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Summary of Proposed Effort

This project proposes to investigate household energy use pattern and to implement useful ambient devices to bring up people's awareness of their home energy use.

Project Purpose and Need

The goal of this project is to develop ambient artifacts that can help people become more aware of their home energy use. Research shows that the key to energy conservation lies in education and behavior modification (Socolow 1978).

Whatever the condition of a home, the behavior of the occupants is the most powerful determinant of how much energy is consumed. (Harrigan 1994)

Creating awareness of energy usage may encourage more energy saving. The question is then, what kind of information access device might be appropriate to display home energy use?

Digital devices are becoming ubiquitous in the household environment in the form of home office computing products and domestic appliances. Consumer electronics and computer companies (Philips, Sony and Microsoft, etc) are building devices and gadgets to control the entire house, from lighting, temperature to surfing of radio stations and television channels. Engineers are investigating embedding tension sensors into structure elements such as beams and columns to monitor force bearing and to send alerts or make adjustments to the building material before it fails.

In this project, we propose to develop and refine the platform and exemplar interface devices for household environment in the area of lighting, information access and objects with ambient intelligence. Our approach is to integrate physical and graphic user interface to establish mapping of user concepts with real world environment to reduce the cognitive loads of keeping track of the status of the energy use of household devices.

Strategy for accomplishing proposed work

During the course of a year, our team would develop an easy to use ambient information device that could connect with information collected from a sensor network environment.

Four phases for this project will be conducted: (1) idea brainstorming, (2) literature survey, (3) implementation of physical artifacts, and (4) pilot testing and evaluation.

In the course of this project, we aim to develop a working relationship with local utility companies. The scenario is that these companies would have a strong interest in energy conservation and offer incentives for homer owners or residents to adopt energy efficient technology or usage pattern. We imagine a box of Energy Toolkit can be offered to household residents to temporarily deploy in their homes to help increase awareness and encourage conservation. The toolkit will include easy-to-use devices to attach to major appliances or power outlets to configure a simple sensor network. The energy usage collected by the sensor network can then be displayed in a device such as an Energy Orb, Energy Cube, or Energy Magnets, or Energy Lamps. These devices need to be non-intrusive but informative. They should also afford different layers of information presentation such as historical use (as compared to current use), different categories (electricity, gas, water, etc), or comparison (with neighborhood usage or national average) of similar household occupancy profiles.

Our focus will be the design and implementation the information display ambient devices. We know researchers in EE, CS and industry research labs are working on sensor network. We would search and find available sensor network data from existing campus buildings, or the experimental Aware Home ( at Georgia Tech.

Related work

Below we briefly describe three categories of related work: (1) energy displays, (2) ambient awareness, and (3) tangible user interfaces.

Watt Bug (Mutlu 2000) is an anthropomorphic energy display. This artificial animal purrs when energy consumption is low and flashes red light on its tail when the consumption is high. Strate/ICC project (Ullmer 2001) uses shifting light patterns produced by embedded LEDs and micro-controllers inside a skyscraper model to display electricity and water consumption or network utilization data. The playfulness and aesthetic of these projects are nice, but may be too demanding on user attention.

Ambient Orb (2002) is a stock market monitor that displays the rise and fall of the Dow Jones Indexes with transition of different colors. The Active Wallpaper and Pinwheels (1998) employ projected image of water ripples to the wall, or physical spinning of the pinwheels to convey information of human activity or natural phenomenon. All these ambient devices provide an "at-glance" picture of the information but lack ability for further information query. A more sophisticated device can be designed to provide different layers of information

The mediaBlock (Ullmer 1998) project supports the use of physical blocks to associate task information transfer. To send a file to a printer, one moves the block to the reader of that device. The Toolstone project (Rekimoto 2000) maps the orientation of the object to commands in a software application. While dominant hand is used for a precision task, the non-dominant hand can rotate the input device to issue command options.

Plan for near term application (within five years)

We imagine the devices can become part of the Energy Toolkit that utility companies can send out for loan or purchase. With the financial success of Ambient Orb, we believe there is also market for such types of devices for energy awareness. By connecting and integrating with real sensor networks, we would be able to refine the functionality of such devices, and work with GTRI or GTRC to develop plans for technology licensing and possible SBIR grant proposals.

Potential outcomes and future research

Interesting and informative ambient devices would be designed, engineered, and implemented. Graduate student(s) would learn to conduct research, implementation, and publish results in peer reviewed venues. Future research would include the deployment of these prototype systems at home for future modification. The outcome of such research would also encourage people to be aware of their energy usage pattern and encourage energy saving. Contrary to the utility meters (electricity, water, gas, etc) typically located outside of the house, we aim to bring awareness and understanding inside the house, into people's home. We believe devices that integrate tangible interfaces with ambient display technology could offer opportunities for household residents to become engaged and interact with the information, and hence modify their energy use behavior.


Ambient Orb, 2002,

Camarata K. E. Yi-Luen Do M. Gross and B. Johnson: 2002, Navigational Blocks: navigating information space with tangible media, International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces (IUI), ACM Press, San Francisco, CA, pp:31-38

Harrigan, Merrilee, 1994, Can We Transform the Market Without Transforming the Customer? In Home Energy Magazine Online,

Mutlu I. S. Erdogan and S. Emrence: 2000, Watt Bug, Accessed Nov 21, 2003,

Rekimoto J.: 2000, ToolStone: Effective Use of the Physical Manipulation Vocabularies of Input Devices, User Interface Software and Technology (UIST), pp:109-117

Socolow R H, 1978, The Twin Rivers Program on Energy Conservation in Housing

Wisneski, Craig, Hiroshi Ishii, Andrew Dahley Matt Gorbet, Scott Brave, Brygg Ullmer, Paul Yarin, (1998) Ambient Displays: Turning Architetural Space into an Interface between People and Digital Information. CoBuild '98, Springer-Verlag, pp. 22-32.

Socolow R. H.: 1978, The Twin Rivers program on Energy Conservation in Housing: Highlights and Conclusions, Energy and Buildings, 1(3): 225

Ullmer B. D. Glas and H. Ishii: 1998, mediaBlocks: Physical Containers, Transports, and Controls for Online Media, Proc. of Siggraph, pp:379-386

Ullmer B. E. Kim A. Kilian S. Gray and H. Ishii: 2001, Strata/ICC: Physical Models as Computational Interfaces, Human Factors in Computing (CHI), ACM, pp:373-374