Networked Objects: Energy Conservation and Feedback Loops

I've started a project in Laura's class focused on behavior change about energy consumption habits. I'm extremely excited with my progress so far, and her openness to my exploration of new materials and practices; I'm actually building the modification chips (XBee... pronounced "zig bee") that will allow a typical energy reader to transmit data to a nearby compeer for real-time calculations involving cost and average power usages (nationally and individually, ex. monthly). This information could then be relayed back to the user at the point of activity, and even suggest ways to improve to cut down on energy use. The reason I expect this to be more engaging that existing models (which give general information, mainly covering entire houses or yearly estimates) is due to the reader's ability to measure activity-based energy use. 

I'm focusing on the activity of washing clothes for this particular implementation, as it's not necessarily an activity dependent on time of day and there are quite a few ways to modify behavior. I've broken the course up into several different components to focus on different aspects of such a device:

Part 1: Prototype 

I'm working with several engineers (1 undergraduate in computer engineering, 1 PhD in Electrical Engineering) to build this device which wirelessly transmits captured data. To be clear, I'm doing a large majority of the work, and the engineers are supporting me and making sure I execute things correctly and are nearby if I make a mistake or have questions.

Part 2: Test

After creating the prototype (yes, I soldered, striped wires, used a voltmeter, and more for the first time), I expect to test the device with a few participants to better understand their initial thoughts, reactions, and questions about the device. This is not necessarily to create specific data points, but rather to get a general understanding of how people might accept a device like this.

Part 3: Values

I'm looking into the embedded values for the design choices I'll make in terms of interface design. For example, what type of information would be most beneficial to motivate immediate behavior change? Cost was my first thought, but based on a presentation I went to by author Tim Kasser, activating internal values (such as the accumulation of wealth) for the ultimate benefit of external goals doesn't work as well as simply activating external values in the same pursuit (such as identifying that you're helping your community, or bettering the world for your children). A similar energy device by Belkin suggests three forms of interpretation: Money, Power (watts), and carbon dioxide offset. I've also seen other ideas related to the number of trees' carbon dioxide offset and more. Will elaborate more on this topic as I get closer to addressing it in my design.

Part 4: Narrative

Creating some sort of narrative (right now, I'm assuming video) discussing the possible extensions of such a device and technological determinism associated with it. Right now, I'm drawing from examples in Ubik, especially moments like the main character's interaction with the door and his refrigerator, when the cost to use them is brought to the front to the point that it's actually inhibiting action without payment. Right now, we all pay to use our electronic devices (refrigerator, tv, microwave, fans, and more) but the cost is pushed to the end of each month and wrapped up nicely into one bill, making it difficult to pull out specific information about the efficiency of your devices. Imagine if, in order to open your refrigerator, you had to insert a quarter.. and similar to a pay phone (do those even exist anymore?), you would have to insert additional money to keep it open. Same with activities like watching tv and doing laundry. Following this line of thought, it seems likely that more people would consider hang-drying clothes as an alternative to electronic dryers.

 

Thoughts, ideas, suggestions? Feel free to add comments below! Thanks for reading up on my latest project!