By Cameron MacLeod — Secretary of Embedded and Robotics Society (EaRS)
Creative people often lack hard problems and hard problems often lack creative people. This is something that really only becomes apparent after putting the two together and watching the sparks fly, something we had the pleasure of seeing this past Festival of Creative Learning at the IoT Challenge.
The IoT Challenge is a 3-day hackathon that runs every year during the University of Edinburgh’s answer to the reading week — The Festival of Creative Learning. During the event, students are taught about IoT technologies and then set some real world problems to tackle. This is the third year it has run, but this iteration really drove home to us the need for events like these.
One great example of this from the hackathon was the Library Study Desk System, built as a solution to the lack of desk space in the Main Library. One of the challenges set this year was to improve the student experience and the team that tackled it, after some brainstorming, realised that a problem many students have is people using their belongings to “reserve” desks in the library without actually using the desk for most of the time that it is “reserved”. This is a very real problem to many students, which made it very satisfying to see students build a system to tackle it. The system the students conceived was placing QR codes, which are images you can scan with your phone to take you to a website, on the desks which you would then scan to reserve the desk for a fixed time. The design also used social pressure in the form of being able to report desks as unfairly reserved and tracked exactly who reserved each desk so that offenders could be identified.
Many other clever ideas were proposed and prototyped as well, including; tracking visitor numbers to attractions using cheap sensors and algorithms, tracking the spread of disease through cattle in sub-saharan Africa using cheap sensors and proximity detection, collecting agricultural data using a novel low-power, low-cost communication mechanism and combatting sheep rustling (a really baa-d problem) using intelligent power-saving tracking. What’s really amazing about this is that many of the students were newcomers to the field and all of them only had three workdays to come up with and implement these ideas.
The winning team tackled a challenge by Camera Obscura to track visitor numbers and engagement. They built a system that could measure the number of people looking at an exhibit and estimate the emotions of these people. This is a real achievement to build over just three days and the entry, including code, can be seen below in the Project Roundup.
All involved in running the IoT Challenge were really proud to see just what the teams accomplished in the limited time that they had. We were lucky to have not only incredible students solving problems, but incredible sponsors proposing them. We would like to say a huge thank you to Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Science, Design Informatics, The Bayes Centre, The School of Informatics, Information Services Group and the Embedded and Robotics Society.
See you all next year!
Camera Obscura Challenge
The system uses the OpenCV face recognition system to to count the number of people looking at an exhibit at a given time and is also intended to recognise their emotional response.
My idea is focused on navigating people to places which are less crowded, by strips of LEDs placed on the floor. This will not affect peoples visit in a negative way, and can even improve the visual appearance of the Camera Obscura corridors. Blinking LEDs will match the “fun” theme of the place and act as an additional attraction.
Visitors will be counted using pairs of motion sensors placed in the doors. Sensors will detect weather someone is entering or leaving the room. Software will then count the amount of people that are currently in specific parts of the building based on the data from sensors. Then it will compare the density of pole in given rooms and identify places that are less crowded. Based on this it will change the colour of LEDs in the floor suggesting visitors where to go.
The system uses data science and IoT to find the origin of the contagious, tick-borne disease East Coast Fever. A collar collects sensory information from an individual cow — temperature, gait, location, distance traveled. At 60-second intervals, it aggregates symptoms to gauge the health condition of the cow, classifying it as either ill (high temperature, unsteady gait) or at risk (has been in close contact with a cow previously deemed ILL). The display shows a red or yellow LED accordingly, so farmers are continuously updated on the status of their cattle.
Our idea, the Cattle Ontology Web, hopes to empower both farms and herds, offering both a useful stream of data to philanthropist organisations but also to the farmers themselves. We are collecting two streams of information – vitals on cattle, but also data for soil, as the two can be quite interdependent.
The C.O.W. is comprised of two major parts. The Sensor Spike is static, whereas the Vital Sensor is strapped to the cattle itself.
Handling communication and computation is the Sensor Spike. It is a four-metre spike, telescopically extending from a more portable 1.5-metre design, containing many useful sensors designed to be inserted into the ground, gathering soil information. This provides stability for the top end to gather weather data, and contain a rather useful camera.
System to track stolen sheep
The goal of the system is to allow students claim and reserve library desks by scanning a QR code that would be stuck on the desk by the library. This would give more accurate data for students looking for study space. Students who wanted to temporarily leave the desk they were using could ‘reserve’ it for up to an hour, after which their claim would lapse.