Cope

James Wallis levels with you

Current fun

(Attention: this post was written in mid-2008. I have no idea if the information in it is still applicable. Please make your own checks before sending any cheques.)

In certain circles there’s been a lot of excitement about the Current Cost, a meter that clamps to your mains electricity cable and measures how much power your household is using, comparing usage over time with numbers and little graphs. Evidence shows that having a device like this can save you 15% on your electricity bills. Plus it’s, you know, data.

What sets the Current Cost apart from its competition is the fact that on its underside is what looks like an RJ-45 port. This is entirely undocumented—neither the manual nor the website acknowledge that it exists—but geeks being geeks, there has been a flurry of enthusiasm and people bodging together cables to get the data off the machine and onto PCs and the web.

There’s no official software for this. We know the device spits out an XML packet every six seconds, and people have been grabbing that and feeding it into Google Charts or homebrew solutions. The Current Cost website gives a demo of an interesting-looking app which is apparently under development but not released yet. And it’s only a matter of time before people start aggregating their data using a service like AMEE, and then things get interesting.

The chief stumbling block till now has been the lack of a cable to physically get data from CC to PC. People have created their own—apparently it’s TTL to RS232,3.3V, running at 2400 baud—but I bring the glad tidings that you can put down your crimpers and Maplin catalogue because Current Cost sell data-cables to those in the know. Send a cheque or purchase order for £11.12 per cable (£7.95 + VAT and shipping) to:
Current Cost Ltd (attn: Steve Allen)
1 The Mews
Wharf Street
Godalming
Surrey GU7 1NN

And in the UK you can buy Current Cost from here, £28 plus shipping.

Not strictly games-related business, I know, but if we can turn data-gathering of this kind into a game-like behaviour, with status rewards for greatest improvement and so on, then energy-conscious behaviour ceases being a worthy chore and becomes something that you want to do. People used to game Last FM in the early days when it was still Audioscrobbler, running multiple simultaneous iterations of Winamp and iTunes to push their ‘tracks played’ total higher than anyone else’s, just to have the biggest number on the site. Pointless but fun.

If you engineer the same behaviour but use it to gather data that has a purpose, does it make it any less fun?


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6 Comments

  1. morgue says:

    Blimey. Just yesterday was thinking that there should be a device like that one, and that its existence would mean people would hack it into some game-ish form. And I thought, “Someone must have thought of doing this already, it’s so obvious!” Pleased to see they did.

    (My thinking was prompted by how you get your energy info in NZ – unless you get into the habit of checking your meter, which could be outside the house or somewhere inaccessible, the only way you get info is the bimonthly energy usage bill. It’s an insanely slow feedback system and completely useless as a motivator of behaviour change.)

  2. james says:

    Energy bills here are quarterly (mine are anyway), and are divided into standard units and discounted units. I’ve been trying to find out what the difference between them is: all my powerco will tell me is that it’s not based on time-of-day. Wilfully arcane bastards.

    There’s several power-monitoring devices on the market: a comparison here.

  3. Gavin says:

    I’m very keen for people to start gaming with the data, and can’t wait until people start sending it from smart meters into AMEE … I hope we can help stimulate this. If anyone needs help with API code, just mail me.

  4. Jen says:

    Ooh, I have a wattson, which is a compelling little object in itself (for me, anyway!). It connects to a PC by USB, and has a mate called holmes that analyses its data.

    I am totally up for energy-saving pwnage!

  5. Jonathan says:

    The one feature these devices lack is also sampling the temperature at the meter end, not just the display end. In my case (and I guess some others) the meter is outside. It would not be much effort I’d guess to add a thermister to the external unit and include the data from it along with the power consumption data. That way you could cross ref the consumption with the external temperature, there may well be a correlation.

  6. Smellypunks says:

    Just got my cc128, waiting on the data cable (still in the post) quite excited.

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