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SmarTraq: Track, Play, Compete, Save. A community driven app that could be a first step in helping communities understand their energy usage better.

With the advent of the smartphone, I had a really cool opportunity to witness several health apps come to life over the past few years. Combined with technologies such as smart wrist bands, watches, and other wearable technologies, these apps have helped people lose weight, train better, become more competitive, eat better, and overall improve their health. Apps like Strava allow for spontaneous communities to develop, and then compete. You can post record times of bike rides on certain locations. Other apps allow one to share what food they ate, and allow friends to comment on these actions-- encourage healthy decisions, and discourage unhealthy ones. Imagine if we had an app that allowed for communities to track energy usage, and compete.

Photo of Nyko de Peyer
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Building on several ideas that have been brought to light and discussed both through the idea and research phase, SmarTraq is a concept for bringing data tracking, data collection, data visualisation, gamification, and behavior modificaiton suggestions together in one app that is with you at all times. The concept could start off simple, and grow over time. 

As mentioned in the summary, it was inspired by health apps that have been around for some time. I think one of the biggest hurdles we will have to face before making the switch to renewables is having a thorough understanding of our energy usage, and being able to have accurate numbers to help us make changes. 

As renewables pose many challenges currently, being able to have a clear understanding of our needs, and also being able to change behaviors within a community so that a community can use energy more efficiently and reduce waste is the first step, and SmarTraq is a concept for being able to do this. 

Imagine if you could see how much energy you used in a day. The app would be connected to your energy provider, as well as a devide in your home that woudl monitor your energy usage there. It would know when you filled up your gas tank in your car. It would knwo when you were away from your home. It would know when you were in your car. All of the technologies exist in a smartphone through GPS and a data connection. 

Say you left your house and left your bathroom light on. I do this all the time and am upset with myself when I get home after a 17hr day to find my light was on all day in my bahtroom. With SmarTraq, I would get a notification when I moved 200 feet away from my bathroom, that would notifiy me that the light was on, and that it was using 22watts/hr. Would I like to leave it on? Then depending on the setup at my home, if I had a connected home I could turn it off. If not, I would have the option of going back, or leaving it on. If I went back and turned it off, the app would know this. If I left it on, it would factor this action into my score and log it for a monthly energy review. 

So say a whole community begins to use SmarTraq. Thier energy usage is shared anonymously, and compared to people around them. Advanced algoithms on servers spread around the world would then allow you to compare your energy usage to your neighbors, facebook friends, and family members. 

Through comparison the app would make suggestions on how you could reduce your usage, or use energy more effieciently. You would be assigned a score, and this score would factor in your actions as well as your history. 

By bringing the gamification aspect to the table, users would have incentive to do better and use less energy. No one would want to go on the leaderboard for most inneficient users, but they would within a community. The leaders on the other hand would be offered discounted rates, or coupons. 

Like dieting apps, SmarTraq could probably drastically change how we think about our energy usage, and would give us a much better understanding of how we use it and how we could do better. 


What community does this idea benefit and who are the main players?

This idea benefits any community that wants to start saving energy using connected devices. The main players would probably be Gen Y'ers who are always on their devices and are pretty competitive. The main players in this case would mostly be members who begin using SmarTraq and share their usage data in order to help a larger community gain a better understanding of energy usage and then take action to reduce their usage.

How does your idea specifically help your community rapidly transition to renewables?

By having a better understanding of how we use energy, we can begin making decisions on how to use less energy and also be more informed as to what kinds of renewables would be appropriate for a particular community. But using ramification, those who were purchasing or using energy from renewable sources, would have that added to their score, so this would be incentive for others to want to compete and try to lower their usage score, and maybe take action to purchase renewable energy in some way.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Developing a prototype app and using it within a local community could work. It would require manual input to be a lightweight experiment, but it could work and give a good understanding as to whether or not the concept would work.

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to connect with from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

Anyone with experience in app development or energy sharing would be very helpful to help take this idea further. I am open to any suggestions, but ultimately working with people who have had experience in gamification, app development, and energy monitoring or smart homes/ connected homes.

Please indicate which type of energy is most relevant to this post:

  • My post doesn't mention a specific type of energy

This idea emerged from:

  • An Individual


Join the conversation:

Photo of David E Smith

Hello Nyko. Your idea would pair well with the 'Home Solar Panel, Wind Energy and Geothermal Assessment Kit' so not only could you measure your current energy footprint or 'health' but you could also see the benefits if you made certain changes like installing solar panels, wind mills or geothermal devices.

