People are aware of the need to reduce their energy use, but a wealth of consumption data does not effect a change. And devices that automatically shut off without the user having to make a decision address the symptom, not the problem. How can a user be made conscious of his consumption habits in order to change his overall behavior more effectively?
Watt Watchers is a network of collars for light bulbs that collectively dim to encourage better consumption habits. Using lights as a proxy for household energy use, the system reminds users when they are consuming above average power by mimicking a brownout.
In an initial learning period, the system discovers a baseline number of lights that are on in a household at a given time. The system then gently encourages the inhabitants to have fewer lights on at once (and, the hope is, fewer devices on in those rooms with idle lights) by browning out at that baseline. The baseline for brownouts gradually lowers as inhabitants get more conscientious about turning things off. The users can freeze the baseline by toggling a light switch—the collar on the associated light bulb will register that command and spread it through the system.
I developed the concept with Jordan Fischer and Sarah Jones. I did the industrial design, and built an ugly prototype with six lights using ZigBee and PIC microcontrollers.