The future is coming, in the form of internet-controlled power outlets
By Dave LeClair
August 3, 2012
A common theme in any form of entertainment depicting the future is the use of a remote to control everything – futuristic houses are often shown with the owner turning the lights on before they even arrive. Turns out, using the internet to control our houses is not too far away. A group of researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Communication Systems ESK in Munich, in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM in Kaiserslautern, have developed a new power outlet that supports the brand-new IPv6 Internet protocol. These new outlets, known as the wireless smart socket, could very well revolutionize the way we turn things on and off in our homes.
“We have been able to connect the power outlets wirelessly using the IPv6 protocol,” says ESK research engineer Günter Hildebrandt. “All household appliances plugged in one of the sockets can be switched on and off remotely using an IPv6-compatible device such as a smartphone or laptop PC – from anywhere.”
These wireless power outlets are part of the HexaBus home automation system, which is part of the mySmartGrid project. The HexaBus system uses USB sticks that are plugged into compatible off-the-shelf routers. These USB sticks serve as the outlets' gateway to the internet.
While these outlets could certainly make life easier, that is not the only thing they bring to the table. They could also help with optimizing energy consumption. If you forgot to turn off a light before you ran out of the house, for instance, you could switch it off right from your mobile device and save a full day’s worth of energy. Being able to control your energy usage whether home or away leads to all kinds of money-saving opportunities.
“The HexaBus components make the smart home of the future a reality. They enable household appliances to be controlled intelligently, thus optimizing or reducing electricity consumption. For example, the householder can start the washing machine during cheap-rate off-peak hours, or run the dishwasher when the photovoltaic panels on the roof are generating sufficient power”, said Mathias Dalheimer, industrial engineer of the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics.
The outlets can use their IPv6 connection from a range of about 100 feet (30 meters). The developers have a plan to improve this by allowing the outlets to serve as a pass-through. The router could send the signal to the closest outlet, which would pass it down the line until it reaches its final destination.
Security is obviously a major concern with connecting your entire home to the internet. All data sent through the outlets is encrypted with the AES-128 advanced encryption standard. Until these devices hit the field in a major way, it is hard to predict how secure these outlets will be, but it seems as though Fraunhofer is taking the correct steps in ensuring that peoples' homes will be safe while using these outlets.
The HexaBus power outlets are ready to be used in a commercial setting. It could be a little while longer before we see them in homes, but this is certainly a sign that the future is coming, and it's coming quickly.
I ask you, the loyal readers; are you ready to control your home over the internet?