Monday, 12 January 2009

Joys of 2.0

I've been using AlertMe 2.0 in my home for a few weeks now. I'm always keen to be a guinea-pig for our new features and accessories, partly just to help out with beta testing (real-world testing beats lab testing, any day) but also as a sanity-check that what we're about to bring to market really does do a useful job in a useful way.

Our engineers will tell you that it normally takes me all of 5 seconds from seeing the first demo of a new feature to coming up with 10 things that need improving about it (but I do try to wait that 5 seconds - or 10 if I'm really blown away). So I try to be our harshest critic. But I have to say that 2.0 is really working for me.

Just before Christmas I grabbed two SmartPlugs from the very limited pre-production run to play with at home. One has ended-up on our media centre, where it is reducing its standby consumption, and the other is being used to measure power consumption of our kettle, for no good reason than I wondered if kettle consumption was significant.

AlertMe 2.0 is a major upgrade of the AlertMe service. It supports not just the features required for our new Energy accessories, but a whole load of new functionality that is generally useful. The charting has been significantly improved - you can now look at data on a timeline instead of a chart. For example, from the chart left you can see when we boil the kettle (a national UK pasttime!), top, and when we watch TV, bottom, over the course of a week or so.

You can also see totals for how much energy you've consumed over a period of time:

From the individual SmartPlug icons, you can also see consumption at a glance, and even turn the appliances on and off by clicking on the 0/1 button.

We now also have whole-household electricity monitoring working too, so as well as this appliance-by-appliance SmartPlug view, you can look at, and log, your overall household consumption. As with temperature charts, it can get surprisingly addictive!

And now for the real joy of 2.0. We've had very cold weather in the UK over the past couple of weeks - temperatures have stayed well below freezing throughout the day. The trouble with this is that by around 2 o'clock in the morning, my 3-year-old's bedroom has been getting pretty cold, and she'd wake up and come and wake us up too, to cuddle in. After the third such night, I decided it was time for action! We have a small portable oil-filled electric radiator, with a thermostat which does a great job of regulating its own temperature, but an awful job of regulating the overall room temperature, because of course the thermostat is right next to the source of heat (I've seen the same problem with the Thermostatic Radiator Valves on all our radiators, but that's another story).

I though "Aha!". AlertMe does a fantastic job of measuring room temperature, so now I should be able to use a SmartPlug to control the heater, et voila. And indeed using one of the new "do more" buttons which reveal a lot of the power in the 2.0 release, with literally 5 minutes of effort, total, it worked first time. A few clicks on the website (about 15, to be honest, and we need to work on getting this down) and moving the Smart Plug from my Media Centre to the radiatior, and it was all set up to turn the radiator on if my daughter's room fell below 14C (and off again if it exceeded 16C). The "Do more" button drills down to an action chooser, so you can use any cause (e.g. temperature) to cause any action (e.g. turning a Smart plug on and off). The idea is that people who want to do advanced things can do them, but the interface stays clean and simple for everyone else.

And that night ... peace!

Now that really is worth something.