For my Individual Bachelor Project I decided to do a project into sustainability. The one sentence project statement I created for this project was:
“to design an interface that helps family members understand their place in the energy consumption of their home or town”
One of my first concepts was the ‘tree-agotchi’. It was basically an electronic bonsai tree, that showed people the ‘health’ of their energy consumption. By using less energy, the tree would flourish, and for energy spoilers, the tree would die.
After some research this concept seemed to farfetched, and I started designing a more down to earth prototype. I decided to keep the anthropomorphic characteristics of the concept, and combine this with persuasive technology. I also decided to go for positive feedback, instead of negative feedback, that only tells the user when he is behaving the wrong way.
The outcome is the Current2 alarm-clock. This alarm clock can help people save energy by switching off devices for them. At day the clock is rotated so that its display faces upward. People can read it easily from a standing position. The LEDs show the current energy usage in the home by simulating a breathing pulsation effect. When people are getting ready for bed, they see they are still using energy, even though they donâ€™t need the devices when they are in bed. By rotating the clock so that the display is readable from a lying down position, people automatically set the alarm for the next morning. The alarm-clock also sends a signal to the central fuse box in the home to switch off all unneeded devices. The LED feedback on the clock automatically changes to a slower pace and dims down, so the user can go to sleep.
The shape of the clock triggers the user interaction in an intuitive way. I reasoned through different clock shapes, and came to the final decision that a round shape would be best. With a round alarm clock, the movement would be the most fluent and natural, which was my goal.
different clock shapes
Of course the problem with a round shape is that it rolls, and won’t lie still if the weight is equally distributed.
Therefore I decided a movable weight, that gives the clock 2 states of equilibrium. This way the clock can be rolled into 2 different positions, without rolling of the edge of the night stand.
movable weight explanation diagram
The technology behind this product is the X11 protocol. On triggering of the alarm clock, it sends out a signal over the power-net to the main fuse box of the house. The secondary part of the alarm clock is installed in the fuse box to receive this signal. This device knows which power outlets in the house are safe to switch off, and which arent’t (i.e. refrigerator). It also sends a signal with the current energy consumption back to the alarm clock, so this in turn can adjust it’s breathing LED output.Below is a small technology map that shows how all of the components work together.
For user testing the alarm clock I built a working prototype. The prototype was built using Phidgets and the Adobe Flash platform. Inside are a LCD screen, 3 touch sensors for the buttons and 8 LEDs for the breather. The outside of the prototype was created out of acrylics to keep the prototype look different from the rendered images.
Electronics inside the prototype
Below you can see a movie of a test-run of the prototype showing the basic functionality of the alarm clock and touch buttons.