Solar Decathlon App

As part of Team Virtue, a university student team participating in the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018, I designed an app to manage appliances in our house and support people to live more sustainable.

The Solar Decathlon Competition

During the Solar Decathlon Middle East in Dubai, eighteen university teams from all over the world design and build full-size, innovative houses to tackle sustainability problems. Teams are evaluated on ten different aspects. The competition is a collaboration between the United States Department of Energy and the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority. A team of 50 students from my university created the house called 'LINQ: connected to improve'.

'LINQ: connected to improve': the house we build in Dubai 'LINQ: connected to improve': the house we build in Dubai

Key concepts of LINQ

After joining the team, I read documents with info and requirements for the competition. I learned why the team developed LINQ and why it is sustainable, innovative, and different from the competition. LINQ was not only designed to tackle environmental sustainability problems; the idea is that LINQ is part of an apartment complex. LINQ is one house in this complex. Instead of just building another neighborhood at the border of Dubai, LINQ is designed to be located in an existing neighborhood in Dubai and to deal with environmental, social and economic sustainability problems that comes with Dubai's astonishing growth. For instance, shared spaces such as the green atrium stimulate social cohesion.

LINQ is one apartment of the LINQ apartment complex
The house of the future is not a show building full of robotics and technical gadgets. It is often a compact home that is part of a building in which residents share facilities and spaces. Nathalie de Vries, MVRDV (Dutch only)

The design process

When I joined Virtue, I became part of the Smart System sub team. One team member had already created a very first version of the responsive app in ReactJS.

We discussed our ideas and how the app would strengthen the vision of LINQ. The app should encourage social interaction and create a sustainable ecosystem. We wanted to take the application beyond a 'turn your lights on and off' app. Central aspects are easy-to-read statistics, fast control over appliances, personalized advices, and social interaction. We sketched different ideas as a starting point.

Drawings

We had to deal with a lot of uncertainty throughout development. Because LINQ is entirely developed by students in collaboration with sponsors and partners, aspects important for the app - such as physical appliances, smart system components and sensors - could change until the very last day. This made the process challenging. To catch up with the deadline, we built simple user flows and only kept essential and distinctive features.

Flowchart

The API and database layer were built by another team. We had several meetings to discuss architecture, functionality, and deadlines. If systems or functionalities in the house changed, we changed the structure of the app accordingly.

API team meetings

One major change, for instance, was the way we showed energy usage. Initially, energy usage would be monitored per appliance and we designed the app to highlight appliances with inefficient energy usage. However, monitoring the energy consumption changed from per-appliance to per-room. This required an adjusted layout for the app.

Rooms layout

Meetings and conversations with team members and other people gave us ideas and informed our decisions. In the meantime, we build the entire house and its Smart System on our university campus as a test for Dubai. Assisting the team in building LINQ helped to get even more involved in the project and to learn how the physical systems and sensors work.

Building LINQ

During the Dutch Technology Week, we opened the house for the public. We put iPads in the house with a first prototype of the app and people could interact with it.

Dutch Technology Week

After the Dutch Technology Week, we redesigned the home screen of the app. A colored circle quickly shows the user if systems and energy consumption are alright. We built three different layers: My LINQ (your own apartment), LINQ (the apartment complex), and the District/Neighborhood. These three views makes the user not only aware of behavior within his or her own house, but also the behavior of others.

The homescreen

We realized that a page full with notifications and advices to live more sustainable would result in a boring list of text and actions. We used the three views in the circle to inform users. Clicking on the circle opens a scene where users can see their apartment, complex, and district in a visually attractive way. The scene shows in an understandable way how the smart system adapts to their energy usage and where improvements can be made.

To encourage social interaction and the use use of shared spaces, we added a social component. Within the visual view, users can see and add social activities and confirm if they would like to catch up with people from other apartments. The 'community progress' and shared use of resources is shown on the homescreen.

content_portfolio.virtue_screenshot_title_webapp3dview

LINQ was demounted on the university campus and shipped to Dubai. We continued developing the app with the API and Database team to link all systems correctly. This was quite difficult because we were not able to test any features directly in the house.

Building the app

Right now, we are preparing everything for the competition. The designs are almost finished and we are finalizing the 3D layout in the application. We are leaving soon (Oct/Nov 2018) to build the house in Dubai as part of the competition. More info soon! :)

We're building the house in Dubai