With the current lack of charging stations still posing a huge obstacle for electric vehicle (EV) adoption, CSI undergraduates Brendan Costello and Brandon Ortega, along with CUNYBA student Tammy Babad, proposed a radical solution – turn EV owners into energy sellers and sharers, creating a more democratic marketplace.

The concept, known as PowerShare, won this year’s GfK NextGen Data Science Hackathon Competition. The team will share a $5,000 grand prize and present their work at the Insights Association’s Annual Conference in April.

CSI’s team members for the project come from diverse educational backgrounds. Babad is a senior and Computer Science major within the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies program, while Ortega is a junior at CSI and an Information Systems and Informatics major. They were joined by Costello, a first-year CSI student who majors in Economics.

Their innovation involves a nozzle that can connect to other vehicles, allowing energy transfer in either direction. It would allow EV owners to buy, sell, or share energy with each other, and would alleviate some of the need for fixed charging stations throughout the country.

“We thought about an application with AI capabilities that would address some concerns of EV buyers relating to safety and the insecurity of not locating charging stations on the road,” said Ortega when explaining the idea. “We felt more confident with the idea after discovering that the majority of EV owners/intenders are younger, specifically Gen Z, a demographic that plugs in well to the gig economy. With this nozzle and power-sharing capability, we are lowering the carbon footprint because it increases the effective range of fuel stations and opens the doors to cars being mobile batteries. PowerShare creates opportunities for EV customers and car businesses to create power on wheels, or mobile charging stations. Our mentors provided guidance with this idea that Brendan originally came up with and we let our data analysis do the rest.”

Competitors in the ten-day event had access to a variety of GfK data and needed to develop innovations related to some aspect of sustainability. GfK produces the competition in collaboration with the Insights Association.

Judges evaluated the teams – which had just five minutes each to present – primarily on their use of data science and analytics, although the business potential of their innovations also played a role. This year’s client judges were:

Steve Nemeth – Strategic Planning & Research Manager, American Honda Motor Co.

James Wiltshire – Manager, Voice of Customer and New Initiatives, Kia America

Also evaluating the student presentations were Rolfe Swinton (VP, Data Innovation and Partnerships), Jeremiah Bullock (Client Solutions Manager), Maritza Marquez (Director of Studies, Market & Consumer Intelligence) and Nicole Wiebe (Director, Marketing Science). In addition, Chris Robson (Senior Director, Data Science, Human8 (formerly Gongos/InSites Consulting) provided coaching to the teams on behalf of IA.

“Presenting the project came with a mix of excitement and anxiety. We knew we had five minutes to present and five minutes for questions, so we wanted to use our time wisely and we wanted to be straightforward with our information,” Ortega said. “After much practice, we got it down to less than five minutes.”

The presentation, and subsequent Q & A, was enough to make a great impression.

“It is a thrill every year to see student teams from a wide variety of majors – from Computer Science to Data Analytics to Business – come together to turn data into business innovation,” said Swinton. “In corporations, we are also seeing the lines blur between marketing, IT, finance, and other stakeholders – trying to break down the silos that stand in the way of optimal decisions. The CSI team exemplified this new collaboration, producing a genuine innovation through solid data analysis.”

“The novel idea developed by the students at CUNY illustrates the power of insights to fuel innovation,” commented Melanie Courtright, CEO of the Insights Association. “We’re excited to host the winning team next month at our Annual Conference and have our members learn about their solution firsthand and see how data inspired and influenced it.”

Now in its 12th year, the NextGen Competition gives undergraduates firsthand exposure to solving real-life business problems with consumer insights and data. Five years ago, GfK North America reimagined the competition as a ten-day hackathon, in which students mine raw data sets for relevant insights and then convert them into business guidance. The change reflects a radical transformation in consumer insights, in which data integration and predictive analysis now play dramatically larger roles.

“We are extremely proud of our CSI Chazanoff School of Business team for winning this year’s NextGen Data Science Hackathon,” said CSI Professor Soon Ae Chun, who mentored the team along with CSI Associate Professor Paolo Cappellari. “Tammy, Brandon, and Brendan’s success is a testament to their ability to deal with complex business problems, and to their ingenuity to devise a novel idea for a sustainable and innovative next-generation solution in the automobile industry. Their creativity, based on the insights from data analytics skills learned in classes, combined with their collaboration, commitment to excellence, and ability to work under pressure, truly sets them apart. They deserve congratulations on the well-deserved win.”

“The event was rigorous, but it was rewarding and a great learning experience,” Ortega said. “We woke up and saw a ‘congratulations’ subject heading to an email and our jaws fell to the floor. We are beyond grateful, and words can’t describe the excitement each of us is experiencing. We are looking forward to presenting the idea again at the Insights Annual Conference in South Carolina, continuing to refine our presentation and looking forward to making new and memorable experiences.”

The Insights Association protects and creates demand for the evolving Insights and Analytics industry by promoting the indisputable role of insights in driving business impact. All revenue is invested in quality standards, legal and business advocacy, education, certification, and direct support to enable its members to thrive.

– Story excerpts courtesy of GfK Communications