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MDM Students Work With Finning Digital to Reduce Company's Carbon Footprint

May 16, 2017 By Chris Sroka

Students of the Master of Digital Media program have the fortunate opportunity to work on problems real industry clients are facing. The student project teams form a sort of research and development department for the clients to discover how digital media can solve a particular problem. But how can a team of students come together with an international organization to tackle a problem such as reducing the company's carbon footprint?

That question was posed to team Ground SIX when Finning Digital partnered with the Centre for Digital Media last January. Finning Digital, a division of Finning International, looked to the CDM to find innovative ways to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions from their heavy equipment. The MDM students worked on the ideation, design, and development of a proof of concept designed for Finning Digital.

We reached out to Marco Cermusoni of Ground SIX to discuss the problem, their solution and the final outcome of the project.

Project Background

In January 2017, Finning Digital mandated Ground SIX, a team of MDM students to create a proof of concept of an application that coaches heavy equipment operators around idling to reduce the carbon footprint.


Finning Digital is a division of Finning International, the world's leading Caterpillar equipment dealer, operating on three continents with thousands of pieces of equipment in operation including excavators, haul trucks, dozers and more. The equipment is a leading brand for mining, forestry and construction operations, with data being provided by all customers.  

The Problem

Currently, over 2,000,000 hours have been wasted year to date due to machines idling, representing approximately 33% of the machine operation time. Research showed, that this is mostly due to operator habits and non-coached behaviour. With this app, Ground SIX created a gamified solution, that would coach such operators to reduce fuel consumption and therefore lower their carbon footprint.

User Testing

Ground SIX conducted 5 user tests with the cohort and then with several operators of a closely located landfill. Testing goals ranged from user flow to design to usability tests. Each test helped the team optimize either the experience or designs. With all the test results, Ground SIX was able to support their ideas with real data.

Internal testing is always essential before going towards external testing. Ground SIX conducted a very important internal test before their final user test. With this internal test, the team found several problems they had not initially anticipated. After internal testing was completed the team conducted an external test by going to a nearby landfill to talk to operators and get their feedback on the current iteration.

The Solution

The student team ended up with a working prototype for heavy equipment operators. The iOS app gamified the operator’s daily tasks, based the equipment’s real data, which rewards them for continuous reduction of their idle time with real life CAT merchandise.

If the app reduced a given Mining-company’s idling by the estimated 15%, the app could save over 1.1 million CAD annually in fuel savings and saved CO2 taxes (Miller Dussan - Global Director customer performance).

A wide adaption of a finished app would would change how the industry uses fossil fuel and have an impact on the country’s carbon emissions.

Project Takeaways

Ground SIX learned a lot about many aspects of app development, heavy machine operations & data management. Here are three main takeaways:

-Gamification works: with the right mathematics and game mechanics, Ground SIX succeeded in gamifying an operator’s day around their idling behaviour. Their behaviour is being analyzed, displayed and fed back to them through goals and textual feedback.

-There are several ways to visualize complex data: easy understanding of complicated data requires complex animations. The team solved this problem by using different levels in a trophy system, but in the future, statistics might be displayed in a simpler way.

-Creating an API is difficult but possible: the database structure had two databases namely, the Vision Link DB provided by the client which provided us the actual data of the equipment. The second DB was the game database that we created to do the conversion of real machine data into game language like the XP, Coins etc. The second database that we created was built on Azure platform for easy integration with the client database in future. A lot of research was involved in finding out a proper API that could connect these databases with the front end, upon our research we decided to use Mobile Azure APK service that could connect the front-end and the back-end.

Final Deliverable

Quote from the Client

“We couldn’t be happier with the outcome of partnering with CDM and the student team on this exciting new mobile application. Thanks to the their diligent background research with potential users we look forward to the official launch and future Finning collaboration with CDM!”

- Spencer Westlake, Product Manager, Global Analytics & Sustainability

It is true that tractors are not the first thing that pops into your mind when thinking about digital media, but this project is a true validation that digital media can cross all business verticals. There is more to it than just video games, websites, social media and special effects. Watch Ground SIX's project progression on their blog and check out other student projects