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Three university students from Calgary take first place at Princeton hackathon


Second-year students Ryan Lee, Tim Gubskiy and Daniel Sabourov had 36 hours to come up with a better way to detect forest fires for a hackathon competition hosted by Princeton University, where, way back in 1931, a guy who wasn't actually on faculty named Albert Einstein had an office in the mathematics building.

Their solution was to create a network of powerful microcontrollers with heat sensors spread throughout the forest that could alert firefighters the instant the fire started.

"So how do we have a low infrastructure solution to this problem? That's how we came up with the nodes," said Savourov, a second-year computer science student at the University of Calgary. "If we just have little nodes that are self sustainable, like with solar power or whatever other kind of power we find for them, then they will be able to just stay there for long periods of time."

Their venture is called FlameNet and the nodes are made using a ESP32 development boards along with a power supply.

"It's just a microcontroller that comes equipped with Bluetooth and wi-fi, a very powerful microcontroller," said Gubskiy, who takes electrical and computer engineering at Princeton. "A lot of people use them for smart home automation, anything where you want to control some circuits using wi-fi or Bluetooth."

The team said currently satellites with high-powered cameras are used by technicians to spot forest fires. Lee, who studies computer engineering at the University of Toronto, says that method of detection can be vague and lead to false alarms.

FlameNet, by contrast, is accurate, immediate and would be a valuable tool for provincial forestry services. It also has other possible applications for wildlife researchers.

"We could use it to even track let's say, an animal, a wild animal," he said. "We could put a tag on it and if it was running around, it would trigger the node as it ran through (an area with sensors) so we can track it in real time (and know) exactly where it is."


The childhood friends are in their second years and thought HackPrinceton would be a good opportunity for a visit and to try something new. They won the event along with $1,000 in cash along with a Nintendo Switch each.

 Now, they're all back in Calgary for the Christmas break.

"To be honest, I was really there (in Princeton) to visit Tim," said Lee. "It's been a while since I saw him and I was also really excited for the competition as well, we had no idea what we were going to build."

Gubskiy had fun showing his friends around the campus and experiencing some of the cafeteria food that once you paid to get in was all-you-can-eat and the three took advantage of it.

"Knowing each other's kind of strengths and weaknesses we were able to just jump straight into it," said Gubskiy. "We were all very comfortable with each other so it was a very light-hearted environment, very friendly, we had a lot of fun."

Savourov says winning the hackathon shows that FlameNet could become something bigger in the future but for now the three have to concentrate on their studies and getting their degrees before that can happen.

"Overall, a super, super fun experience," he said. "And I got to learn a lot about technology and be able to learn a lot of new skills, as well as actually just get to meet new people."

Learn more about FlameNet here: Top Stories

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