Photo of Nyko de Peyer

David, good call! Thanks for the idea, I totally agree. I will update my idea to reflect this!

Photo of Shuting Zeng

Hi David I saw your idea before but didn't find this link about 20 solar apps for iphone: Hope this may help with your prototyping by giving you a feel about what the solar assessment kits were like back in 2011...

Photo of Nyko de Peyer

Shunting, Zeng, wow that is really cool! Thanks for sharing that link! 2011 seems so... far away... Ha!

Photo of Shuting Zeng

HI Nyko,

I think your idea is awesome! Imagine how much more energy-aware we will be with all the connected and open data from different appliances and other sources of energy consumption, an algorithm to process and present the data in a human-centered way and even games to get people used to and love doing energy self watch. After I read your idea I did a bit research online, and found these few apps, which you may have already known:

1. Carat for measuring electricity consumed by apps on iphone:

2. Smappee which monitors and reports energy consumption of home appliances:

3. WattB for cost-efficient electricity consumption planning:

Do you think you already have an idea what specific energy consumption SmarTraq wants to measure? Can it be tailored to fit one's energy consumption routine? Will it use different metrics such as money cost, environmental damage done, trees in number, clean water in gallon, etc, to measure the effect? In other words, while other energy saving apps have carved out their specific focuses to look at, what will SmarTraq's focus?

I love the idea about data sharing and building within the neighborhood. I wonder besides competing about saving energy, if there is a way for neighbors to collaborate too. I look forward to brainstorming!

Photo of Nyko de Peyer

Shuting, Thank you for your feedback! With the rise of connected health and activity monitoring devices and apps, I've seen how numbers and statistics can change peoples lives. The democratization of self monitoring apps and devices has allowed people to take control of their health in ways that were previously just not possible. Understanding what calories meant, or just how much work you did, how well you slept etc... gave people the information they needed to really make meaningful changes. That is what I want SmarTraq to do.

Maybe I am a bit ambitious with my idea, but the roadmap would look something like this:

Alpha Phases: Information Gathering and information device creation:

Alpha 1: Create smart phone app that simply tracks energy usage of your transportation. Smart phone uses location services to understand how you are moving. If you are in a car, at the end of a ride it would ask you how many people were in the car with you. If you were in Seattle and then 6 hours later in New York, it would ask for your flight number, and then it would figure out the rest using something like flight aware.

Alpha 2: Home energy: With the development of either a small plug in device that plugs into your wall, or a "Smart Break" breaker that could be installed into a breaker board, as well as integration with API's from existing smart home devices, and services, you now have access to your homes energy usage.
This would allow you to know how much electricity your home is pulling in, and what plugs were pulling. By configuring the app you could set it up to know that outlet 6C is tied to your refrigerator, so you would be able to track over time how much energy your fridge used, your washer, your dryer etc.

Alpha 3: Gas Energy: For those with gas heating and stoves, gas companies could install a small smart valve that would go on the primary gas line going into the home. This small device would allow you to monitor your gas usage. One advantage of this is that it could use some sort of NFC or RFID to communicate to a gas company truck how much gas was being used. Faster metering. (OK, I know this is probably utopian, and there will probably be hackers and all of that, but work with me here).

Alpha 4: Water
While water not really a source of energy, we spend a TON of energy moving it, heating it, using it, and getting it out of our homes. Good, fresh, drinkable water is a limited resource that is in danger, so we really should monitor it because it is crucial to our well being.
On our water monitoring pumps that exist outside many homes, a device could be installed to monitor the main water usage on a home.

At the end of Alpha phases, we now have the a "Connected home" that is able to communicate electricity, gas, water, and transportation energy usage.

If done properly, these devices could be created and distributed by local facilities. If they could help enable more accurate monitoring, or if the utility was able to give a discount in exchange for information on the consumer habits, this could be a good way of distributing these devices. Much like Progressive does for Car insurance.

Beta Phase: Now that we have the numbers and access to information, it is time for Beta Phase: the development of API's and enhancement of SmarTraq to be able to gather this information and then translate it into meaningful graphs and numbers to allow the user to have a global view of their energy usage.

To answer your question, yes, I think it would show how the size of your carbon footprint, and then compare it with people around you, as well as your footprint last month and a year ago.
It would show your energy usage, and what that was equivalent to in various types of energy (how much coal or gas was burned).
It would show you how many gallons of water were used.

