Ash at CIID

Ashwin Rajan's blog while at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.

Intel Project – The Social Collective as an Agent of Behavioral Change

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Working with Intel design researcher Jay Mellican (of Intel’s Digital Home group) and CIID faculty Vinay Venkatraman, we explored the role of the social collective in achieving sustainable behaviors towards the effective management of energy.  Here I will discuss the context of the project, and go into our process and solutions in future posts.

The focus for Intel was the emerging “smart grid” – the efforts promoted by many governments and utilities to modernize, from the bottom up, the integrated system by which energy is collected and distributed. In bringing the energy grids of yesteryear into the digital age, many of the technologies and standards that will make up the “smart grid” are yet to be defined, and the implications they will have on our patterns of daily living, as well as their likely success, will depend heavily on how they are defined.

The idea of the “smart grid” is a really interesting one. Here is a really nice video that covers the main aspects of the concept well:

Its hard to discuss the “smart grid” for long today without running into GE’s efforts in that space. As part of GE’s ecomagination campaign, the company has created this engaging augmented reality web object, as shown in the video below:

The virtual energy farm object can be accessed here. Nice website too.

Amongst others, Google has been working to bring visibility of energy use to the notice of individual customers; check out its Power Meter tool.

Given all that, in trying to envision scenarios and solutions for behavioral change for this emerging and very complex space, my team (classmate Mimi and I) quickly realized that the problem of visibility of use was a crucial one. According to the Environment Change Institute, for instance, “most householders have only a vague idea of how much energy they are using for different purposes, hence the importance of making energy flows more visible and controllable. There is a lot of interest in the potential for better feedback using improved (‘smart’) metering, more informative billing and direct display panels.”

As my team’s interest was in understanding the behaviors and influence of the “social collective” – networks of people connected by social technologies – in the context of smart energy use, we decided to explore the space beyond the use of individual control devices such as energy meters, and look at “visibility of use” aspects for groups of people. More on our contextual research and enquiry in posts to come.

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