University of Warwick students on competition success and a future in IT

A team of IT undergraduates from the University of Warwick tell Computer Weekly about an energy-saving mobile app they developed

A team of IT undergraduates from the University of Warwick have told Computer Weekly about a smart mobile application they developed as part of a competition between IT students at universities in Europe and India.

The team of Computer and Business Studies undergraduates from the University of Warwick created an application called HouseFix, which monitors homes for energy use and potential emergencies.

Steve Allen, Stanimir Vichev and Lanre Akanni decided to develop the application as part of a competition run by Atos, in conjunction with the London 2012 Olympic Games. Students were asked to develop smart mobility applications in teams of between two and five people. The competition was announced in October 2011 and 77 teams of students from 26 universities entered.

The competition runs once every two years to coincide with summer and winter Olympic events. Atos is the IT services partner for the Olympic Games. Since 2002, Atos has been the Olympics' main technology partner, responsible for coordinating the many suppliers. The teams received mentoring from the Atos scientific community.

Sensors and comms

The University of Warwick team reached the last three and although they were beaten to top spot by a team from Fontys Hogeschool in Eindhoven, (which created an app that enables visitors at events to view proceedings from different angles), it has high hopes for the technology. The first prize comprises a diploma, Olympic experience at the London 2012 Olympic Games and a tablet computer device. Second and third prizes are the same, but without the Olympic experience.

The Housefix application was developed for Android. It communicates with sensors in homes and alerts owners, on mobile devices, to potential problems such as water and gas leaks as well as excessive energy use. It will also provide security alerts to home owners if sensors detect intrusions.

The software was written in Java and uses XML for the user interface. Team member Steve Allen said the university course teaches a lot of Java theoretically and from this the team taught themselves to develop for Android.

The team also harnessed Google Apps for storage and the Android Cloud to Device Messaging Framework (C2DM) to send messages from the sensors to devices. The application also has a database which will provide the user with important information if a problem in the home occurs, such as the contract details of tradesmen and utility companies.

Smart metering programme

With the government setting targets for smart energy metering, through The GB Smart Metering Implementation Programme (GB SMIP), there is a plan to have 53 million smart meters installed in homes and businesses across the UK, to allow gas and electricity consumption to be monitored. 

This will provide information to help consumers and businesses use energy more efficiently. The smart meter project promises to lower bills, reduce the UK’s carbon footprint and help energy suppliers to provision better and prevent shortages.

Housefix works in a similar vein to this by using technology to help home owners save money and protect property.

Allen says the application will  initially be targeted at high-end home owners and the business model identifies a number of revenue streams. These include: contextual advertising for tradesmen; partnerships with sensor manufacturers; sales to home builders; and targeting the home insurance sector with the promise of lowering insurance premiums.

The team plans to integrate social media with the application to provide a community platform where, for example neighbours, could be alerted to a problem and could help out.

Career plans

All three students hope to take the idea to the next level but in the meantime they are about to embark on a year in industry to gain vital career experience.

Steve Allen will be doing a year with Atos, and plans to continue to work with Housefix during that period.

Stanimir Vichev says a year in industry is vital to help him plan his career. “This will help me decide whether to continue to develop software or get more into the business.” He says he would like to try working for in-house IT in a business and for an IT supplier.

Lanre Akanni, agrees that taking a year out to work in IT is vital. “In the current economic climate it is very important to get some experience to help us get a job."

Despite a great deal of doom and gloom and high IT graduate unemployment, the three undergraduates are confident of the UK opportunities.

Allen says he has had good opportunities in the UK. “All of us have got a year out in the IT industry with the chance of a work placement.”

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