By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications
Andy Stanford-Clark built his first sensor when he was six years old to alert his mom if it started raining after she had hung the wash out to dry. His “rain detector” involved nothing more than a few copper strips on a small board that attached to the clothesline and a little box in the house that beeped, alerting her to bring in the laundry.
Already at that young age, Stanford-Clark was able to recognize a problem and solve it with a simple solution. Today, 40 years later, he is still doing the same thing, but on a much grander scale.
As an IBM Master Inventor, Distinguished Engineer and Chief Technologist for IBM’s Smarter Energy business in the UK, Stanford-Clark is one of the world’s leading innovators and proponents of smarter energy solutions and a pioneer in using sensors and real-time monitoring to reduce energy consumption.
From his role at IBM working with clients to his experimental “house that twitters” to his efforts to help his home turf, the Isle of Wight, become energy independent, Stanford-Clark is relentless in his inventiveness and determination to help solve the planet’s energy challenges.
Using sensors to slash energy consumption
For Stanford-Clark, sensors hold the key to reversing humanity’s energy woes. His grand vision includes every home wired with simple, affordable sensors that automatically transmit data on power usage so individuals can easily monitor and reduce their energy consumption.
Stanford-Clark began installing sensors in his own home over ten years ago in a mission to reduce his family’s energy consumption. Today, lights and appliances are attached to wireless sensors that send real-time updates to his phone via Twitter, alerting him when he’s using too much power.
Using a messaging protocol he co-invented, MQTT, Stanford-Clark can control his home’s power consumption from anywhere in the world from a Web browser or from his mobile phone. Stanford-Clark’s use of sensors and MQTT helped him cut his electricity bill by one third.
Saving the planet one island at a time
Stanford-Clark’s energy-monitoring innovations have broad implications well beyond his house. Many solutions for his IBM clients had their origins in Stanford-Clark’s home experiments. And Stanford-Clark’s solutions have already been installed in other houses on the Isle of Wight to help alleviate energy poverty in social housing.
All these intersecting efforts exemplify Stanford-Clark’s passion to save the planet “one island at a time.” Rather than try to transform a whole country at once, his vision is to take small regions and turn them into smart grids and then federate them into one “uber-smart grid.”
“We now have a replicable ‘greenprint’ for how we can establish smart grids all over the world,” Stanford-Clark said. “I believe we’re finally on our way toward realizing real change.”
Building a better mousetrap
Through his innovative use of sensors, Twitter and MQTT, Stanford-Clark is a leading advocate of the Internet of Things, which alerts people to relevant information about the world around them without requiring them to seek it out.
Stanford-Clark can attach sensors to seemingly any inanimate object and enable it to communicate with humans. For instance, fed up with constantly checking the many mousetraps around his house, Stanford-Clark attached sensors to each one and now automatically gets a tweet whenever a trap is triggered.
Tired of rushing to the ferry to commute to work only to find it was delayed or cancelled due to weather conditions, Stanford-Clark hooked Twitter to the boat’s GPS to get real-time updates on its actual status.
The future will see a proliferation of objects communicating with people in this way now that MQTT has been accepted as an industry standard protocol. While Stanford-Clark embraces the emergence of “one big happy Internet of Things,” he understands people’s concerns about a Big Brother scenario with ever more devices hooked to sensors and pushing personal data across the Internet.
“It’s a legitimate concern, but my take is that you have to give something away to get something back in return, and most people are willing to do that,” Stanford-Clark said.
Consumers gladly give up information in stores to earn points for future purchases, Stanford-Clark noted. “In the case of energy, you get much more in return for giving your energy company access to your usage patterns,” he said. “You can save money–and help save the planet.”