Smart and ecological electricity sockets

© 2011 EPFL

© 2011 EPFL

The visualization of the electricity consumption of a dwelling and to manage it in an intelligent manner using a touch-screen is enabled by the technology developed by two doctoral students of the Laboratory of Electronics at EPFL. This technology has been awarded the first prize of the PERL trophy, presented yesterday by the town of Lausanne.

Getting a better understanding of your electricity consumption, and managing it more efficiently, is now possible thanks to the insertion of devices in your wall sockets. This ecological step is available to everyone, and provides a simple way to become an “active consumer”. Developed by Laurent Fabre and Fabrizio Lo Conte, doctoral students at the Laboratory of Electronics, these intelligent units communicate with one another via the electricity network, which enables an easy and rapid installation.

Easily adaptable, this system can be added to ceiling lights or directly into the wall sockets of new buildings. For this invention, the two doctoral students have won the first prize of the PERL trophy, awarded for the 8th year by the town of Lausanne. The prize of 50,000 Swiss francs that accompanies the award will enable them to create a start-up company to commercialize the solution.

The information is transmitted in real-time to a software program. Through an interface, which can be a computer, a touch-screen , an iPad or a mobile telephone, anyone can obtain a detailed list of their electricity consumption, remotely switch on or off lights and appliances, and even decide to have softened lighting in some rooms. The system can also include a gauge which turns red when the electricity consumption becomes abnormally high.

Let’s imagine that all the sockets are equipped with such devices: we can then know in real-time – or almost – the consumption of a building, district, town or even a country. “The technology developed by Laurent Fabre and Fabrizio Lo Conte is the first link of a vast network of responsible management of energy”, emphasizes Maher Kayal, director of the laboratory. The electricity grid will thereby become intelligent: the goal is to optimize the relation between supply and demand by using electronic technologies.

Many research projects are being conducted in this area, also known as “smartgrid”. However, the Laboratory of Electronics has set its sights even higher. It is working on putting this network on a tiny chip which will enable the management of this information practically in real-time for a cost lower than that of the current installations. “This technology will encourage the use of sustainable energies”, envisages the professor, “because they can adapt easily to demand – unlike nuclear plants, for which advance forecasting and planning is necessary to adapt the production.”

Mindmaze receives the second prize
The second prize of the PERL trophy – 20,000 Swiss francs – has also been awarded to an EPFL doctoral student. Tadi Tej, of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, is working on the development of a device that will enable people with brain injuries to perform daily activities using virtual reality. Mindmaze’s “nano”, a mask equipped with electrodes, enables the patient to recover the use of essential functions such as walking, speech or manual dexterity by practising his or her rehabilitation at home. The start-up plans to sell the system in Switzerland as from this year.

Author: Cecilia Carron

Source: EPFL