Eight creative student teams spent a whole weekend developing sustainable solutions during the Future Energy and Autonomy Hack.
A hackathon is an intense work session in which participants with varying skills come together to solve specific problems. At Future Energy and Autonomy Hack, some 35 students took part in solving three challenges that the University of Stavanger had received from external partners, all of which revolved around the climate and the environment:
Industrial group Lyse requested more sustainable solutions for the operation of data centres, with an emphasis on the waste heat that such centres produce.
Mobility company Kolumbus AS wanted solutions that could reduce car use at university campus Ullandhaug, and instead encourage alternative means of transport that produce less emissions.
KVS Technologies needed better algorithms to decipher the images that their drones take of important infrastructure far away from people, such as power lines in the mountains.
The students who signed up were divided into eight teams, which then chose for themselves which challenge they wanted to work on.
Reduced car use
Four teams took on the challenge of environmentally friendly transport to campus. They came up with a host of solutions, from shuttle buses for employees and students, to various forms of parking charges that could then finance other solutions, a "gamification" system in which the user is paid with points that can provide various benefits, and even a transport centre on campus with electric scooters, mobile library and a “pickup” centre for food on the way home.
Environmentally friendly data centres
Three teams tried to solve the data centre challenge. Two of them had variants of the same idea, namely to create decentralised data centres in basements around the city. The third group suggested using waste heat from the data centre to cultivate fungi, thereby contributing to locally sourced food.
The third challenge concerned the development of artificial intelligence (AI) to decipher images from drones that monitor critical infrastructures outside of densely populated areas. Currently, the problem is that there are not enough images to train the algorithms. The student team proposed a method of producing artificial variants of the images, so that the AI could be trained after all.
"Best in show"
A jury decided the proposal from Ayushi Rai, Anders N Sundli, Lilian Lhommeau and Sharath Chandar Joghee was the best. Instead of putting up servers in large buildings that use valuable new land and produce a great deal of waste heat, the student team suggested creating a decentralised system.
The idea is that new apartment blocks and industrial buildings can set aside space in their basements, which they rent out to a server farm. The data centre gets access to valuable space, while the building receives valuable waste heat for heating.
Providing "hope for the future”
It is up to the world to decide whether the solutions should be developed further. But several of the student groups intend to work further on their solutions, with regard to commercialisation. In any case, the students have gained valuable experience in solving specific challenges, collaborating in teams and learning the challenge-based learning method.
"I had a great time at the hackathon. I believe all students should participate in it regardless of their academic background. It is a good platform for networking and team building skills," says Ayushi Rai from the winning team.
Helleik Line Syse, administrative leader for Future Energy Hub, was impressed by the students’ solutions.
“It is incredibly inspiring to see how the students went from not knowing one another to finding creative solutions for complex challenges over the course of a single weekend! At the same time, they were trained in the method of challenge-based learning. Working with so many talented students gives me a lot of faith in the future,” says Syse.
More problems to "hack"
Future Energy and Autonomy Hack was organised by several bodies at UiS; the energy network Future Energy Hub, the Smart sustainable cities research network and the student innovation centre Lyspæren UiS.
The jury consisted of Guro Skjæveland (Nysnø), Karl Fjelde Nevland (Nordic Edge) and Minnah Fahmida Haniffa (University of Stavanger)
The university is organising a new hackathon at the end of the month. That hackathon will deal with democracy building.
Text and photos: Leiv Gunnar Lie