University of Padova

BeAware: Project

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PROJECT DESCRIPTION

BeAware (Boosting Energy Awareness With Adaptive Real-time Envirorments) aims at contributing to the reduction of energy consumption, a societal challenge of first order that requires the combination of technical, economical, and social means. So far, energy conservation has focused on new often proprietary technologies and automation, treating users as passive consumers. However, strong evidences suggest that users can actively adapt their behaviour at the aim of saving energy whenever suitable feedback, support, and incentives are available. This positive behaviours would reduce energy consumption significantly and cost-effectively without impacting their life comforts.

At present, information about practices for energy consumption and conservation is aggregated and hidden, because of a lack of incentives and proper service models by the market. This opaqueness discourages users to learn and apply conservation strategies in their everyday lives. However, novel ICTs offer opportunities for widening this bottleneck. In particular, ubiquitous interfaces and web services, combined with low-cost sensors, can support real-time information about energy networks and consumption, empowering users to learn and share conservation strategies.

BeAware promotes an active and aware consumer, who becomes motivated to consume energy efficiently once faced his/her own consumption and energy profile usage. This vision is feasible thanks to a set of enabling ICT technologies, which are expected to become increasingly affordable in the coming years.

BeAware is the first initiative that aims at providing Ubiquitous Adaptive Natural Interfaces for power consumers based on capillary information of a wireless sensor network. Two main research questions are particularly addressed in this area. The first question is how to design interfaces and touch points for active user. In this case the problem is due to the user’ group that is heterogeneous and ranges from young people to the elderly. This means that several interfaces approaches are needed to appeal different user groups. The second challenge is to design interfaces informative at first glance and to create an awareness of personal energy consumption in an obtrusive way. Moreover, recent researches in the area of energy have indicated that communication should be personalised to maximise users’ willingness to change their consumption patterns.

BACKGROUND

– Energy-sensing research in household
At the moment wireless sensing technologies are developing very fast in areas of energy consumption metering, particularly in the building sector. One important application is the remote metering of home energy consumption by energy provider, as will be discussed below (e.g., Automatic Meter Reading, AMR). Another growing area is the development of wireless sensors and controls (presence, lighting, temperature, etc.) for buildings. Several organisations have already started developing necessary hardwares.
The Interactive Institute in Sweden (Power Studio), partner in the BeAware consortium, has been focusing on energy consumption in households since 2003. In several research projects (Aware, Wattch, Static!, Senior Living, HM Power, EEFO, Young Energy) the group has proposed solutions to visualize consumption with new interface designs developing energy learning games, and generally exploring energy as a design material.

– Current standards and products in energy monitoring
Wireless communication in energy remote monitoring is growing very rapidly. The driving forces are legislation on billing and the development of radio technologies for automatic meter reading systems (AMR).
In the wireless communication case the ISM radio is the most common solution. Moreover, techniques like ZigBee and the use of Bluetooth-based systems are also gaining attention. Some applications for energy monitoring also exist and generally these systems interface standard telemetry terminals directly onto standard kWh-meters (e.g., WisNet of Expert Monitoring Ltd). A problem with the present kWh-meters is that it does not provide detailed energy data from individual appliances. One solution to overcome this inconvenience has been NIALMS system (non-intrusive analysis of loads, EPRI, VTT). These system are based on the electricity ‘fingerprint’ or various load appliances. Monitoring load changes in the customer’s connection point can hence provide information about the duty cycles of appliances. Compared to direct load appliances measurements, the NIALMS systems have quite large degree of uncertainty in load classification.

– Ubiquitous Computing
Three technology research areas in ubiquitous computing are relevant in this context: research aimed at constructing smart environments in the home; research on wireless sensor networks; research on context awareness.
Real world applications of ubiquitous computing into everyday life are rare. The problem to solve is how to find applications that really add value to users behaviours and to design them in a way that do not disrupt but cooperate in people activities. Current services, systems and products have long latency and low access to feedback and often feedback is provided only to facility managers.

– Persuasive Technology
Persuasive Technology is an emergent area of research in human computer interaction and cognitive technology. Its aim is to study the effect of computational media to activities and cognitive processes of users. It has been traditionally applied to desktop based computing and only recently to mobile applications.

PROJECT STRUCTURE

The BeAware project adopts an iterative approach organising its activities in three one-year phases, each implementing a full development cycle. A Project Management (WP1: TKK) is scheduled to monitor and coordinate the co-operation among the workpackages and assure the quality of the results. Then there are three main areas of activities that operate in the iterative cycles:

Modelling: models of cognitive and social processes of consumer conservation (WorkPackage2: UNIPD, ENEL.si, VAT, TKK), service models (WP5: ENG, II), exploitation and sustainability models (WP8: ENG, VAT, ENEL).
Development: development of a sensing platform (WP3: TKK, BaseN), applications and interfaces (WP4: II, TID, TKK) and their integration into services (WP5).
Evaluation: impact of BeAware applications on consumptions in trials (WP6. IES, UNIPD, TKK), evaluation of service prototypes through interaction with various target audiences (WP7: II, UNIPD, ENG).
In Phase 1 ‘Planning and Probing’ a first prototype, technology probes and initial plans are developed. Phase 2 ‘Modelling and Validation’ evaluates the initial prototype identifying potential areas of energy consumption and leads to a new prototype including complete functionality. Phase 3 ‘Impact and Exploitation’ concentrates in determining the impact of the integrated services and in making exploitation plans.


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