Once a year, you go into the basement to visit your energy meter. That's too seldom to stay on top of your energy consumption.
Saving Energy is important. Be it for the purpose of saving money or protecting the environment. Still, the energy meter — the only indicator of energy consumption — carves out a miserable existence in the basements of our homes and is rarely read.
Add to the problem that almost nobody has a clue about the astract unit “kilowatt hour”, which is the main unit measuring energy usage.
Meta is a concept which aims to bring your energy usage closer to you. It spares you from showing exact, scientific data and emphasizes an emotional way to understand energy.
An interactive sculpture made of ceramics is placed in your living room. By tilting slightly, Meta informs you continuously about your energy usage, without being distracting or annoying.
A monthly email report sums up the usage of the previous month by using illustrative comparisons, predicts your annual bill and gives you useful tips how to save even more.
We made a animated video to illustrate the concept:
The Problem with Energy
We became used to the luxury of always having energy. It is only noticed when it's lacking. Our goal was to reraise a consciousness we lost decades ago.
By doing interviews we found out that most people don't even know where their energy meter is located in their home.
Apart from knowing that it is related to energy, most people don't have a clue about “kilowatt hour”, the abstract unit to measure energy usage.
By presenting your usage statistics with illustrative comparisons to everyday life, Meta makes it more interesting to deal with your energy bill. The comparisons are also helping to educate users about the unit. They get a feeling for what one kilowatt hour actually means in real life.
In order to be more conscious about your electricity usage, the topic has to present every day, not just once a year.
That's why Meta is an interactive object instead of just another smartphone app begging for your attention. Its subtle ceramic body blends in seamlessly with your home.
Smart meter interfaces available today present you with bar charts. Meta conveys information by tilting. The tilt angle corresponds to your current electricity usage. There are no push notifications or alert sounds. Still, it creates a far more emotional and engaging experience than any screen-only application could. Just look at it:
A newsletter for the bigger picture
Turning devices on and off is a thing of the moment. You forget about what you have done yesterday or even what you had for breakfast. A monthly report shows you your past and predicts the future. Here's an example:
Prototyping & Development
Besides doing interviews, creating personas and writing use cases, we also investigated real smart meter data from a public data set. An interactive visualization written in Processing and MySQL helped us understand the data we were working with.
The final prototype has a weight inside that is attached to a servo motor. By shifting the center of gravity, the object tilts to one side.
There's also an accelerometer for balancing. As a proof of concept, the Arduino-based prototype can be connected to the aforementioned consumption simulation in real-time.
Manufacturing the ceramic body and electronics housing was quite an adventure. Here are some pictures from the process:
A few final Thoughts
Meta is an experiment. Probably it's not a proper solution to the problem at hand. A device that needs energy to help you save energy? That sounds paradox and in some way it is.
There are two ways to make people consume less: Either through consciousness or by taking more of their money. Since energy is relatively cheap and will be for quite a while, we have to raise consciousness about our lifestyle and what it means for the world.
Meta tries to achieve that. You can decide for yourself how you think of it. But at least we got you thinking about energy. That's what we wanted.
Download Project Documentation
There's a lot more to the project. If you're interested, you can download the german documentation.
Stephan Bogner, Philipp Schmitt and Xin Xu
Consulting: Thomas Techert
University: Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd