Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
April, 24th 2009

Wherever I am on the planet, I can check what the weather is like at home – not just in my home town, but in my back garden. I can also check to see exactly how much energy my apartment is using, and what the temperature is indoors. I can manage all of that from my mobile web browser.

How do I do that? Well, my home is instrumented with a smart energy meter that is hooked up to my network. I have a weather sensor outside. These instruments are feeding information to a small, low-power, fanless computer which I can access anytime, from wherever I am in the world. If I can get hold of that kind of information, I can also create systems which intelligently adjust the usage of different devices – maybe I would want to turn off the heating remotely if it’s on but not required. I’m able to use IBM’s pervasive messaging technologies and open standards to hook all of these things together.

This kind of “home hacking” may seem like it must involve a lot of effort, but there’s now a growing community of individuals who are interested in making this stuff easier. Home Camp is an “unconference” which draws together people who are interested in learning how to develop or use these technologies, and in discussing ways in which we can work with utility companies to encourage them to adopt new power sources and ways to improve efficiency. It’s a grass-roots effort to create a Smarter Planet. The first Home Camp was held in London last year – IBM Master Inventor Andy Stanford-Clark talked about his own automated house at the event. The next one is being held tomorrow, April 25th – it’s open to anyone, and as much as possible will be streamed online. People will be attending via the OpenSim virtual world environment too, and learning how to make a virtual building mirror the status of their own home.

Just think about this, just for a moment. We can do all of this already, today, on a small scale in our own homes. How much more powerful can a Smarter Planet be when we scale these same instrumented systems and smart grids up to companies, cities and countries? I think the future looks very exciting indeed.

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June 23, 2009
7:26 am

Clarissa, Friedman has talked a lot about smart grids. In particularly, I remember him talking a lot about the green jobs that would result from Smart Grids and other related industries, and using that as an indication of where the future job creation and innovation will be happening in the U.S. and other Western economies. Thanks for the comment.

Posted by: Adam Christensen
June 23, 2009
12:06 am

Was this the smart grid that Friedman talked about in his book? I don’t know if you’ve read it or not, but it is definitely something too look into if you haven’t, it sounds like it might be something of interest to you.

Smart grids are the technology of the future. I know they are already doing experiments of it somewhere, and that homeowners are saving 15% or more on energy each month. With greater research into this technology we could be saving much more than that! I can only imagine, if this technology does, indeed, become reality, what it would be like to live with this!

Thanks for sharing!

Posted by: Clarissa
May 8, 2009
4:47 am

I agree that a dashboards for the home would help consumers track their usage to save the planet (and save some money as well). I definitely need a smarter fridge. Spent half a morning defrosting a very frozen over freezer – it was like hacking away at polar ice during an expedition to south pole

Posted by: Kristina O'Regan
May 8, 2009
4:12 am

I really like the dashboard idea. There is a meter for everything attached to the house but who ventures out the side of the house to check these on a regular basis except the utility companies that bill you. So I hope someday to see this implemented. I am an ibmer in IBM Ireland. Visit IBM Ireland’s blog : and our twitter:

Posted by: Kristina O'Regan
April 28, 2009
1:46 am

Mark, I think the answer is very much along the lines of what Adam has noted here.

The remote monitoring aspect is in some ways just a side effect of the technology that is being developed and deployed. In the UK we now have four or five manufacturers providing easy to use consumer devices which can be plugged in at home to enable the monitoring I’ve described, and they are absolutely focussed on educating the consumer. What about water and gas as well – are you accustomed to going all around the house looking at each meter to see how much you’ve used? Probably not, but if all of the information was available in a meaningful way in a single home dashboard then you might become more aware of how much of each resource you were using. The fact that I can monitor that dashboard within the home or away from it is in some ways a side effect of the pervasive nature of the Internet.

At Home Camp we’ve enjoyed a great deal of buy-in from the manufacturers, several of whom have been sponsors; and we’ve also approached the energy companies, local authorities etc to try to get debate and interest moving along the lines that you suggest – smarter planning, efficiency etc.

