A group of Washington College students and faculty sat down at the beginning of May to work on “You Are My Sunshine.”
No, they weren’t rehearsing old folk songs. Instead, they were working on a NASA space challenge – an international effort to find ways to educate the public about solar power and its possible benefits both for ordinary people and for a possible exploring party on Mars.
Taking part in the project were Ian Egland, a 2016 WC graduate in Computer Science; Joseph Erlandson, a senior Computer Science major; Katie Walker, a Senior majoring in Environmental Studies; Luis Machado, a 2013 graduate now working as a project manager at the college’s Geographic Information Systems laboratory; and Associate Professor Shaun Ramsey, of the Computer Science and Mathematics departments at Washington College.
The group began work at the “Hot Desks” co-working center at 903 Washington Ave. Michael Thielke of the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center and Jamie Williams, Kent County Economic Development Coordinator, arranged for them to use the facility before the official opening
The “Dream Team,” as they named themselves, went to work at 8 a.m. Saturday, April 29, for a 48-hour “hackathon.” Williams and Thielke were on hand to assemble furniture for the hot desk center and to provide breakfast and other meals during the project. The team set up computers in the large main room, using the facility’s high-speed wifi connection. They even took advantage of the dry-erase walls to jot down computations, web links, and other information for handy reference.
Ramsey said the project was related to one that NASA is conducting in Hawaii right now, simulating conditions on Mars. “In space, power usage is variable, and mission critical, and essential to life,” so understanding power consumption is essential, he said. “The app that we’re developing is for everyday people to better understand their power consumption,” he said. Since solar power is freely available in space, the project focuses on that form of energy.
The Dream Team compiled a list of several typical home appliances – refrigerator, microwave, TV, air conditioner, etc. – and listed their typical power usage. In each case, the power draw listed is an average. Older, less efficient appliances will use more than new ones designed to minimize power consumption.
They also looked at the amount of sunlight available in Kent County over different seasons, so as to get a practical estimate of what kinds of equipment could be run on solar alone.
Ramsey said the group was one of 74 different teams from all over the world that worked on their particular problem. Presumably they’d all come up with different solutions, though the teams were allowed to share ideas, and NASA might well choose to combine results from several different teams once the project was completed.
Overall, the competition had five different categories, each of which included several different projects. Ramsey said it would be several weeks before NASA announces the results.
Ramsey updated the status of the project in an email, June 1. He wrote, “In the end, we created two applications that are useful, intuitive and that showcase solar power.” He said he had three goals for the competition: “To contribute to the overall community. To make an application of which I’d be happy to claim ownership. And the last was to have something that could inspire and grow. Something that could spawn other ideas and be developed into something larger if someone were inspired or interested. I definitely feel we accomplished all three of those.”
As of the date of writing, he said, “The awards have not yet been announced. We’re not in the finalists for people’s choice, but that’s to expected with such a smaller network compared to, say, a big school in a big city. It is possible we “win” one of the other awards, but there have been no posted results yet. (…) I do feel like we will be in the running,” he said. He said he would let the Spy know when results were announced.
Click here for information on the “Hot Desks” facility.