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Climathon challenges teams to create sustainable housing solutions

The walls were plastered with water level prediction maps, whiteboards were covered with mapping diagrams and tapping sounds indicated the focused coding of climate hackathon participants at the second annual 24-hour hackathon “Climathon.”

The hackathon took place from Friday to Saturday in the Long Beach State Duncan Anderson Design Gallery. Hackathons usually consist of groups competing to finish projects within a limited time period.

This year’s theme “sustainable housing” inspired projects ranging from carbon production phone applications to in-home electricity conservation devices.

The hackathon was put on by The Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, lead by director Wade Martin.

“Housing is always a challenge in Southern California, particularly in Long Beach,” Martin said. “As the climate changes, having excessive heat days over 95 degrees, the challenge has become even more acute, what with storm surges and sea level rise.”

Unlike other hackathons, teams were not predetermined. Students and community members came to the event and pitched their ideas, which were then selected based on development potential.

One team, surrounded by sticky notes, worked diligently on an app to help people measure their personal carbon production.

“A person can figure out how much carbon their lifestyle produces. When they see that visually [they will] maybe see a trend over a period of time,” said retired aerospace engineer Ray Manning. “The first step in reducing your carbon output is to know where you stand in the first place.”

Manning’s team consisted of three developers, two marketers and himself, all of whom had been strangers at the beginning of the night. He said he came prepared with a “skeleton model” of the app, which took him eight hours to code.

“One of my team members is a professional developer. He’s been over there doing all the coding, with a number of other developers chipping in,” Manning said. “When people are passionate or enthused about doing something, sleep is not that big of a deal.”

Emma DiMaggio | Daily 49er
A Climathon participant works on the prototype of his “Carbon App,” meant to measure the individual carbon output of each user (10/27).

A few rooms away, a group of students filled entire chalkboards with drawings of switchboards and electrical plans. They devised a plan to eliminate standby, or “vampire,” energy using a wireless household device.

“‘Vampire’ is a term that’s used for electronic devices that suck power out when you don’t think they’re sucking power out of your house,” senior mechanical engineer Matthew Donoghue said. “Everything you have plugged in that you don’t want to think about, that you don’t want to bother with, adds up over time.”

He explained that a computer on sleep mode uses about 65 watts of energy. If left on sleep mode for an entire year, the “vampire energy” would cost $99.45, Donoghue said. This number represents one example, but instances of vampire energy are extremely common.

“That’s a lot of energy. That’s a lot of fuel that’s consumed. That’s a lot of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That’s a lot of oil dependence. That’s a lot of planning for infrastructure and blackout hours because of the stuff that’s left plugged in,” Donoghue said. “At the end of the day it’s something that’s not addressed and because it’s not, it’s cumulatively making a really big impact.”

To create the device, he teamed up with senior computer science major Caitlin Rubia, who was in charge of electronic interface.

“My best contribution would be coming up with how everything could connect wirelessly,” Rubia said. “One of the issues we’re encountering is that housing or apartments are already prebuilt. We don’t want to have to tear things down; that does cost more money.”

Long Beach was the first city in the United States to participate in the event, which takes place in hundreds of cities around the world, Martin said.

Participants were in communication with Zurich, Switzerland throughout the night, where another Climathon was held.

“We showed teams here what teams in Europe are doing, what the rest of the world is looking at [and] what kind of challenges they face,” Martin said. “This gives them the perspective, ‘Oh, that’s what people in Zurich are looking at.’ It’s not so different than what we’re interested in.”

Despite teams working on “sustainable housing” within Long Beach, cities all over the world used the theme to create combative solutions to climate change.

“The challenge is where homes are located and which communities are affected,” Martin said. “It’s a significant challenge that the city is facing. It does especially affect Long Beach, that’s what all the maps are showing here, but it’s not unique to Long Beach.”

The Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship will hold another competition in the spring called The Innovation Challenge, which offers $10,000 in seed funding for the winning team.

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