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The Internet of Things could make you a more conscious consumer

By Owen Williams / January 22, 2014

The Internet of Things could make you a more conscious consumer

The Internet of Things is slowly creeping into our homes, offices, vehicles and everywhere in between, but not always in the ways you’d think. Developers are now connecting “things” to the Internet that aren’t even traditionally electronic. Take Click & Grow, for example. This promising Kickstarter project adds smarts to the humble herb garden, letting users know when a plant needs water, sunlight or a new bed of soil via push notifications.

It’s only a matter of time before every object within eyesight is connected to the web, which could increase the demand on our power grid. Fortunately, some of the finest minds on the planet are pursuing ways to make the Internet of Things as environmentally friendly as possible.

WeMo means less energy

Imagine you’re at work when you realize you may have left your lights on back home — or worse, your iron. Normally, you would have to hurry back and turn them off. With the Internet of Things, emerging devices like the Belkin WeMo are taking the stress out of these harrowing scenarios by giving users remote control of all their electrical appliances.

With the WeMo Switch, and the corresponding iPhone or Android app, users gain unbridled control of their their lamps, TVs or pretty much anything plugged into the web-ready adapter. Once connected, forgetful and/or anxiety-prone individuals can check their WeMo app to make sure they’ve turned off all their energy-wasting (or fire-starting) appliances. All they need is a Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G or LTE network connection.

Belkin also provides a powerful API for WeMo devices, giving outside services like If This Then That free reign of their hardware. With the WeMo/IFTTT collaboration, consumers are able to set up the WeMo switch to react to a number of external triggers, such as time of day, weather conditions or energy consumption, which will automatically turn the appliance on or off based on custom “recipes.” Other hardware solutions offer the same capabilities for developers, opening up a wide range of possibilities for new mobile and web applications.

Progressive power strips

The Belkin brand recognition will definitely give WeMo a leg up on its competitors, but that hasn’t stopped swarms of entrepreneurs from bringing similar devices to the Kickstarter community. One of the strongest projects we discovered is the pragmatically-named Smart Power Strip. If you haven’t guessed, the Smart Power Strip offers practically the same functionality as the WeMo Switch, but in a four-socket strip.

What’s even more surprising than the technology behind this invention is the fact that Belkin didn’t think of it first. Kudos to creator Roger Yiu for capitalizing on Belkin’s oversight and exceeding his $100,000 fundraising goal on the first try. Anyone who’s ever set up an entertainment system knows the importance of a power strip, and anyone who knows basic math can see that paying $100 for one Smart Power Strip is much better than spending $200 on four WeMo Switches.

Empowering consumers to save energy

Combining the Internet of Things with a smart power meter that reports daily energy usage means consumers save energy and do good for the environment (even if they’re really just trying to save money). By making data readily available to individuals, consumers are able to see which appliances are cutting into their pockets the deepest. From there, users can either change their consumption patterns or purchase a more energy efficient alternative.

Perhaps you install the switches in your home and find that the Apple TV is draining more power than any other appliance because it’s both outdated and it’s never switched off. You might replace it with a lower energy version or set the smart switch to only allow it to power on for a certain amount of time per day.

This scenario creates a number of opportunities for developers and hardware manufacturers to start thinking about the future differently. In addition to their WeMo switches, Belkin is forging a series of partnerships with brands like Crock Pot, Mr. Coffee and Sunbeam to implement their energy-monitoring technology directly into our home appliances.

A heater, when equipped with the WeMo monitoring system, could be automatically programmed to switch off when it reaches a particular level of energy usage each day so there are no surprises on the power bill at the end of the month. This cutting-edge information is redefining what it means to be a conscious consumer.

Use in office environments

The Internet of Things can also be applied to the office, giving businesses more knowledge about energy waste and how they can manage it efficiently. Instead of leaving the printer on continuously seven days a week, it could be equipped with an Internet-enabled switch that turns it on only when people are in the office. The same technology could be applied to computers so they shut down when employees leave the office.

By integrating other devices like Spotter, users can monitor the office for motion, humidity, light, sound and temperature levels and adjust the heating and air conditioning automatically to save energy. This would allow the office manager to change office conditions remotely without needing to physically be in the office.

There are other applications that allow businesses to think smarter about the way they interact with staff and make the building more intelligent. For example, Spotter can notify you when a conference room becomes available so you don’t have to hover outside if the previous meeting is running late.

The Internet of Things benefits everybody

When developers think of new ways to utilize the sensors at their disposal, investors win, consumers win and the environment wins. When you build software that places data at the user’s fingertips and empowers them to make choices about how they’re affecting the planet, it makes us all smarter citizens.

Families can choose how to lower their energy consumption and businesses can make workplaces more comfortable through automation. Every switch and every appliance counts. Eventually, they’ll all be connected to the Internet, creating new ways to utilize these devices for the benefit of businesses, individuals and Mother Nature, one electrical outlet at a time.