After seeing that this competition valued innovation and usefulness to real-world users, we knew we wanted to create a hack that had the ability to profoundly impact suburban, urban, and rural areas around the world. While struggling to find a universal problem, we were struck with an idea when I went to the bathroom and saw that the light was already on. With our knowledge of Arduino and basic sensor technology design, we created a hardware-software solution that we believe can notify users of their electrical utility usage and deliver specific feedback that optimizes the efficiency of their utilization. Thus, we decided to develop a system that made electricity wastage an issue of the past.
What it does
VoltHome collects data from several households in local communities, stores it in a database, and then provides accurate analysis of micro and macro energy usage trends. If a particular household’s usage is inefficient relative to the rest of the neighborhood and town, we can identify the localized issue (e.g. faulty wiring). However, if we detect that an entire community’s energy usage is inefficient, we can notify the appropriate agency to take action and identify the issue.
For our hack, we first built schematics for a small, cost-effective device that measures voltage values . This device can be deployed in a home’s central wiring system and its sole responsibility is to record data and deposit it into a database. Once in the cloud, our software works to develop accurate readings that efficiently provide user-specific energy usage feedback.
Moreover, as the number of VoltHome user’s grows, the program will be able to give better analysis on the source of water security issues and give local officials an efficient tool to remedy the problems in their community.
How we built it
First we designed the hardware of VoltHome. First, we soldered the CT sensor, ESP32, capacitor, resistors and LCD Display onto a protoboard. Our design connects the CT sensor to the microcontroller, cleans up the signal, and makes sure we can safely read out its measurements. The CT sensor clips around the main wire of a person’s house and transforms the magnetic field around the cable into a voltage. Then, we had to ingest the hardware data. The company OpenEnergy Monitor provides an open source system called the EmonCMS to ingest data from the energy monitors. We utilized their cloud service which only costs us $1 a year to store the data. After the cloud architecture was implemented, we needed to supply sensor data. Using an Arduino framework, we imported the necessary libraries to transfer the data from the ESP32. Since, we wanted the ESP32 to continuously send readings to the cloud, we also created a function that configured the ESP32 to use a custom hostname, ensuring quick network access.
Challenges we ran into
Designing custom sensors that would still maintain data fidelity was also a difficult task. We had to undertake a solid understanding of the core physics of the more expensive sensors and develop analogous sensors ourselves. For example, for the CT sensor, we had trouble clamping it over the main cable and transforming the magnetic field around the cable into a voltage.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We are very proud of having achieved so much in so little time. Even though we may have had to pull an all-nighter, we were knowledgeable in each of the domains that we were working in and the hardware portion was put together with great care. We are also proud to have utilized a variety of different platforms on the front-end, back-end, and hardware side of things.
What we learned
We learned a lot of skills in cross-platform integration and hardware development/integration. The cross-platform elements of the software and hardware design took into account many considerations and required us to learn new skills in those spaces.
What's next for VoltHome
We plan on building an app to display energy readings and optimizing our user interface for mobile devices. This app would allow the user to monitor the voltage values of each appliance in their house and compare those values to the wider community averages. Moreover, one of the most important parts of our design is its cost effectiveness, so we hope to continue experimenting with different materials. Finally. We hope to potentially implement the device in some communities to run a pilot study that can determine the effectiveness and utilization rate of our solution.