It started with a microphone, a stage, and an idea.
Dozens of designers, developers and energy experts were gathered. Some had met before, most were strangers. All of them shared an enthusiasm for working fast and solving big problems. And all of their eyes were on the stage.
One by one, innovators came to the microphone to explain their big idea for a new app that would use energy data to solve a challenge. The catch: a working prototype would need to be complete 24 hours later.
This was the scene the last three weekends at the Department of Energy's "Apps For Energy" Hackathons in Washington, D.C., San Diego, CA and Valley Forge PA. What happened next was nothing short of amazing.
After everyone with an idea had a chance to "pitch" the concept in front of their fellow attendees, the group split up and teams formed based on the ideas that people found most interesting. Soon, everyone was split into groups, strewn across the room at different tables and white boards, furiously sketching ideas for user interfaces and potential features.
By 9pm, teams were working, and many wouldn't stop except for a quick nap until 5pm the next day.
The Department of Energy is using these hackathons to expose the tech community to some of our most powerful datasets, standards and tools. The format works well because the short deadline forces teams to focus only on their best ideas, and lets participants get quick exposure to many different tools and technologies in their quest to build a great app in 24 hours.
At 5pm the next Saturday, exhausted teams were putting the final touches on their demos. One by one, teams took to the stage to demo what they had built. What they were able to accomplish was nothing short of amazing.
In Washington D.C., a team built an app that reviewed houses for sale on MLS and then estimated the yearly energy consumption so that a buyer would know how efficient the house was before making a purchase. Another team in Washington D.C. built a new way to quickly and efficiently search the Department of Energy's vast troves of data to find exactly what you're looking for. In San Diego, a team built a "virtual pet" called EleMon that grew happier and fatter the more energy its owners were able to save. In Valley Forge, PA a team built an app called “Incentive Finder” that allowed a user to enter their address, then quickly and easily find federal, state and local energy reduction incentives and local companies they can work with to help them make changes to save energy.
From idea, to forming a team to building a working app in 24 hours is nothing short of incredible. The fact that they were so high quality was nothing short of astounding.
Many of the teams that formed at the hackathons will continue to refine their ideas over the next month, as they prepare to submit the app to the American Energy Data Challenge "Apps for Energy" prize. Some may decide to continue to work together as team on the idea, eventually releasing the app to the public and possibly even forming a business.
But no matter what the next step is for the Apps that were born at our hackathons, every individual will come away from the experience with some new friends, and a better understanding of the tools and data available from the Department of Energy. That's the true power of the hackathon experience!
The next Department of Energy Apps for Energy Hackathon will be held at hack/reduce on Feb 15-16 in Cambridge, MA. We hope you’ll join!
Have a great energy-related application? Consider submitting it to the "Apps for Energy" Contest, part of the American Energy Data Challenge, by March 9.