Perttu Lähteenlahti

    Hackathon Diaries: Energy Efficiency Hackathon

    One rather unusual hackathon about energy efficiency

    ⚡️ Premise

    Sometime around early January I came around one rather odd looking website. I’m not sure what made me stay on the website (maybe the weird lobsterman?) but eventually I deciphered that there was going to be a energy efficiency themed hackathon. I quickly applied to it, and started lookin flights to Berlin.

    I had no idea of all the peculiar things waiting for me there.

    ✋ Sunday

    15:00 After a short flight I arrived in Berlin and made by way to the venue. The hackathon would take place at BetaHaus, a co-working space eerily familiar. I walked in and received my swag: t-shirt, back bag, and notepad. I tried to argue against XL-sized t-shirt, but the helper convinced me that it would be right size. It wasn’t.

    The program started with a short introduction to theme of the hackathon, and continued with a quick design thinking / get to know each other activity. We then moved to the rooms dedicated for the different challenges and had hour and half for forming the teams and asking questions from the challenge partners.

    In total there were three challenges: Danfoss, Schüco, and Evonik, from which we’re asked to pick when signing up. I had picked Danfoss, as hacking grocery store efficiency sounded fun.

    Danfoss engineers going through the challenge

    20:00 Now usually at this point you would start hacking. However, this wasn’t that type of a hackathon. Instead we opened a couple of cold ones and started socializing, eventually ending the night in our hotel bar. I guess this is a one way to start a hackathon.

    💯 Monday

    11:30 Arriving at the venue surprised me. There seemed to be even more people than yesterday.

    After the day’s opening speeches we got back into the the challenge spaces and started the ideation process. Our task was to come up with the initial idea that we would pitch in a one minute pitch for the other teams. For this we had two hours.

    We settled on a idea of smart tags that would start out opaque and slowly change color as the expiry date of product got nearer. Different colors would indicate different discounts. This would mean that less products would go to waste, bringing the cooling cost down because you don’t spend energy to cool down products that never get sold. Although a good idea, I was quite skeptical if it would fly with Danfoss. After all they are a company that manufactures fridges and other cooling appliances.

    We settled on a idea about smart tags that would start out opaque and slowly change color as the expiry date of product got nearer. Different colors would indicate different discounts.

    We then moved back to the auditorium to do our one minute pitch with all the other teams. This turned out be a little disappointing in our case. Not because we got negative feedback, but because we didn’t get any. The jury had been asked to give feedback after all the pitches were done, and had simply forgotten most of the teams at that point.

    We conducted pretty quick and definitely dirty user testing to test if our hypothesis could actually work.

    13:00 We got back the working space and discussed whether we should continue with this idea or pivot. We decided to continue and started working on the actual concept. One part of the team started working on building a quick and dirty user testing session by using the fridges around the building. Other started working on the presentation materials (there were no powerpoints allowed in the final pitching) and I started writing our submission. The 7 hours we had for hacking went super fast.

    Now before you start complaining that we didn’t actually code or build anything I’m going to stop you right there! We did. It was awesome, and took most of the time we had for hacking. We also had never done anything similar so it was a learning experience as well. So what did we build? This:

    Yeah, we 3D printed a fish. Why? I’ll have to get back to you on that.

    21:00 The final started with words from Germany’s minister for economic affairs and energy, and continued with pitching that ended almost as soon as it had started. Large teams and 2 minute maximum pitch made everything lighting fast. The pitches were also positively different from the startup pitches I’m used to seeing, having a lot of acting and humor in them.

    Then it came to announce the winners. Total of six prizes would be given, one for each of the three tracks, and for best design, best business case, and best overall concept.

    To my, and to my teams surprise we ended up receiving the main prize for our track and also the prize for best design. Taking up on a rather different idea had payed of, and Danfoss seemed quite impressed with the concept. Our quick and dirty user testing had also been a good idea, as it had been the reason for receiving the best in design award.

    You see kids, this is how you should look when accepting a prize.

    The evening continued with us celebrating the double win at Betahaus until they ran out of beer, after which we ventured back to the good old hotel bar. Would like to see more hackathons like this, that take place during the day and end in good afterparty.

    ❤️ What I loved

    I have to be honest, I was quite skeptical that this type of a hackathon would work at all. It just seemed so wacky and inefficient. Take for example the massive teams. I’ve had bad experiences on teams with more than 5 members being vert ineffective, especially when they are all strangers to each other. However, in our case the huge team worked pretty well!

    I also loved the prizes, which in our case meant a little bit of Bitcoin and a trip to Danfoss’ headquarters to present the concept again. These type of prizes are in my opinion better than just giving out gizmos for example.

    🔨 Things to fix

    Smaller teams, please.

    This makes it easier for participants to form their teams, settle on an idea, and start working. I also believe it would more valuable for the companies participating to get as many new ideas as possible.


    Perttu Lähteenlahti

    Personal blog of Perttu Lähteenlahti. For more developer oriented posts checkout perttu.dev