Foresight and inventiveness are required to take disparate emerging trends and combine them into useful applications. Yet, when synthesized correctly, innovations arising from combing new trends represent compelling forward-looking milestones. Limor Fried, MIT graduate and founder of Adafruit Industries, has successfully combined three such emerging trends: personal fabrication, social messaging, and green electronics to create a device that monitors and publically reports energy consumption of appliances and electronics.
Fried’s device, called the Tweet-a-Watt, monitors and reports energy consumed by appliances and electronics plugged into it. As reported in “Show of Power” in Mechanical Engineering Magazine, electricity from a capacitor runs an embedded XBee wireless module within the Tweet-a-Watt just long enough to send daily data through a computer to the Internet. There a social messaging service like Twitter displays the results.
In his 2005 book “FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop - From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication” Neil Gershenfeld describes the future of engineering design as moving away from mass production to personal fabrication. According to Gershenfeld, driven by the desire for personalized products, people will begin modifying technology by adapting commercial products for unique personal applications. A look at the Adafruit Industries Web site suggests the first wave of Gershenfeld’s personal fabrication future is already here.
For example, one cannot buy a Tweet-a-Watt commercially. However, with the help of the Tweet-a-Watt Starter Pack (available for $90 from Adafruit Industries), one can build their own using a Kill-A-Watt module form From P3 International. The Kill-a-Watt itself has gained popularity as a means of measuring vampire power consumption in residential appliances and electronics. I use Kill-A-Watt devices in my research laboratory at UNT to measure power consumption of systems ranging from air conditioner compressors to servers running energy-aware software. The Kill-A-Watt module is plug-and-play; way easier than wiring a logging multi-meter, which makes it a compelling base for the Tweet-a-Watt application.
The stated purpose of Tweet-a-Watt is that in the absence of economic pressures to be green (i.e., carbon taxes), peer pressure can cause people to improve their energy efficiency. If a user’s friends see that he is being wasteful, the user is obliged to change his habits. This concept is compelling for Americans because while our social conscious tells us that we should be better environmental stewards, laws to induce this behavior are slow in coming. So, it is easy to cut corners when no one is watching.
The Tweet-a-Watt concept was so compelling that it won the second Greener Gadgets Design Competition in February 2009. This contest is aimed at generating outstanding design innovations for greener electronics, and by combining personal fabrication, social messaging, and green electronics into a sensible and useful device, Tweet-a-Watt fit the bill.
Now if only Adafruit Industries could figure out how enable Tweet-a-Watt to guarantee radical weight loss in 7 days with no exercise or change in diet while winning reality TV competitions, all of America’s emerging trends would be covered.