Photo by Faustine Miura
On Nov. 10, Seniors Tyler Birchard, Jimmie DiGiacinto, Riley Kennicott, Ava Lowell, Juniors Trey Amrich, Anthony Bragg, Kobe Uyeda and Sophomore Shane Parslow placed first in the Hawai’i Annual Code Challenge (HACC). HACC is a hackathon influenced competition designed to allow community members to innovate state functions and services. The team had to create an app that resolves the problem with energy usage.
“The main purpose of our app was to give the user a simple and streamlined interface that they could use to display the energy data from UH Manoa. We gave them parameters to filter the data so that they could view the data for any time interval and any amount of buildings, allowing the user to actually look at the data and make judgements based upon the overall trend,” said Birchard.
HACC provided the students with the opportunity to solve a real world problem. The point of creating this app was to visualize energy data in order to help reduce the massive usage of power. “The purpose was to take the energy usage data from the UH Manoa energy usage building trackers, and make a visual representation of the data that would be easy for people to understand. We met the goal by creating a line graph that displays the data, and a line graph can be easily read,” said Kennicott. Class of ‘18 alumnus Jason Godmere who mentored the team added, “The app starts by taking inventory of all available buildings and time intervals from the CSV file and loads each buildings on the interface automatically as its own button. This allows the user to simply toggle the button and click the graph button to access the data.”
The database file was provided by the UH Office of Energy in CSV file; a spreadsheet format. Their app outputs this data onto a graph. “The user has control over the time range of the data displayed, the buildings for which this data is displayed, and the option to add markers denoting noon and midnight of each day. We decided to do it this way because we wanted to give them a simple solution to visualize the data, something better than staring at a massive sheet of data and deciding what to do with it. Users can also, with multiple instances of the program, compare energy outputs for the same buildings over different time periods, visualizing changes and anomalies that might happen with a building over the course of say, two separate years,” said Birchard.
The team had three weeks to work on the app. They spent over 50 hours on it with the help of Godmere who participated in HACC as a senior. “Going into this project I knew that there were three key aspects that we needed to have a working concept in time. They were proper use of Python and the libraries we were using, a plan of action in the structure of the program and a cohesive knowledge of version control, in this case got, to work together and stay on the same page. Since the team had very different skill sets and knowledge, the first week was entirely on getting everyone up to speed on the plan of action and the software tools involved,” said Godmere.
The team split up into three subteams who worked on user interface, reading the database file and allowing the app to interpret it and outputting interpreted data onto a graph. “During the development phase, which lasted about one and a half to two weeks, we would all come in every day after school and work for about three to four hours, each of us independently working on the separate aspects of our program,” said Birchard. “For much of that development period we would each work with our subteams to complete our assigned portion of the program. Personally, I broke up the user interface subteam into creating each of the individual components of the user interface.”
After working in the three subteams, the team worked together to merge the three sections — user interface, database code and the outputted data onto a graph — together, which proved to be the most challenging part. “However when we tried to integrate the database program with the user interface, this functionality completely crashed. We were all working tirelessly on this problem for these hours, breaking down each aspect of the code, from our user interface code to the other subteam’s database code. Eventually, we came to an epiphany, moving a chunk of code from one function to another, changing the way the program interpreted it and solving the problem,” said Birchard. Kennicott added, “It took a lot of work and effort, but after about 10 hours of work we finally got everything working smoothly.”
The apps were judged in two parts: technical evaluation and the presentation of their demonstration. These two parts were both weighted 50 percent in judging. The team presented their app in a three minute long presentation, showing off the app’s features and how it provides a solution to the problem. “The judges were then given time to question us and bring up the shortcomings of our programs, much to the dismay of every team. During this period we were scored on many of the same aspects as the technical review, but new criteria was included, such as sustainability and team collaboration,” said Birchard.
From this experience, the team learned the value of teamwork after collaborating to create their first place winning app. For more information about HACC and their challenges, you can go to http://hacc.hawaii.gov/