When SDGE and Google Powermeter provided a web interface for energy consumption back in 2010, I found myself hopelessly irritated and helpless with the lack of usable information. I could see that my power consumption had spiked a week earlier at 6pm but I had no idea what caused it. The tool provided more information than I had access to before, but just enough to be more frustrating than useful.

One unique way in which our environment can interact with us is by providing information that we are not able to access through our normal senses or abilities, an example of which is power consumption. With the increasing cost and consequences of high energy usage, we all want to reduce our footprint but how? What we need is better information to make good decisions.

Google Powermeter. Image from Mapawatt.

Google Powermeter. Image from Mapawatt.

What’s On?

Enter ElectriSense – a solution for detecting and classifying electrical devices in the home. Basically, ElectriSense is a component you would plug into one power outlet and be able to detect the switching on and off of multiple different devices throughout your home. It uses the unique pattern of noise that SMPS or Switch Mode power supplies (the brick on most of your power adapters) generate on the home’s power wiring.

Demo Interface from ElectriSense

Demo Interface from ElectriSense

This research comes from Duke University’s UbiComp Lab, from Sidhant Gupta, Matthew Reynolds and Shwetak Patel, and the implications are fascinating. A product with the ElectriSense technology and wifi could communicate with a display in your home, or even your computer or cellphone, and provide information on the current level of power consumption. It could collect usage information and allow you to look back at periods of high consumption to figure out what appliances were running at the time. My exasperating Powermeter problems would be solved! One of the most compelling features of this technology is that it requires no installation and can simply be plugged in to one power outlet – just one!

Of course, the one issue that I can see would be privacy. Many homes have one outlet outside the house and a malicious person could plug this product in that outlet to obtain not only a list of electronics within the home, but also information on when the house is likely unoccupied. However, I suppose every new technology comes with new privacy issues and since this one requires access to the house, it is limited in its scope.

If your interest has been peaked, you can read an interview with one of the publishers of this paper, Shwetak Patel, who has gone on to win the MacArthur Genius Award. He’s full of great ideas for the future of the home. In addition, Belkin has acquired his company in 2010 so watch out for some innovative ElectriSense products to hit the shelves.

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