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Pouring One Out for Charity

5 students in front of Boise Brewing
Photo by Allison Corona

When local brewery Boise Brewing wanted to figure out how to display their monthly charity proceeds, they turned to a group of seniors in Boise State’s computer science department for help. Their challenge: engineer a smart tap handle that could count the number of charity beers poured and display that information on a screen for patrons.

“Each month we pick a tap handle and donate $1 of each pint toward a different nonprofit,” said Collin Rudeen, founder of Boise Brewing, one of a few community-owned breweries in the nation, with more than 450 stakeholders. “Communicating that program is something we’ve struggled with a little. Hopefully people will be curious about the display and make them more likely to buy a pint of that beer so they can watch the count go up.”

Five computer science students, guided by Shane Panter, a coordinator for the Boise State computer science senior design course, stepped up to the task. It was far trickier than it sounds. For instance, the group needed to be able to clock every time a beer was poured – without touching the beer.

“It would seem easy to stick a flow-rate sensor on the handle but you can’t do that on beer because it changes the head of the beer, among other characteristics,” Panter said. “So in order to predict how much is pouring, we’ve attached an accelerometer to the handle, so when it’s pulled, we detect that change in orientation.”

Students had to collect data showing at what handle angle different beers begin to pour. They set up a video camera and recorded bartenders for an eight-hour shift, collected samples on all types of beer and encoded that data. They then wrote a program that predicts flow at an accuracy of 80-95 percent.

“Working with these students has been fun,” Rudeen said. “It’s been pretty easy for us to tell them what we’re hoping to accomplish and letting them run with it. I’m pretty excited to see the finished product. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep it going and have a new project every semester.”