CWRU students, CIA grad demonstrate award-winning energy-saving app to DOE today

Two computer programmers and an artist from Cleveland will demonstrate their award-winning cell phone app—designed to save homeowners energy and money—to federal energy, science, and environmental officials and industry leaders in Washington Monday.

Case Western Reserve University students Robert Karam and Bryan Marty and Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Patty Ni were invited to Energy Datapalooza for taking second place in the student division and $7,500 in prize money in the “Apps for Energy” challenge sponsored by the Department of Energy this year.

Their creation, called “Budget it Yourself,” or BIY, for short, takes energy data provided by power companies and converts it so that anyone who pays an electric bill can track their usage and, as the name says, budget their power consumption and costs via a smartphone. Currently the app is for Android devices only, but the three plan to develop an iOS version in the future.

They will show off their product to the likes of Energy Secretary Steven Chu at Datapalooza. The event is sponsored by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Council on Environmental Quality, the Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Ni, Marty and Karam knew each other from taking a computer game design class team-taught by faculty from Case Western Reserve and CIA. They learned of the competition from Michael Branicky, chairman of Case School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“We figured being an interdisciplinary team increased our chances,” said Ni, 22, a biomedical artist who moved here from Carmel, Ind. “We work well together so we said, ‘Why not?’” Ni designed all the looks and animation.

Karam, 22, of Dublin, Ohio, is a PhD student in computer engineering and loves algorithms. He built the user interface and wrote the code that displays a compact fluorescent “budget” lightbulb that starts each month whole and empties as energy is used daily.

Marty, 23, of Wooster, Ohio, is earning a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree computer science. He created the database and website where users can download Budget It Yourself  and worked on the energy usage tracking that displays daily and monthly energy consumption.

The judges of the apps competition praised their work with comments such as: “Design is eye-catching and consumer-friendly”; “When it comes to everyday living, the idea of budgeting is creative—it relates more to customers than branding like ‘conservation’ and ‘efficiency’”; and, “The app tackles the everyday challenge of personal budgeting.”

To use the app, a customer must find the Green Button data on his/her energy provider’s website (not all utilities have this available yet), upload his or her data and enter the pin number created at the BIY website.

“The phone will download the information and you can scroll through and see your daily usage for a month or monthly usage for a year,” Marty said.

The three developers threw around ideas, including creating a game, and were heading into finals week in May before agreeing on this app. “Near the end of finals week we had a chance to sit down and code this,” Karam said. “It took three days and nights.”

The work was due by 8 p.m. May 15. Marty, Ni and Karam turned in BIY with three minutes to spare.

The app can be found at Users can expect more out of the product down the road.

“We will be upgrading BIY continuously,” Marty said. “We have some ideas for smart actions—like suggesting certain times of day to turn off lights and appliances—and other things.”