Eco Rangers Logo


On July 6, 2016, Niantic and Nintendo took the world by storm with the release of their hotly anticipated game, Pokemon Go. An instant chart-topper, Pokemon Go (taking cues from its predecessor, Ingress) showed the potential of location-based augmented reality games and paved the way for a location-based revolution in gaming. The pitch is simple: why not take the addictive formula of a location-based game and remix it into a fun, data-driven clean tech solution for towns and cities?

Let's get started.

How to Play

[Eco Rangers!]( Once signed up and ready to go, players (we call them _rangers_) are set loose into their own neighborhoods armed with nothing but their wits, their phones and a virtual map dotted with points of interest and locations to explore. The object of the game? Earn as many points as possible, level up, and become an Eco Ranger king of the hill by making the community cleaner, leaner and greener every day.

Eco Rangers Play Map

Four location beacons are built into Eco Rangers by default (with support for more coming soon):

  • Recycling Bins - give them your bottles!
  • Charging Stations - if you're cruising in an electric vehicle
  • Trash Cans - litter in a trash can is better than litter on the ground
  • Bus Stops - let's be efficient with our transportation!

Points are awarded for a variety of eco-friendly behaviors:

Tagging: Using location services and phone cameras, users will gain points for reporting and tagging areas with harmful eco-practices (think ..). Users can also gain points for cleaning up and taking care of (where appropriate) these areas. On the flip side, users can gain points by tagging great examples of eco-friendly actions in their community (think a corporate building newly outfitted with solar panels). When a player marks a spot with a resource type the area is checked for an existing place object within a tenth of a mile with the same resource type. If a place doesn't exist the place is created and marked and they're assigned an initial amount of points for the discovery. As other players mark that point the initial player receives more points for the confirmation on a decreasing scale, the other players also receive some points for marking an existing spot

Events: Eco Rangers isn't a one-sided game! State and corporate officials (or any other verifiable entities) have the opportunity to set up beacons calling for Eco Ranger help! The next time a park ranger finds a hiking trail covered in trash and litter, a beacon can be set up to get the mess cleaned up and taken care of with the help of Eco Rangers. Event participation varies in points, but will almost always yield larger quantities.

What it does

Education: The big high school rivalry used to take place over a football field in a battle of strength and speed. Now, it takes place in the cloud in a battle for green supremacy. May the cleanest community win.

Transportation: When we're efficient with our transportation, we're green with our transportation. By promoting the use of public transportation and the minimization of our reliance on fossil fuels, Eco Rangers promotes a cleaner community and a greener world.

Community Service: This is the aspect that we are the most excited about. By mobilizing an enthusiastic group for projects that benefit the environment, Eco Rangers promotes an organic (excuse the pun) involvement with the community.

Reams of Data: All data submitted by Eco Rangers will be publicly available through the Eco Rangers API. Think on a macroscopic level here: asset-use management (how many people are going through this bus stop, and should we put a recycling bin there?), time plots (when is an non eco-friendly action most likely to occur?), heatmaps, and just about any other stat or metric. When implemented at a larger scale, Eco Rangers could potentially act as a tool for local governments to take their first green step in the right direction.

How we built it

The web application is built using Ruby on Rails with a Postgres database. Maps are shown using the Google Maps API with points pulled from the application database based on the player's latitude/longitude. Compass!

Since not all players will have a mobile device Wenny explored the idea of having a wearable device that could be used to mark points. This data would be uploaded later when the device was able to access wifi or a phone with bluetooth

Challenges we ran into

As with bootstrapping any application laying the initial groundwork can be difficult and frustrating. In addition when you make an app available on the web there are lot of considerations around security and setup that you don't need to do when developing locally. Communicating sensor data from the Arduino software to the Android through Bluetooth.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Our demo works! This was haaaaaaaaaaaaaard.

What we learned

Lukas: Got a hefty Ruby refresher and became completely immersed in Ruby on Rails. Had a brief scrape with Vim and learned the ways of Sublime. As an amateur programmer, real-world experience like this is incredibly valuable.

Wenny: Set up communications between Arduino code and Android phone by Bluetooth SPP on Intel Edison board. Configured WiFi on Intel Edison through a shell. Loves this stuff.

Jeff: It's been awhile since I did a web app from the start so it was fun to get back into that. Also, I had never used the Google Maps API so it was great to learn about geolocation and complex distance calculations.

What's next for Eco Rangers

By incorporating a physical attachment onto recycling containers, we hope to be able to more accurately track what is being placed into recycling cans, (and perhaps who is placing it). This way, players can be held accountable for what they deposit, and would have points deducted if they placed something non-recyclable into the receptacle. To accomplish this. we are considering incorporating a photo gate, which is much more reliable than an accelerometer system, and a camera, to record what is placed in. This will also prevent city and town officials from having to sort through waste and garbage, instead allowing them to simply look at recordings instead. In addition, we definitely plan on porting the game to iOS and Android and creating an app that players can simply download and play on their phones. Eco Rangers is already taken! We need a new name.

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