More on exactly how SmartSwitch works from the Stanford duo

Readers have been very interested in Peter Russo and Brendan Wypich’s SmartSwitch. There have been a number of requests for the guys to explain more about the tactile feedback piece of the technology. Straight from the source, here’s the technical explanation of how it works:

A low-power microprocessor embedded in the SmartSwitch receives and interprets data from the network. (The “network” may consist of sensors, other switches, a home energy-monitoring system, the central office of the power company, etc.) Based on that data, the microprocessor controls the position of a linear servomotor, which presses a brake pad down onto the sliding mechanism of the switch. The harder the brake presses, the more difficult it becomes to physically slide the switch.

Refinements to the mechanism will be made in the next version of the SmartSwitch. For example, while the linear servomotor — an off-the-shelf device typically used by remote-control model hobbyists — is great for prototyping, it’s likely too big, noisy, and expensive to be used in an actual product. We’re also exploring ways to alter the gesture — rather than the force — required to flip the switch.

The two also say that, depending on how SmartSwitch is configured, there are lots of potential applications.

-If configured to respond to a household-specific energy consumption goal (say, to use less than 200 kWh of electricity per month), the switch can become harder to turn on if it looks like the goal isn’t going to be met.

-If configured to respond to a neighborhood’s energy consumption, the switch can become harder to turn on if your household usage is above the neighborhood average.

-If connected to a light sensor, the switch can become harder to turn on if the ambient light level is already high.

-If configured to respond to grid-wide electricity demand, the switch can become harder to turn on during times of peak usage.

We plan to explore these (and other) applications when we roll the SmartSwitch out to users through a pilot study. We also imagine that point-of-use tactile feedback could be used in other controls — such as thermostats — that potentially offer even more substantial energy savings.

We’ll keep you updated on SmartSwitch’s progress.

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