CSE students and local artist demonstrate energy-saving app to Dept of Energy

Two Case School of Engineering students and a Cleveland Institute of Art graduate recently demonstrated 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. 

The Case students, Robert Karam and Bryan Marty, along with artist Patty Ni, were invited to Energy Datapalooza for taking second place in the student divsion 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.

On Oct. 1, the tro showed off their product to the likes of Energy Secretary Steven Chu at Datapalooza. The event was 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, chair of the 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” light bulb 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 maser’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 their 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 may 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.”