The next step along is what can be described as smarter grids and analytics to enable intelligent things to happen when combinations of events occur – so Andy Stanford-Clark’s intelligent house has a whole variety of sensors that work together not just on the basis of time or temperature, but on a combination of criteria. As Adam says, maybe price would be a factor in terms of when to run certain devices. On top of that, devices themselves are becoming more intelligent so they can make more of these decisions independently

Again, scaling that up to larger constituencies, if you look at Tom Raftery’s work on “Electricity 2.0″ and managing supply and demand on a wider scale, smarter grids and intelligent systems like those Adam mentions are the kinds of things that need to happen in order to overhaul our energy systems, which are fundamentally rooted in early 20th century models at the moment.

George, several people from the Home Camp community have documented the kinds of things they have been building. What we don’t have yet is a single source of collected wisdom on the subject. A fun video to watch (if you can put up with the non-professional camera work) is Andy Stanford-Clark’s talk from the first Home Camp – it’s a little more technical as he has been working in this space for some time now, but there are increasingly easy ways of building similar systems. See

Posted by: Andy Piper
April 26, 2009
8:59 pm

Mark… some great points. I think one of the issues is that we need more intelligence at all levels. This kind of home hacking is useful in helping us, the consumer/citizen be more informed on the usage of our energy. But to really make it more useful, we need smart grids that can help optimize peak supply and demand and have variable pricing. While the refrigerator will need to stay steady state, being able to make decisions on when to run other appliances (dryers, air conditioners, etc.) based on when pricing is optimal would make massive differences.

And the third piece, as you mention, is the appliances themselves need more intelligent so they can communicate to us better usage, and can make decisions on their own based on parameters we’ve set, or information coming from the grid. The key is starting somewhere to avoid prolonging the chicken and egg dance between consumers, manufacturers and utilities. But having more intelligence at the consumer level, utility level (smart grid) and appliance level (device) is really key for the true benefits of all of this.

Posted by: Adam Christensen
April 24, 2009
4:57 pm

Andy: Are there resources online that demonstrate the way folks like you have achieved these sorts of systems? I find this fascinating. Thanks for the post, and hope you enjoy Homecamp.

Posted by: george faulkner
April 24, 2009
3:04 pm

Andy, I have great respect for your technology skills, but how is this anything more than making something more complicated? Here in Austin we don’t have much in the way of extremes, its just hot most of the year.

My A/C System has two separate units, each unit is managed by an separate controller. Each controller has as many as four different time periods per day of the week and a high for the A/C to come on, and a low for the heating to come on. It also has an emergency override for cold and hot.

Once you’ve set it up, all I have to do is remember to put it to sleep when before I leave on a trip. If the minimum or maximum indoor temp has been reached, the unit comes on and runs until the temp is under that, then it goes back to sleep and doesn’t run to time schedule. This way I can avoid frozen pipes, or having the indoor temperature go so high that needless energy is burned by the fridge/freezer unit because the indoor temp is too high. Under normal conditions, I have the zones/times set-up run as efficiently as possible, which for downstairs means only minimum A/C during the day, during the week since heat rises, and upstairs is the same. The A/C runs efficient for the early evening downstairs, and the upstairs kicks in before I go to bed, reaches and maintains a comfortable temperature.

Yes, if I suddenly had to go away during the day, and hadn’t predicted that, the a/c would be left on when not needed, but in most cases that wouldn’t happen since I’d likely have to go home first to pack or at least pick up a washbag…

When Austin Energy announced their smart meter program, which means all houses can be read remotely, and owners can sign-up to monitor online, I got really excited. However, having thought about it, I decided it was really mostly not that interesting, and the real issue was educating people, and making smarter, more efficient home devices that use energy more effectively. For example, how many people even know what is a good/safe temperature to run their refridgerator at? AND have the ability to set it to that??

The refridgerator needs more intelligence and needs to guide the users into more effective use. We also need to do better at space planning and utilization for these devices. Sticking them in an alcove with poor air circulation isn’t the best way to store and run them, etc. etc. Same for many other devices…

It’s my view that putting much more effort/technology into these sort of solutions/education would yield a bigger saving than trying to get people excited about remotely monitoring their house.

Thanks for the post though, it will be interesting to see how the intellgent house evolves and I’m glad people like you are already participating in the conversation!

PS. The lights in on my porch and garage, my neon Street number etc. are on a timer and light sensor.

Posted by: Mark Cathcart
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