By Janet Jay (DC'07)

Four Carnegie Mellon information systems students huddle together in the office of their teaching professor advisor, Larry Heimann, tossing around ideas for their junior-year Information Systems project. They’ve come up with several that satisfy the assignment: create a system that will result in energy savings. But getting a good grade is not all that is motivating them. They want to work on a project that could impact something more than their grade point averages.

TF 1 V11n3Suddenly, Jon Miller has an idea. During his freshman year, Miller had sketched out (and then forgotten about) a plan for a wireless system that conserves energy by automatically adjusting the artificial light a location receives based on existing natural light.

Heimann likes the plan, and the group immediately seizes on Miller’s idea, which involves a technology known as “daylight harvesting.” The concept isn’t new, and no one argues that the savings can be significant. But team member Dillon Grove points out that what they’re proposing is “unique” because their system will operate through an existing WiFi network. “By funneling all the communications through the WiFi network, we can automatically gather and store all the energy usage information, so we can display it through our web app. This gives users a really good idea of how much energy they’re saving, whether that be for one room or a whole building.”

The team’s product—dubbed GreenLight— can operate in conjunction with any existing WiFi network. For example, says Grove, a sensor on a desk can monitor lighting in a room and send its assessment to another component that adjusts the artificial lights accordingly.

“We kept thinking, we want to make sure that this can be installed somewhere like Carnegie Mellon, where some of the buildings are older, and it would be too expensive to run wires everywhere,” says Grove.

A year later, the GreenLight team—Grove, Miller, Mike Ferraco, and Nathan Hahn—are still working on their daylight harvesting endeavor. Last fall, they presented their project during President Subra Suresh’s inauguration celebration and, more recently, at the annual Information Systems Senior Project Fair, where GreenLight won “Best Poster.”

All four group members have post-graduation plans in place, “but the last few months have changed our thinking,” says Miller. They don’t rule out a GreenLight startup in their future.