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MIT’s Stamp-Sized Sensors Could Detect Which Household Device is Wasting Power

Aug 03, 2016 07:41 AM EDT

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) develop sensors that could tell exactly how much power an appliance is using.

The wireless sensors are about the size of postage stamps, and are placed over the incoming power line to a house, picking up spikes and patterns in the voltage and current. According to MIT News, a dedicated software enables the system to tell the difference between every light, motor or device in the home and determine exactly which ones go on and off and during what times.

"For a long time, the premise has been that if we could get access to better information [about energy use], we would be able to create some significant savings," Steven Leeb, professor of electrical engineering at MIT and co-author of the study, said in a news release.

One advantage of the MIT system is that it maintains the privacy of a user's household energy information and stays inside the user's home. The detailed analysis will also be provided through customized apps that can be developed using the MIT system.

The researchers conducted a number of tests to demonstrate the system's potential to save energy, prevent greenhouse emissions and even improve safety.

During one test installation at a military base used for training exercises, the system revealed that tents used for nighttime trainings were heated throughout the day even when they were not being used, thus wasting money and fuel.

Another installation in a residential area detected a voltage anomaly, which revealed a faulty wiring that was causing copper plumbing pipes to carry dangerous live voltage.

Leeb and his team spent years of extensive testing in the laboratory, in residences, at the Fort Devens Army Base outside Boston and aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Spencer to come up with a catalog of appliance signatures based on specific voltage spike patterns every time the device switches on or is in use.

After generating enough data, the system can now show users how much energy a refrigerator consumes in a given time, and tell when the refrigerator turns on or off or goes into defrost mode.

According to Leeb, the system would only cost about $25 to $30 per home once commercialized, and would be simple enough for a homeowner to install on their own.

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