Sensors Turns Houses Into Smart Homes
A new innovation may allow your home to tell you some very interesting and important things about itself.
Researchers at the University of Washington and the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed sensors that turn a home’s electrical wiring into a comprehensive system of antennae that can transmit information to and from almost anywhere in the house.
Called Sensor Nodes Utilizing Powerline Infrastructure (SNUPI), each small sensor, placed between 10 and 15 feet of a home’s copper electrical wiring, allows the wiring to receive wireless signals at a set frequency and broadcast pertinent information about the home, such as temperature, air quality, water pressure, and humidity, to a central base station.
SNUPI is a step forward in Smart Home technology — the concept of linking together a home’s separate automation systems onto one grid and monitoring them from a single control center. Though large in scope, its efficiency and success has a great deal to do with something as simple as a single watch battery.
Shwetak Patel, a computer scientist at the University of Washington, is the lead researcher of the project. Patel explained that existing wireless sensors, or nodes, transmit a wireless signal only a few feet and expend 90 percent of their power in communication; the sensors developed by Patel’s team use less than 1 milliwatt of power when transmitting, with only 10 percent of that 1 milliwatt used for data communication. The end result: a small, highly efficient device that could run continuously for 50 years on the same battery that powers a wristwatch.
“Here, we can imagine this having an out-of-the-box experience where the device already has a battery in it and it’s ready to go and run for many years,” Patel said. "Basically, the battery will start to decompose before it runs out of power."
Tested on a 3,000-square-foot home, it was found that copper electrical wiring worked as an extremely efficient antenna at 27 megahertz. Research showed also that only five percent of the house was out of range of the sensors, compared with 23 percent using traditional over-the-air communication. The wiring, the researchers discovered, even allowed for sensors to easily transmit data near bathtubs and through walls.
Looking beyond Smart Home technology to the future, the researchers envision the sensors being used by medical professionals to remotely monitor a patientâs vitals and send the information to a central database.
The SNUPI technology will be presented at the 12th ACM International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, Sept. 26-29 in Copenhagen, Denmark.