Then it would take all of this information and create STEPs -- SmarTraq Energy Points which would be used to show your overall energy and resource usage. This would then allow you to compare your STEP with those around you.

The app would have a leader board, and be able to show you progress over time.

So to answer your question, like I said, it may be a bit ambitious, but in order for an app like SmarTraq to be effective, it will eventually need to track several types of energy. You could start simple with just electricity, but our energy footprint is pretty big, and having a well rounded idea of what and how we are using energy would really allow changes. Especially with the social and behavioral element attached.

I hope that helps answer your question. I know it was a bit long and detailed. I hope to update my entry with the roadmap above. Thanks again for your feedback!

Photo of Natalie Lake

Hi Nyko! Great idea! I love the competition angle. I have two ideas/suggestions for your idea.

1.) This might be a little difficult to incorporate but you could also have a section talking about sustainable food choices. Food is a huge consumer of both energy and water. For example, 750ml of coffee consumes 840 liters of virtual water while 750ml of tea only consumes 90 liters of virtual water. Virtual water is something a lot of people do not think about when making food purchases or even clothing purchases so it would be really cool to have an application that would help people to make more sustainable choices when grocery shopping or clothing shopping etc.

2.) Instead of having ads (not sure if you want this to produce revenue), you could get little factoids about what certain behavioral changes can amount to in energy or water savings, other factoids about climate change, renewables, the environment etc. , or just green living tips. You could also get little badges with titles like Planateer (Captain Planet reference) or statements like "you just saved the unnecessary burning of 100 lbs of coal", "you just prevented 22lbs of CO2 from being emitted", "You reduced your footprint by 1%" etc.

Do you think accountability will be an issue? It seems like a lot of the data will have to be input by the user because very few people have such integrated HVAC and lighting control systems in their houses.

Great work!

Photo of Shuting Zeng

Hi Nyko, your roadmap sounds great! So users don't need to download dozens of different energy apps to keep track of their energy use. Synthesis of all these energy use/generation monitoring will also demand a better design of user experience too I guess. I look forward to you detailing your roadmap and visualizing it!

About user experience, I have this question: how will SmarTraq send the feedbacks to the user to make sure the user gets all the information in time without feeling overwhelmed or pushed out of their comfort zone too much? In other words, how can we make the energy info less abstract and more readable?

According to your plan, SmarTraq will be a hardware+software service. Do you have any idea what you want the sensor chips/monitoring devices attaching to water pumps/gas tanks/ home appliances to be like? I am excited about the thought that a user can get a package and an app to start living greener!

Photo of Londa Overbeck

Hi Nyko! Thanks for contributing such an inspiring concept!

Building on your idea of having an individual score, I wonder if neighborhoods could have an energy score too (similar to a walkability score). The community score would encourage neighbors to join forces in changing their behavior. As the score increases, so might community pride and maybe even property value. And, you would have a metric for comparing energy usage across communities.

Photo of David E Smith

Hello Londa. I like that idea!

Photo of Nyko de Peyer

@Natalie Lake, thank you for your suggestion! For the sustainable food/ clothing idea, I think that is a really cool angle, but not sure if it would fit in SmarTraq in the initial phases. I understand where you are coming from and it is really interesting, but I think first focus would be energy and renewables-- allowing individuals to track their energy that they are more immediately in control of. Over time, I think that the sustainable materials and materials usage could be an ad on to allow people to really monitor their footprint. It is a cool idea for sure.

As for the small factoids, I love that! That adds a certain fun trivia portion to the app, and helps spread education. Really great Idea. I'll see where I can incorporate that! Thank you for the suggestion!

Sorry for my late response- I was traveling in Romania for the past 10 days and just got back. Great trip, despite staying in wood fired heated homes, riding in old busses, and taking huge airplanes all over. Makes me feel quite guilty of my footprint right now..... but made me think a lot!

Photo of Nyko de Peyer

@Londa, I think the community score/ neighborhood score would be a very good thing to do, especially with a lot of the new developments across the U.S.--- that would make it relatively easy to start with. There was also another idea for an app that was kind of like foursquare proposed by Ramiro Sanchez Caballero ( in which there was a component of neighborhood scoring and something like foursquare with the mayor of the area. I really like this part and hope to integrate some of into SmarTraq! Thanks for the suggestion!

Photo of Nyko de Peyer

@Shuting Thanks for your feedback! I really appreciate your question, and your thought about user experience.

