Student Projects Apply ‘Internet of Things’ Principles in Sustainability and Product Design

Integrating the power of data and Internet connectivity into everyday objects has become a big trend in product development today, more so with the recent rise of the ‘Internet of Things’. University of Pennsylvania students are at the forefront of this, and are applying these novel concepts in creating solutions that tackle everyday problems. Two Penn projects at the forefront of this movement are PennOrb and Nimbus.

PennOrb provides college houses with color-changing plastic orbs whose color reflects the respective houses energy consumption. The goal of PennOrb is to raise awareness on how much energy we use.


The PennOrb team has developed an algorithm that calculates the expected energy value based on the temperature, humidity and visible light. It then compares this expected value with the actual usage. According to their website, when the orb glows green, it means your building is using energy efficiently, and when it turns red, it means that you’re going over the expected energy consumption level.

PennOrb Founder Jason Choi believes that having a visible and tangible representation of one’s energy consumption can be the game-changer in making more people aware of their energy usage, and hopefully getting them to consume less.


PennOrb was also the winner for the PennSustains competition, which awarded them $3000 to pursue the idea. According to Choi, students from the London School of Economics have expressed interest in doing a pilot in their buildings as well.

“We hope to make PennOrb a long term staple in Penn; And so our exit strategy might be to pass it on to the next batch of students, and see how far we can take this,” stated Choi.

This same trend of using Internet connectivity with tangible objects is seen in Nimbus, a Penn Product Design class project. Nimbus, which is a smart weather forecast umbrella stand, was developed by a team of graduate and undergraduate students who wanted to take advantage of the trend of consumers wanting tangible items that can present them data.

The Nimbus team emphasized how they wanted to create a product that served more than one purpose, and helped make the lives of people better. By integrating weather forecasts using the Internet, the Nimbus weather stand lights up depending on the weather, helping you know when to use your umbrella.


Penn Integrated Product Design Graduate Student Aobo Zhou said, “From this class, I learned that design is a process. Anyone can become a designer if they follow this process because design thinking can be applied to any type of business or any profession you’re in.”

Fellow Nimbus project team member and Graduate Student Karla Caicedo added, “This product design class taught me the importance of trying. As engineers, we think of a product than immediately focus on building it and making sure it’s perfect. We forget that it might not be what people actually want. This class taught us how to prototype then change our idea based on feedback.”

For Nimbus team member and Penn Engineering Junior Bianca Pham, “For me, taking this Product Design class was really important in teaching me design. It gave me an extra skillset I could combine with coding; understanding what people like and being able to apply it to actual products.”


It will be interesting to see what other products Penn students come up with in the future with the Internet of Things slowly catching on with students, and user-centered design thinking becoming a core principle in product development.

David Ongchoco is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in LIFE. An aspiring entrepreneur, David has been working on different side projects during his free time like the Global Youth Journal, while also blogging about all the inspiring people he’s been meeting in his first semester of college in his person blog If you want to talk more about entrepreneurship, startups, education or any random topic, feel free to hit David up at