Earth Hacks Make-a-thon

October 2015

Stanford EE is pleased to have hosted the first sustainability focused make-a-thon: Earth Hacks. During the 21-hour event, which began Friday, October 30th, teams and individuals were challenged to imagine and make novel solutions to current environmental issues. The event welcomed nearly 100 students from several departments. 

Participating teams demonstrated their projects to judges from faculty and industry during the final leg of the event. "It was impressive to see the intensity and productivity of the students," Professor Bob Dutton said. "After working less than 24 hours, the students presented some quite amazing results."

Because electrical engineering intersects a number of disciplines, the EE department is an ideal makerspace hub. The event kicked off with an Arduino workshop sponsored by Atmel. The Atmel Tech On Tour truck provided a lively, fully equipped makerspace. Tech On Tour also provided technical support for the duration of the event.

"I was also glad to see EE students offering to teach their friends skills like programming and Arduino and soldering," said Earth Hacks organizer, Gary Lee (EE, B.S. '17). 

"The best part about Earth Hacks was having the parts, tools, and a mentor from Atmel to explore Arduino freely," said Anna Zeng (CS, B.S. '18). "Suddenly gaining access to a full-fledged makerspace really changed my attitude towards tackling hardware. Additionally – and quite remarkably – what I found curiously liberating was the lack of the pressure of a hack-a-thon, as everyone around me was learning about the platform just as I was."

Earth Hacks first place

Judging took place on Saturday afternoon. Earth Hacks judges included Stanford professors Bob Dutton and Juan Rivas-Davila; aerospace reliability consultant, Gary Swift; and Y.C. Wang, Atmel's University Program Manager.

First place went to Zero Fire team, who fully integrated sensors with an Atmel microcontroller and Bluetooth wireless hardware to create a heat/smoke/combustibles detection system; the software then relayed warnings and initiated first-responder calls. 

The 'Zero Fire' team included Rubi Mendoza (MS&E, M.S. '17), Fabian Badillo (ME, B.S. '19) and Valerie Garcia (CS, B.S. '19). "We had a lot of fun developing our 'zero fire' project", said Rubi Mendoza, a first year MS&E graduate student. "We were encouraged to come up with a crazy idea and make it happen."

The opportunity to move beyond the design stage and into implementation gave the students confidence in new areas, allowing them to expand their comfort zone. 

"I did not have any experience in electrical engineering before participating," said Fabian Badillo (ME, B.S. '19). "This was definitely a rare opportunity to be able to imagine what the future may hold as I become more involved in the maker culture."

Valerie Garcia (CS, B.S. '19) shared this perspective. She said, "I'd never built anything before and I knew next to nothing going into Earth Hacks. But the resources there were amazing. Bob, Atmel's 'Arduino guy' taught me so much and it was a great experience to get to build something, basically from scratch, and see it working and actually being functional."

Earth Hacks 2nd place
Second place went to Anna Zeng (CS, B.S. '18) whose project measured and reported on varying humidity levels, allowing the user to manage percent of humidity in an environment.

Third place went to three students who built an energy conservation system. The team included Monica Chan (ME, B.S. '17), Mary Cirino (CS, B.S. '17) and Qian Li (CEE, M.S. '17). "It was our first time experiencing the magic of Arduino, and we all had a great time solving a real problem using what we had learned about hardware and software," said Qian Li.

The concept behind their energy conservation project developed an advanced illumination system for buildings on Stanford's campus. The basic idea consisted of two main sensors: the photo sensor and the pressure sensor. When there is enough daylight, the lights in the buildings automatically turn off. Otherwise, the lights will turn on only when someone touches the door at the entrance.

Earth Hacks 3rd place

Winning teams received prizes from sponsors, and included Myo armbands, a drone copter, Fitbits, and Kindle Fire tablets. Y.C. Wang, Earth Hacks sponsor and judge thanked the Electrical Engineering department and Stanford Robotics Club for making the event possible. "We were very excited to sponsor the Make-A-Thon at Stanford and really appreciated the opportunity to interact with the many talented students," Wang said. "We are extremely grateful for their support in bringing the Atmel Tech On Tour truck on campus."

Other Earth Hacks sponsors included Stanford IEEE Student Chapter, Red Bull, and DigiKey.