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Kukui Cup: From Energy Competitions to Energy Challenges

There are several interesting research projects going on in the Department of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) at UH Manoa, ranging from social network analysis to continuous data processing for mobile applications. Being a recent Master's in computer science graduate, I've heard about many of these projects directly from the professors. While I encourage you to read more about them on the ICS department website, I'd like to talk about one in particular; the Kukui Cup. The Kukui Cup is a platform for energy challenges created at the Collaborative Software Development Laboratory (CSDL). I was involved with the project for two years and it was also part of my Master's thesis.

Our inspiration for the Kukui Cup started with residence hall energy competitions. Residence hall energy competitions have the students living in the residence halls compete to reduce their energy usage for a few weeks. Given Hawaii's high dependence on oil to generate electricity, a competition like this could be used to heighten awareness for students at UH. With the advent of "smart meters" (meters that can send power data via a network connection), people have started to create competitions where the participants can view their energy usage in near-real time.

Organizations have published positive results where the participants in the competition lowered their energy usage by as much as 55% ( What typically doesn't get discussed, however, is the extremes that people go through to win the competition. Anecdotally, we've heard participants doing thins like unplugging soda machines or using their computer on other floors. In addition, energy usage typically returns to normal levels after the energy competition. What we want to do with the Kukui Cup is create more sustainable behavior change. The ultimate goal is not to shave a few kilowatt hours from housing's bill, but to get students thinking about being sustainable.

We created an open source platform for energy challenges called Makahiki. These energy challenges not only involve the energy reduction competition, but also include a component for energy literacy where participants earn points for answering questions, attending live events or even meeting energy reduction goals. In tying these virtual events and real events together, we created a "serious game" for energy conservation. Our goal with the game is to make it fun for the participants to learn about Hawaii's energy challenges.

The inaugural Kukui Cup was held in October 2011 at UH Manoa's Hale Aloha towers. Of the over 1000 students living in these residence halls, 40% of them logged in to the site. In the end, the best performing floor reduced their energy usage by about 16%. Through interacting with the participants in the competition, we had several say that they enjoyed playing the game and that they learned a lot about sustainabile behaviors. One person even mentioned changing their major to focus on sustainability!

As far as research goes, we had a paper accepted to the 44th Hawaii International Conference for System Sciences, a poster accepted to the Behavior, Environment, and Climate Change conference (BECC), and a paper accepted to a workshop on gamification at CHI 2011. At BECC 2012, we will have two short talks involving motivations behind behavior change and the Makahiki platform.

Development on the project continues. In September 2012, three organizations (UH, East West Center, and HPU) will be using Makahiki as a platform for energy challenges on their campuses. HPU will also have a water reduction competition where the usage will be reported once a day. They are also researching ways to extend the competition beyond a typical three week competition. Makahiki is also being redesigned completely to allow developers to create additional modules. It will be designed using responsive design principles and can be hosted on a PaaS such as Heroku.

I hope this was a good short introduction into what the Kukui Cup project is about. If you wish to learn more or want to get involved, please check out the CSDL website or Makahiki's Github page.

Kukui Cup: Lights Off, Game On!

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Comment by Daniel Leuck on July 30, 2012 at 5:52pm

Congrats on getting other organizations involved in Makahiki! Their interest is great validation of your ideas and hard work. I hope Makahiki also gains contributors outside of UH in the open source community.


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