Electronics

Smart electrical outlets could save energy and reduce e-waste

Smart electrical outlets could...
Assoc. Prof. Sanjib Kumar Panda (left) and Dr. Krishnanand Kaippilly Radhakrishnan with a prototype of the Smart Electrical Outlet/Socket (SEOS) system
Assoc. Prof. Sanjib Kumar Panda (left) and Dr. Krishnanand Kaippilly Radhakrishnan with a prototype of the Smart Electrical Outlet/Socket (SEOS) system
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Assoc. Prof. Sanjib Kumar Panda (left) and Dr. Krishnanand Kaippilly Radhakrishnan with a prototype of the Smart Electrical Outlet/Socket (SEOS) system
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Assoc. Prof. Sanjib Kumar Panda (left) and Dr. Krishnanand Kaippilly Radhakrishnan with a prototype of the Smart Electrical Outlet/Socket (SEOS) system

While there are now many home appliances that can be remotely monitored and controlled via the internet, each one of those has to incorporate specialized Internet of Things (IoT) electronics. Engineers have now created a simpler system, that moves those electronics to the home's wall outlets.

Known as the Smart Electrical Outlet/Socket (SEOS) system, the technology is being developed by a team at the National University of Singapore. It incorporates a network of "smart" faceplates that replace those presently on a building's electrical outlets, along with NFC (near field communications) stickers that are adhered to the plug on each appliance's power cord. All of the outlets in one building are connected via Wi-Fi to a central server.

When one of the plugs is pushed into one of the outlets, an NFC reader in that outlet is able to identify the appliance by a unique code on the sticker. The server then looks up the electrical specifications of that appliance, in a database. Users are subsequently able to turn that appliance on and off over the internet, simply by powering up or shutting off the outlet. This means that when the appliance isn't in use, it won't be drawing any current at all – with regular outlets, appliances still use some electricity when in standby mode.

The system also allows users to check if an appliance has been accidentally left on, by monitoring the real-time draw from its outlet. It's additionally possible to put individual outlets on a schedule, so they automatically turn their appliance on and off at specific times of day. What's more, if the system detects that an appliance is drawing more current than its specified amount, it will automatically shut the outlet off to keep the appliance from overheating.

According to the university, it should cost about US$80 per outlet to install the SEOS system, and the technology should reduce a building's total plug load energy consumption by 30 to 60 percent – depending on the size of the building. SEOS also ought to reduce the cost of appliances and the amount of e-waste they produce, as each device won't need to incorporate its own IoT electronics.

"The applications of this development are not just for buildings or building owners," says the lead scientist, Assoc. Prof. Sanjib Kumar Panda. "This can benefit the busy office workers who rush to work, forgetting to turn off the iron in their haste, or the elderly folk who live alone. Smart sockets will enable anyone to remotely check in how devices are performing, and control them."

Source: National University of Singapore

8 comments
eMacPaul
You can get a smart electrical outlet right now on Amazon for $20.
paul314
For new construction this might be a good idea, IF all the obvious failure modes and security issues can be addressed. From the simple ones of people switching NFC stickers or using extension cords to the more troubling issues of having an advanced persistent threat built into the walls of your dwelling, potentially using your appliances in damaging ways, exfiltrating information about everything you do at home, and corrupting any other device that touches the same network(s). There's also the question of what technology and protocols such a system should use. Current house wiring stays in place for 40-80 years, so will the people of 2100 be stuck with the "smart" outlets of 2020, like office workers condemned to use only computers with floppy disks because that's all some crucial piece of legacy hardware can accept?
DaveWesely
This is one of those things I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. And I tend to be an early adopter. IoT is a joke and a potentially serious security threat to individuals. Who needs to schedule appliances to turn off and on? If you want your coffeemaker to do that, buy one with that feature. Can you imagine accidentally turning off your fridge while on vacation and coming home to a rotten mess? What, don't think that would happen? Ever butt dialed someone? This isn't just a solution looking for a problem, it is a problem looking for an opportunity.
Captain Obvious
So, I counted the outlets in my house and multiplied by $80; then I'd have to get new appliances..... um, NOPE. Not gonna pay me back. I'll just shut things off, mm'kay?

BTW, how much is the subscription to the online database? And when it goes out of business are your outlets worthless?
Username
The IoT is more than simply turning things on and off.
BlueOak
The dudes at the University of Singapore have too much time on their hands.

$80/receptacle??? Virtually all of this is already doable with $10-15 smart plugs. Smart plugs that already measure and report real time energy consumption. We have a whole house instantaneous consumption system, provided by our utility.

In this day of touch controls, how many non-lighting devices can be turned on by supplying power to their plugs? Most require user input at their control panels.

And what percentage of more complex devices remember all their settings when you cut off power to them? If you have to reprogram/configure them every time power is cut off, how long do you thing the homeowner is going to leave that system operational?

“Smarter” to use inexpensive existing smart plugs where helpful and as to “vampire” power devices, be smart about checking standby power ratings when comparing new devices. Although, in best case scenarios, we’ve been able to reduce our home’s ideal idle/standby power demand to about 200 watts. About 150 watts of that is the fridge and chest freezers, both contemporary models that have small compressors that run most of the time unlike old models with big inefficient compressors.
Signguy
This just gives opportunity for Gov't control over our lives more than ever. Ever read "1984"?
ArdisLille
I'm for less IoT after reading James Patterson's book about IoT gone crazy-town.