From my experience with interface design and User Experience, it is important to give users some control over their experience, but at the same time provide an interface that is easy to understand, visually impactful, and as others have suggested on here, uses units that are easy to understand and translate (money for example).

I will have to play with the overall design to see what to do, but my goal would be to create an interface that could update in real time, but would allow a user to select maybe 3 priority points they wanted to see on the first screen, and then on the second screen maybe 5 secondary info points. From there, different types of infographics would be used to display usage.

Color usage ( Green, Yellow, Orange, Red) would be used to help give an idea quickly if someone was doing well (green) or not so good (Red).

I'll have to think more about this, but I hope that helps. Thanks for your feedback once again!

Photo of Natalie Lake

Hi again Nyko,

Welcome back from your trip! Don't feel to guilty about your carbon footprint. At least those super old busses are still being used instead of sitting in a landfill and at least it was public transportation and not a private car! Glad you liked the factoid idea.

To follow up on ShuTing's idea you may want to look at Jeffrey's idea. He has a super neat design idea where to look at where your energy is coming from, you have a cutout of a house that is filled in layers (sized to amount) with colors representing the different types of energy (solar, wind, coal etc.) I think you could incorporate a similar idea into the design of your app.

For the homepage, instead of a house you could have it be a cutout of a person (you could choose a guy or a girl.) The body could be broken out into sections which represent areas where you use energy and water (e.g bedroom, kitchen, transportation, bathroom, office, living room energy usages?) Then depending on the user's current level water and energy conservation, the section will be either green, yellow, orange, red in those sections. The object would be to have a human who is 100% green and also to compete against your friends.

Also, in the spirit of paying it forward here on OpenIDEO, one of the community champions recommended this application to help me create a prototype app and I think it might be equally useful to you! here is a link to it :)

Again welcome back and Happy New Year!

Photo of Nyko de Peyer

Natalie, All amazing ideas! Seriously thank you for your support. I just downloaded PopApp. I was also using InVision to do prototyping :

I love the idea behind PopApp though. What fun! Time to get to work with the pencil.

Thanks again!

Photo of Marc Nyeland

Great concept and awesome to see all the feedback you are receiving and using it.

I was thinking about your four different alpha phases, which all are important and useful. However, to ensure that you get the project launched have you considered which of those phases is the most important? Could it be that maybe one of them is kind of the base or the one that everyone needs?

The reason I am asking is that I think you really have an idea that could make a huge impact, however, you need to ensure that the users adopt it (simple and easy) and that you can get it developed (quickly).
I would therefore suggest that you focus on the phase most important for people to adopt and start “playing”. When that is launched you can then build on top of that.
I think you could start with phase 2, since everyone has a home where they can "play". All of those that bike or already use public transportation would not have any incentive to “play” if they can’t measure how they are doing at home. Phase 4 could be second – everyone uses water – too much water. Of phase 1 or 4 I am not sure (don’t know how many has gas heating etc.), but I would think there are more drivers to affect and would therefore take that as number three.

Once again I really like you idea, looking forward to playing. Just wanted to give some feedback on how to make the process achievable and ensure users adopt early.

Photo of Shuting Zeng

Hi Marc thanks for your great input. Like you I am very excited about Nyko's "SmarTraq" idea and built my green infographic idea upon this app -- Greenfographic wants to export data from SmarTraq and then make infographics out with them to show people's environmental efforts!

I asked a question to Nyko before about how not to overwhelm the user if this tracking is going to be so thorough. I was thinking that maybe a user does not need to use everything -- they can customize what they want to know and get information about. And I agree with you that it is good to start with one alpha/particular service at first. Let's talk again about minimum viable product here -- so that it will be easier to launch the app (think about the IT/marketing/sales input), and it will also help get valuable user feedback and test before this app spreads to more services.

To make it even simpler, Nyko: If getting the hardware + software kit (as we talked about before, for energy tracking) is a bit pricey to start with, we can ask users to import their utilities data from their online utilities account and then we do the math for them. It would even be better if we can install a button on SmarTraq that allows users to easily import the utilities data.

For even "lazier" users, how about an Evernote function: ask them to snap a picture of their utilities receipts and then capture the numbers we want. What do you think Marc? I love your insight about different phrases. And yes Nyko we look forward to hearing from you!

Photo of Marc Nyeland

I like the idea of being able to snap a picture of your utility receipt. It makes it easier for the user, which is pivotal for making the users use the service often and for it to be updated with the latest numbers.

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