Technologies.

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