A logo for homecamp, created by @ribotminimus

A logo for homecamp, created by @ribotminimus

I spent all day last Saturday at Homecamp at the Electrical Engineering building at Imperial College London. Homecamp is effectively a hack-day about Home monitoring, home automation reducing energy and energy resource requirements in your home.

Previous to hearing of the day, I had become interested in these subjects because I had seen Andy Piper‘s Current Cost posts and the associated IBM’ers who had been doing some fantastic work on providing code libraries for accessing the Current Cost data. The CurrentCost unit is a great little electricity usage monitoring unit that is available to buy on eBay for about £40. Whilst a large amount of our discussion from that day did revolve around the CurrentCost unit, it was not the limit of our discussion in anyway (discussion around this was easy because it’s a cool little unit that is low-cost and easy to extract data from!).


The Day began with Dale Lane and Chris Dalby who had organised the day distributing name labels and wireless keys and asked us to give suggestions for sessions. We also had a quick word from James Govenor (@monkchips) who was generously sponsoring the event via his GreenMonk consultancy. 

The First talk of the day was from Andy Stanford-Clark who is a Master Inventor at IBM. As one might expect, Andy’s own house is a geeks dream (it even twitters!). Almost everything that can be is monitored and automated, even to the mouse traps that are set in his loft which text him or his family when a mousetrap is set off or the cheese used as bait has gone off. He measured his water usage by requesting a new meter which had a magnetised needle, thus allowing him to setup a device which gets a signal every time the needle rotates. Andy was also a big advocate of the MQTT protocol which he uses for client projects with IBM and as the central messaging service for his house works. MQTT is a Publish-Subscribe protocol which makes it ideal for things like the house networks that we were talking about. He also mentioned the use of X10 and ZigBee in controlling almost device or system in the house. You can see Andy’s full talk in the video that Andy Piper made.

Photo credit: Andy Piper

Photo credit: Andy Piper

Joe Short and Phoebe Bright then did a talk on Dynamic Demand. This is essentially about smoothing out the hour by hour and minute by minute variations in power demands on the national grid. This is important becuase peak time power requirements mean that power companies have to bring very expensive and very environmentally damaging types of power generator online. We discussed about how this requires social change and we discussed dynamic energy pricing as a method of bringing about this change. In Italy for example the government required dynamic pricing smart meters to be installed in every house. This means that people are rewarded for putting their tumble dryer (if you needed a tumble dryer in a hot country like italy!) on at 3am in the morning when electricity is considerably cheaper. The general message here seemed to be that we have limited scope for activity here until we can push suppliers for dynamic pricing. This will take some time but once this is done, you can for example program washing machines to automatically start when the national price of electricity is at it’s cheapest throughout the day (very cool).  

Dale Lane took us through some of the ways in which the IBM Hursley users of the CurrentCost units have been trying to address the social aspects of getting people to use less electricity. They have been working on a realtime site for sharing and contrasting data from their units and would like to start creating some XBox live style point scoring awards. This would mean awards for biggest 1 day improvement or lowest house rest point. 

We also had a talk from Nicholas O’Leary who gave an interesting talk about the potential for Arduino use in the home. The Arduino is an open-source electronics platform that allows the flexibility to program and build low cost sensor inputs (light, heat, magnetic etc) to interact with a number of outputs. Nick showed us an ambient orb that he had built to show the amount of power his house is using at that particular moment. It glows green, yellow or red depending on whether the house electricity usage falls within certain limits. You can buy arduino units and shields from a number of sources but I am planning on getting a starter kit which should be back in stock soon at tinker.it

There was discussion in both Andy’s talk and Nick’s talk about how you could end up consuming more power by measuring and monitoring your home by the time you’ve got a server plugged into all manner of electrical monitoring devices. We discussed the Viglen MPC-L device which runs on a rediculously small amount of electricity usage (there was some discussion of costing you approx £10 per year on electicity usage). The Arduino can be powered with a normal 9V battery.


We also had a presentation from the Patchube (Patch-U-Bay) folks who were explaining about how you can get data in to the site and the various ways you use and share that information. I could see a lot of potential for this site but first I need to generate some data to share!


Photo Credit: Andy Piper

Photo Credit: Andy Piper

Overall I had a very inspiring day and met some extremely interesting people from all manner of backgrounds, interests and areas. It was nice to meet so many people who I had interacted with on Twitter and some who I had never met before but whom I shall certainly be looking forward to meeting again soon. I will be ordering all sorts of kit to play with as a result of the talks given at Homecamp and so the day will almost certainly cost me a lot of money in gadgets and time in the future but at least I will have a lot of fun doing it! The first thing I will be doing is writing a native Delphi library for the CurrentCost unit and contributing that to the Google Code Repository. There is another Homecamp planned for March which I hope that I will be around for again and this time able to contribute some ideas and projects towards it.


Thank-you to Chris Dalby, Dale Lane and James Governor for their work in setting up the day and to everyone who presented or otherwise contributed to the day. I can’t wait to share what I do as a result of the inspiration that the first day gave me!

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