What it does:
The project consists of software and hardware. The software side is a webpage, cleverly named "IsMyRefrigeratorRunning.com", that allows a user to view a map of their area and whether or not there are any power outages. The map displays green icons on homes that have power, and red icons on homes that don’t. Only homes using the device will actually have a pin on the map.
The hardware side is a simple device – a Particle Electron 3G IoT board. The Electron is a neat device that can communicate over a cellular network with battery power, but it can also be plugged into the wall. Here’s how it works for our case:
The Electron is plugged into an outlet and a small battery at your home. If the power goes out, the outlet now fails to power the device, and it switches to battery powered operation. The software detects this change in power, waits 10 seconds to ensure that it was an actual failure, and then sends a text to the homeowner that their power is out.
Additionally, if the homeowner is willing, data will be sent to a database that stores the timestamp, device id, and location of an outage. It’s this database that feeds the website and displays power outages on the map.
Similarly, when power is restored to a home, the device will immediately detect a USB power source, and will then text the homeowner that power is back (after 10 seconds). Again, if the homeowner is willing, data can be sent to the database that power has been restored.
How we built it:
Dalton took the reigns on creating a skeleton website that features pretty much everything we would need. A page to display a map of the outages, and the ability to click on certain "devices" that you own to see where they show up on the map. The idea is that homeowners might also install some of these simple devices at a camp or vacation home, allowing them to get real-time updates about power outages, even if they’re hours away.
Nic provided the hardware and constructed a simple prototype, using LEDs to indicate power/no power. Additionally, he wrote the initial test code for the project.
Particle Electrons can be very finicky. Unfortunately, during our time at HackAE, we were unable to get the device to flash properly due to connectivity issues. However, given more time, we are confident we could get our starter code to work and produce a solid prototype experience.
Additionally, after registering our domain name, we wanted to be able to host our site using AWS. Unfortunately, we were unable to get access to the free services within the time frame of the competition, which was a bit frustrating.
We are proud of our idea and how it was inspired by a recent widespread outage (the largest outage in Maine history – we didn’t have classes for two days!). We feel this is a low-cost and consumer-friendly solution that could benefit homeowners and power companies by providing accurate and fast data to deal with outages.
Additionally, we made a sweet video of our time here, which you can view here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/EClubUMaine/videos/
What we learned:
Unexpected challenges such as flashing a simple development board can really halt a project! We anticipated that we would be able to get much further along with this project fairly quickly, but unfortunately ran into some lame technical issues.
Well we’d actually like to finish this thing! So we’ll keep trying to get some prototyping completed when we return to UMaine, and hopefully we can move the project toward completion. If you feel like checking in on the progress, this is where we’ll be hosting it: https://github.com/SpudNiche/ismyrefrigeratorrunning
Particle Electron, HTML, IFTTT, Google Maps