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September 10, 2013

Drupal Goes Green with Innovation in Boston

Thought by FFW,

I’m a big fan and longtime resident of Boston. And if you’re anything like me in that you love cycling, you’ll note that Boston is rapidly becoming a wonderful place for bike commuting, leisure cycling, and casually perusing the city and surrounding areas. Hubway, introduced a few years back, is a national bike-share program that offers cyclists an easy way to rent bikes for use all across the city. And its doing wonders for cycling culture. But there was always one shortcoming - you bring your own helmet - or go without. We all know the ever present risks of the latter.

Boston is also a city of innovative thinkers providing great forums for innovation, such as TechStars, and other resources in the form of the cluster of hi-tech venture firms and services on tap to facilitate and nurture new ideas. Combine the ideas and the resources and kapow you’ve got the nucleus for the evolution of awesome world changing companies. We’re very excited to be involved in supporting and providing technical services to early stage technology startups. While we specialize in Drupal and open source, we’re finding there’s many an opportunity to cost effectively apply open source technologies to bear to help bring great minimal viable product ideas to market. We recently collaborated with HelmetHub - a local startup run by their fantastic CEO Chris Mills, with mentorship from one of the original founders of Acquia, and accomplished entrepreneur, Jay Batson. HelmetHub is building helmet dispensing machines that will be located next to Hubway installations around the city. HelmetHub is launching first in Boston this fall and expanding from there - and they’ve built a really nifty solution using a combination of technologies.

I’m very excited to say that we at FFW helped HelmetHub to build the API layer that stores helmet information - referred to as Helmet View. The overall solution is designed in three distinct  “layers” - the first being the machine itself - or hubOS. The machine includes a bunch of complex third party moving parts ranging from mechanics for loading and dispensing helmets, credit card capture etc, but hubOS is the heart of the machine that provides the ability to upload helmet transactions and details to the API layer. hubOS is built in part on a special Linux distribution alongside Python. Drupal was chosen as the web layer - as a RESTful API layer and storage - Helmet View - because of its flexibility and ease of management. Helmet View stores information on the whereabouts of helmets including status, location, how many are in each machine, those needing repair and provides ability report on statistics at a micro and macro level. It also stores health statistics on the machines themselves. This information is then made available to the third layer - the “city” website wherever that city may be along with machine maintenance providers. The city website can request information from Helmet View to display available helmets, helmet status and statistics for maintenance, inventory etc., neatly abstracting the solution into its respective components which means the solution scales nicely.

We worked with HelmetHub in an agile methodology with short burst week long sprints to tailor our focus, and frankly our clients limited budget, to target minimal viable product for this initial launch. We hope to continue to help the HelmetHub team to evolve this solution along with helping other startups to make an impact on our world with exciting and innovative new products and solutions.

HelmetHub launches as MVP to a limited deployment around Boston next week. I’m excited to see the adoption of a fantastic green safety solution for riders around our city that also leverages the biggest community driven open source project in the world, Drupal. If I am any good at gambling on sure things I’m betting that you’ll see it in a city near you soon!

Safe cycling!