Even though the team started with another app idea, an iterative human-centered design process was used that changed our perception of the problem. End users did not demonstrate a need for a bill paying/energy tracking system, they instead desired better communication and transparency during power outages. We felt that a solution to this problem would have the most significant possible benefit of any idea we could tackle through a single app.
What it does
Taking customer feedback listed above, we created Dominion CandleLight and Dominion Torch, an experiential system that guides customers through the dark during a power outage. Dominion CandleLight is the app, which includes features like power outage reporting, outage map interaction, restoration tracking, determining if nearby restaurants/libraries have power, and can easily turn smartphones into functional technician communication devices for out-of-state and contracted workers after severe storms. It also serves as the app for our hardware component, Dominion Torch. Simply put, Torch is a lithium-ion battery backup system similar to Tesla’s Powerwall, but with additional features geared specifically for Dominion customers. It has a 30kWh storage capacity, which can power the average residential house at full usage for an entire day, and gives usage statistics through CandleLight. It is composed of, it houses enough energy to power a fridge for 17 days, and it can toggle specific appliances when wired to a breaker box. It functions as a Dominion smart meter using the same radio mesh reporting technology and has a cheaper lifetime cost than the lifetime cost of a similar capacity natural gas or gasoline generator. Most importantly, it improves Dominion’s bottom line on their least profitable days, as the energy use during a blackout still is sold by Dominion.
How we built it
Intense ideation gave way to wireframe sketches, which then allowed the team to create the app using Canva and demo it in InVision. User feedback shaped every stage of this iterative app design process. Technical knowledge and research were utilized in sizing and designing the battery system, and it was designed in SolidWorks to fully illustrate the idea. To have a physical 3D model, the SolidWorks part was sent to a MakerBot 3D printer.
Challenges we ran into
This biggest challenge we ran in to was determining how to make the app. As a group of three mechanical engineers and one computer engineer, we lacked programming skills. We were are to compensate for that by using Invision, a web application that helps us create an app without the need to program.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We managed to find a viable idea that could be implemented with little allocation of resources for the app, and the Dominion Torch gives Dominion a path to be an industry leader in combating the effects of power outage. The level of business analysis far surpassed what we expected, but it is surely an accomplishment for our team. Our comprehensive submission was the result of many hours of brainstorming, creating user personas, drafting user story maps, and completing SWOT analyses, which was an accomplishment as well. The cost-competitiveness of our designed battery was also a huge accomplishment.
What we learned
We learned about the value of user feedback and finding exactly what the customer wants in a design. In addition, we learned about the viability of residential battery backup systems, which is a field that has not been fully developed but is ready for a new innovative company to come swooping in.
What's next for Dominion CandleLight and Torch
Further research can be completed for the specific components needed to build the Torch system, and a final app can be created from our ideas. With funding or some other way to secure the needed components, this system could be built and tested