With all the focus on devices that are connected to the network, newcomer Whisker Labs believes there is another even more ubiquitous interconnectivity that can be the key to opening up the Internet of Things (IoT) connected home for integrators: the electrical network. Indeed, while only 15 percent of electronic devices in a home are connected to the Internet, every device is connected to the electrical grid, according to Robert Marshall, CEO. And because of that power connection, Whisker Labs can measure it, and integrators can monitor and control it with a simple low-voltage sensor installation. It’s a possible gamechanger in that it opens up the possibilities of energy management and control for every appliance and electrical gadget in the home.
Sure, current transformer (CT) clamps have existed for many years to measure current. These CT clamps measure current flow through a cable, but they require a line-voltage contractor’s license. Even then, the proximity to wedge them around electrical lines near the breaker box made for a cumbersome installation. And the clamps were required to be placed on individual circuits to help identify the power draw from individual appliances, fixtures, consumer electronics, etc.
“Most electricians won’t do it,” says Marshall of the Oakland, Calif.-based company.
Whisker Labs Low-Voltage Solution
Whisker Labs, which is part of parent company Earth Networks, has bypassed the need for a CT clamp and an electrical license. A small sensor is attached solely to the main breaker on the electrical panel. The sensor is tracking 20,000 samples of electrical usage per second. That level of detail allows the sensor to “disaggregate” devices via their unique electrical signatures. As comparison, Marshall says smart utility meters can only track one sample per second.
“Anything that requires electricity can be identified and measured and eventually controlled. Every device has its own electrical fingerprint. Everything is connected to the home electrical grid,” says Marshall. “We collect data from any device we can get our hands on.”
The sensor is tethered to a small hub that communicates via Wi-Fi to the cloud. From there, Whisker Labs runs the electrical signatures through analytics to identify every individual device on the power grid. The company has written special software to do the disaggregation. Currently, the software is written to track large appliances and HVAC systems.
The software does not just monitor electrical usage, but also can identify faults and diagnose problems with the equipment, offering a specific message that pinpoints the problem. In essence, it is a remote monitoring system for every electrical device in the home. For example, a notification that identifies is a curling iron has been left plugged in, or a notification that the coolant in the refrigerator compressor is low, or the air conditioning filter is clogged.
According to Marshall, their data so far is revealing that the installation of solar panels in a home is a major impetus for the homeowner to want to track his electrical usage at a more granular level.
“Energy is the focus,” he says. “Energy savings and management are the means to an end to deliver value to the homeowner.”