Home Smart Home

homesmarthomeBy Matt Baker

Right now, on your desk or in your pocket, is a tremendous piece of technology. It gives you the ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere and the whole sum of human knowledge is there for your perusing. Smartphones have greatly impacted how we interact with each other and our environment.

We are still discovering new ways that they can impact and better our lives, but where will the next front be in this human/digital dance? It very likely will be home intelligence systems. While early adopters may be drawn to features of comfort like media control, the true power of these systems are in energy management. One of the few sustainability products directed at the residential sector, these systems can help the average homeowner become an exceptional energy conserver.

magazineThe EDGEHome tablet display shows a variety of information, including home energy use, estimated costs, conservation tips and other metrics.[/caption]San Diego-based Green Edge Technologies just launched its contender to this market, EDGEhome. Designed by a team of former Motorola and Nokia executives, designers and engineers, EDGEhome provides real-time energy monitoring and control of every point of electricity usage in the home.

There are two integral components to the system: wireless devices that monitor electricity usage, and a central tablet display from which those devices can be accessed and controlled.

The wireless devices are hard-wired in, installed in every junction box, light fixture, switch and outlet in the home. What sets EDGEhome apart from other systems is the proprietary radio technology developed specifically for the EDGEhome system. Unlike Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, the Green Edge Protocol, as they refer to it, is both cheaper and less power hungry.

The team behind the technology previously developed smartphones, protean devices that must run off of a small battery for long time. Green Edge has leveraged this history to create an efficacious wireless device that is also power efficient.

The EDGEHome tablet display shows a variety of information, including home energy use, estimated costs, conservation tips and other metrics.

The EDGEHome tablet display shows a variety of information, including home energy use, estimated costs, conservation tips and other metrics.

Intermittent communication is the key to energy conservation. “The devices are not very chatty,” said Scott Steele, CEO and founder of Green Edge Technologies. “They only communicate when something changes meaningfully.” The devices have a fair amount of intelligence built in and are able to calculate the power in real time, wirelessly, inside the device.

EDGEhome’s wall-mounted user interface gives the resident the ability to control and monitor every point of energy use in the residence. A user can view their home, each room or even go as granular as an individual outlet, allowing them to see where their energy is being used. “Even in a two-outlet receptacle, the system can measure the electrical usage of the left outlet versus the right outlet, for example,” said Steele.

The user-facing side of the system consists of a seven-inch, purpose-built tablet mounted on a wall somewhere in the residence. From there, the homeowner can control lights and outlets, but the system has its own intelligence. Vampire energy is a huge killer to any home budget; EDGEhome can determine if, for example, a cell phone or laptop charger is plugged in but not powering a device and then turn off the outlet. If no one is in an energy-heavy area of the house, such as a media room, the system can ascertain that as well and power off the appropriate outlets until someone comes in.

With the proper security credentials, the system can also be accessed from a personal tablet or smartphone. The EDGEhome system provides tips on how to reduce energy consumption, and can even automate protocols for hands-off energy management.

The system is also ideal in multifamily buildings. In each unit the benefits are the same as in a detached single family home, but for the building manager, EDGEhome reduces energy consumption in common areas and vacant units. It can also notify management of spent light bulbs, monitor entryway locks and provide a communication link with tenants via their tablet interfaces.

A second generation version of the devices is undergoing testing and certification and should be on the market sometime next year. Currently, the devices must piggy-back onto the electrical receptacle that they are monitoring, requiring deeper outlet boxes. The second generation, however, will have the EDGEhome system incorporated into the outlets themselves, requiring no specialty installation. They will also be able to recognize what is plugged into them—whether it’s a light, curling iron or microwave—based on the appliance’s unique waveform.

“We’re not going to stop with home energy management,” Steele said, “but we wanted to get that right.” He hopes to have an integrated circuit available sometime within the next two years as well. This would allow the technology to be installed into any household appliance and provide a broader range of intelligence and user interaction. After that, there is a large portfolio of things that the system may one day manage, such as water usage, HVAC, security and media.

Steele was based for a time in Beijing while working for Motorola. This experience in part colored his vision of how humans and technology can impact the environment. “The pollution over there is just crazy,” he said. “You get a feeling when you’re in that for two years that there’s an impact on the world. It may sound a little pie in sky, but we really wanted to make difference.”

Photo courtesy Green Edge Technologies

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