One of the most impressive things about Intel is the massive amount of research and development that the company undertakes. It constantly strives towards new markets and new ideas. Ultimately the company's business is about selling silicon, so coming up with new places to put its processors is one of the driving forces behind research and development.
Recently PC Authority got to spend some time with one of Intel's prototypes, the Intelligent Home Energy Management proof of concept device. This is a small box with a gorgeous 11.56in OLED touchscreen that is designed to act as a dashboard for monitoring energy use in the home. It is powered by an Intel Atom processor, and runs embedded Linux to interface with devices via either Wi-Fi or a wireless mesh networking technology called ZigBee.
This is a very simple design, intended to make accessing a wealth of information easy. The dashboard uses a touchscreen for navigation and has a single large rocker switch across the top. The idea is that you can configure your home so that when you leave all you need to do is hit the rocker switch and it can turn off electrical devices that aren't needed.
|This is the dashboard. It uses an OLED capacitive touchscreen and runs on an Atom Z530 processor.
But it is more than just a way of telling your devices whether you are home or not. The dashboard pulls in a wealth of information from both inside the house and externally. For example, you would have your energy bills delivered digitally, and this would allow for much more granularity than a paper bill. You can also have information on peak and off-peak periods delivered to the device, and customize your energy use to minimize costs.
There are already devices that do this high level monitoring. Intel showed us a production device called Open-Peak that does this. Where the Dashboard differs is the amount of detail it can pull from devices within the home, and how this information can be used in concert with billing data to help you manage your energy consumption.
Key to this is ZigBee. This is a low-power wireless technology designed for home appliances. For our demo this took the form of a dummy dryer that reported its energy use back to the dashboard. This not only showed just how much of the monthly power bill was down to the dryer, but it also gave the option of running the dryer during off-peak energy periods. There was even a screen designed to help users upgrade to a more energy efficient model, pulling in product data with energy star ratings from other manufacturers.
|The dryer demo. On the left is the dummy dryer, which is interfacing with the dashboard via ZigBee.
For appliances without inbuilt ZigBee we were shown a power adaptor with the technology. This can be used with any device and will report back the draw for that power point. It can also control when power is supplied to the device. For example, using one on the powerboard for your home entertainment system can ensure that your power-draining devices all get turned off when you leave the house.
This level of integration is pretty astonishing. Of course, it means that setting up a home with enough Zigbee devices to get the most out of the Dashboard will involve up-front costs. But this should give you enough control over the energy draw in your home to make the money back in power bill savings.
It is unlikely that this specific product will enter production (there are apparently only four of these devices in existence), however it shows just what will be capable in the home of tomorrow. It is a compelling proof of concept that not only informs about household energy use, but then gives powerful tools to moderate this usage.
Ultimately it is not only about saving money, but also reducing load on the electricity grid by removing needless power use. This alone puts it leagues ahead of the current crop of 'smart grid' devices which focus on power supply rather than power management.