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Smart Sockets Let You Control Your Power From Your Phone

German researchers are trying to revolutionize the way we turn things on and off. Flipping switches is so 20th century.

Smart Sockets Let You Control Your Power From Your Phone

It’s not often that a product allows its user to be eco-friendly and lazy at the same time (have you tried composting?), but a German research team believes its remote control technology can facilitate both. In fact, you already own the remote. Their new HexaBus power outlet allows for the control of household appliances through any Internet-equipped device. That means you could turn on a toaster oven from your smartphone or the washing machine from your laptop while avoiding running them at peak energy hours.

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“The HexaBus components make the smart home of the future a reality,” says industrial engineer Mathias Dalheimer. “They enable household appliances to be controlled intelligently, thus optimizing or reducing electricity.

While sockets that you can control via remote control exist, the German team, formed by Fraunhofer Institute researchers in Munich and Kaiserslautern, successfully integrated wireless Internet technology into a smart socket. Now you can do things like turn your washing machine off from your office, allowing you to easily manage your electric load from your desk, or just from the couch without running around the house flipping switches. (Correction: The range is not 100 feet as previously noted.)

HexaBus is part of Fraunhofer’s mySmartGrid initiative to grab a share of the budding machine-to-machine wireless market by developing the next generation of intelligent devices for the home.

Belkin has also created an Internet-controlled socket of its own, called Wemo. In addition to the ability to turn things on and off with a smartphone, Wemo includes a motion sensor so that, for example, the television turns off when the user leaves the room. And Qualcomm is also working on its own low-energy Wi-Fi chip intended for everything from the smart home to building automation to remote health and wellness monitoring as part of its Internet of Everything project. The chip takes over the networking responsibilities from any appliance’s microcontroller, enhancing its capability so the signal can connect with a smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

“The machine-to-machine market is just getting going,” says Tim Colleran, the director of marketing for Qualcomm Atheros’s Internet of Everything initiative.

While the added ease of not having to get up to turn off the lights is a benefit, HexaBus–through a USB stick that you plug into your router–also gives the homeowner a way to identify energy flows by informing the user of how much power various appliances are consuming at any given time, says Fraunhofer research engineer Günter Hildenbrandt. If you notice you’re sucking up a lot of energy during peak hours, you can turn some extra lights off, without sucking up your own energy.

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