Virginia Tech Wins Solar Decathlon Middle East with the Aid of the PI System

Last month, a team of Virginia Tech students won the prestigious 2018 Solar Decathlon Middle East in Dubai for designing and building a modular, energy-positive smart home called FutureHAUS.

The competition challenges young engineers from dozens of countries to create eco-friendly and innovative buildings powered by renewable energy.  Unlike other competing teams, the grand-prize-winning students from Virginia Tech deployed the PI System in their prototype, which collected, stored and analyzed energy efficiency data from sensors inside the state-of-the-art home.

Collaboration between OSIsoft and Virginia Tech began three years ago when John Matranga and Mike Mihuc of OSIsoft's Academic Program contacted Virginia Tech's Professor Denis Gracanin from the Department of Computer Science.  Dr. Gracanin was interesting in trying the PI System for the FutureHAUS prototypes, but said that no one in the department knows how to use it.  “That's exactly why we created our Academic Program,” replied Mihuc, explaining that OSIsoft donates the PI System and trains students to leverage its data infrastructure for educational and R&D use.

During the next two summers, three of Virginia Tech grad students trained as interns at OSIsoft's Philadelphia office.  Relying on OSIsoft's mentors, the students learned the PI System inside out, including how to use MQTT and OSIsoft Message Format (OMF) open source protocols for their Raspberry Pi units.

“The backbone of the FutureHAUS' data storage and analysis was made possible by OSIsoft,” says Professor Gracanin. “The PI System enabled our team to store and analyze enormous amounts of data from the FutureHAUS' interconnected system, allowing the team to maximize energy efficiency.”

The Academic Program at OSIsoft has been designed to help university students and faculty with obtaining the PI System and becoming proficient in it by offering donated academic licenses, internship training and mentoring.

Over the years, the program has garnered a lot of success stories.  UC Davis uses the PI System across their campus to support utilities operations, research initiatives and classroom education.  With the help of real-time data, they have reduced potable water usage by estimated 43%.  At Carnegie Mellon University, the PI System is deployed at the Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics.  With the PI System, Carnegie Mellon is able to create intelligent dashboards along with reports to facilitate building analytics to cut energy use on campus by 20 percent. Massachusetts Institute of Technology uses the PI System within their Chemical Engineering Unit Operations Lab. The PI System is the data infrastructure behind their automated pilot plant.

The Academic Program consists of four segments designed to help institutions, researchers and students:

  • Production Use - Schools use our software to gain benefits in utilities and facilities operations, allowing teams to create a Smart Campus.  
  • Education Use - Students use the PI System in classroom settings to gain experience with our world class, industry standard toolset. This prepares students for the next phase of their careers and gives them a competitive edge on the job market.  
  • Innovation Use - Researchers use the PI System to accelerate their work. The PI System enables connected innovation, making research more valuable to corporate partners.  
  • OSIsoft's Academic HUB - A cloud-based PI System where students store and share the results of their research and lab results.

Students who gained PI System literacy through the program report that having the PI System listed on their resume helped them get a job with one of OSIsoft's customers.  But, ultimately, it's our customers who benefit from the program, which prepares the next generation of engineers for next generation jobs across a wide array of industries.

To find out how your university program can get involved, check out our OSIsoft Academic Program page on PI Square.