Beer Automated

A computer scientist and his star pupil brew beer with the push of a button.

Partners in beer: Michael Weeks enjoys a brew while D'juan Blue inspects his equipment.

Beer Gear: Michael Weeks enjoys the fruits of the labor while D’juan Blue begins a new batch of suds.

Michael Weeks brews business with pleasure.

Weeks, an associate professor of computer science and avid homebrewer, was in the throes of a brewing a batch of India Pale Ale when he had something of a “eureka” moment — and it wasn’t just the beer talking.

“Brewing requires a lot of attention,” Weeks says. “And, while I was running around making this beer, it occurred to me that it could all be controlled by a computer, or more specifically, an embedded system.”

An embedded system, Weeks explains, is a computing system dedicated to a specific task. Embedded systems are everywhere, from I-Pods to washing machines.

Weeks teaches a class on embedded systems, and remembered a particularly successful project from the previous semester by then-senior D’juan Blue (B.S. ’13). Blue built a security robot he could control remotely with an Android device — in this case, his phone.

“I reached out to D’juan to see if he’d be interested in making some beer for a research project,” Weeks says, laughing.

Blue, now an associate software developer at General Motors, agreed, and the two clinked glasses and got to work.

With a little guidance from his professor, Blue built a system that fully automates the arduous first step — the brewing stage — when making beer.

An Arduino, a small, powerful and relatively inexpensive embedded system, powers the project. The Arduino connects to a server, which acts as a relay and passes data between the Arduino and a specially designed Android application built by Blue.

So, to begin the brewing cycle, he simply pulls up the app on his phone and presses a button. When his brew reaches the optimal temperature, or falls below, he receives a push notification on his phone. And when each process is complete, the app will let him know.

“I’ve never brewed beer before this project,” Blue says. “So, now I can’t imagine not using my phone to make beer.”