By Siddharth Vodnala, intern, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture
PULLMAN, Wash. – Zach Gherman carefully connected his wind turbine to a voltmeter, a device that measures electric voltage, and waited for a reading to emerge. After several nervous seconds of peering into the screen, he pumped his fists in the air and said “six volts,” while his teammate Yousef Saleh grinned broadly.
Their wind turbine had just generated enough electricity to power a motor to pump water into soil. They had also used a moisture sensor to precisely measure the water required for planting seeds. This would take them a step closer to realizing their goal of saving water and energy in agriculture.
Sherman and Saleh, juniors in computer science and mechanical engineering respectively, were two of nearly 80 students who recently gave up sleep to take part in a 24-hour hardware hackathon organized by WSU’s Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers chapter.
The students, from freshmen to Ph.D.s, built hardware projects to help the environment or save energy, tying them in to the hackathon theme of “Iluminating Green.”
Projects ranged from a sensor that saves energy by detecting when your fridge is overloaded or empty to a robotic centipede that carries plants on its back to follow sunlight.
Students took over the Frank Innovation Zone in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture to build the hardware for their projects. Some of the projects included:
A miniature tractor that collects soil moisture data and plants seeds autonomously. Freshman Logan Dihel, who came up with the idea, said he wanted to make it easier to maintain large scale community gardens. But people with personal gardens can also use the invention, he said. “Sometimes maintaining a garden can feel like too much maintenance,” Dihel said. “We want to make it easy for people to grow gardens and eat healthier.”
- Electrical Engineering junior Joseph Ostheller was once trying to brew kombucha — a sweetened tea drink — in his apartment, when he noticed that the apartment was too cold for brewing. “I didn’t want to heat my whole apartment, I just wanted to keep one specific thing warm using the least amount of energy,” Ostheller said. He took a commercially available heating pad, gutted its electronics and modified it to sense the temperature of the room and heat only when it fell below 75 degrees. “To take a problem from my life, come up with a solution and then actually build it in a hackathon was a powerful learning experience,” Ostheller said.
The overall prize for best project was won by Team “2B V !2B” – pronounced “to be or not to be” – for building a website that lets users select how much light they want in their house and connecting it to a mechanism that automatically senses the amount of light and adjusts the blinds. This saves energy and reduces the need for artificial lighting. Daniel Goto, who came up with the idea, met several of his team members only at the hackathon. “It’s exciting to meet new people from different majors and work together on applying the concepts we all learned in class,” he said.
IEEE chair Mary Martinsen said they started organizing hardware hackathons two years earlier, with this year’s edition being the largest yet in terms of participation. “The idea was to create a comfortable environment where students could build new hardware, learn new coding languages and experience the fun of being an engineer,” she said.
The hackathon was sponsored by Boeing, Astronics, the Residence Hall Association, Associated Students of Washington State University (ASWSU) and the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
- Tina Hilding, communications director, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, 509-335-5095, firstname.lastname@example.org