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Project Description

21 Apr

Ambient Knowledge (AK)

Ambient Energy Information Display

AK is an Ambient Information System that provides the user with information regarding the energy consumption in his/her house. An Ambient Information System appeals to peripheral senses and aims at providing the user with information without demanding their attention or introducing any additional interaction. This will avoid bombarding them with information or distracting them from the task at hand and allow them to receive information and proceed with everyday life. AK allows a smooth transition between the users focus on the task at hand and the information being provided. The project aims to provide the user with aesthetically pleasing, enjoyable and convenient access to information.

The project uses colour as the modality to provide the user with ambient energy information. The scale goes from Green through Blue to Red depending on how much energy the house is consuming. Red is considered a high-arousal colour while blue, green and most violets are low-arousal colours. The properties of a certain colour can alter the psychological message, which can be more significant than the visual experience itself. Colour can affect the human body both physically as well as mentally. Red has been shown to draw attention, increase enthusiasm, stimulate energy and encourage action while Blue and Green have the opposite effect and can be calming and tranquil. Green is also seen as the colour of ecology and has many environmental associations. ( provide this colour to the user the project uses LED lighting. LEDs are sustainable, energy-efficient and environmentally responsible, containing no hazardous or toxic materials such as mercury. A single LED could last three to six years if left on for 24 hours a day.

According to Pike Research “consumer interest in energy consumption is higher than it has been for decades; home EIDs will enter people’s kitchens and living rooms in large numbers over the next few years”. By making people aware of their energy consumption it will motivate them to make behavior changes to cut their utility bills and environmental footprint. In most houses energy use is invisible to the user and people only have a vague idea of the amount of energy they are using and what appliances use the most energy. Feedback allows energy usage to become more visible and easier to understand and control. Ames et al. “hypothesize that information will empower residents to improve city health by making them feel like their actions are visible”. Since the 1970s it has been established that feedback has measurable effects and it is now believed that savings from immediate feedback can range from 5-15%. Feedback can be used as a learning tool allowing users to teach themselves through experimentation. (The effectiveness of feedback on energy consumption) (Healthy Cities Ambient Displays). Wilhit and Ling found that increased feedback leads to an increase in knowledge that in turn motivates changes in energy-use and a decrease in energy consumption.

The biggest problem with EIDs is motivating people to sustain their use after the initial novelty of the display wears off. Sustaining a change in behavior will depend on whether the feedback will support the development of new habits over a long period of time. This is where a well thought out energy monitoring device is needed. A new behavior formed over a three-month period or longer is only likely to persist, once continued feedback is maintained. This is why the properties of an Ambient Information System are suitable as an effective Energy Information Display. Continuous feedback can be provided through an easily accessible, convenient, glancable display. Providing the information in a pervasive, aesthetically pleasing, enjoyable manner reduces the burdens on the user therefore they don’t not get annoyed or distracted by the display and stop using it. (The effectiveness of feedback on energy consumption)


Cultural Probe 1

20 Apr

Placement of Ambient Energy Information Display

Placement of Ambient Information Display

I decided to conduct cultural probes because they will allow me to evaluate potential users interaction with the prototypes within the intended interaction setting. Because of the nature of my prototype it is also very important that I evaluate the user’s experience and satisfaction of using the prototype over a period of time. In order to know if my prototype is successful I need a potential user to interact with it as they are going about their normal, daily lives. The prototype cannot be properly evaluated in an organised user testing setup because this is not the way it will be used in reality. This will help me develop a design that will cater for the user’s needs and capable of seamlessly fitting in with their lives.

I set up the prototype in the dinning room of a three bedroom house located in Cork City centre. There is a male and female in their 50’s and another female that is in her 30’s. I left the prototype in the house for 5 days and provided each member with a probe pack. Within the pack was an instruction sheet and a notebook and pen that I wanted them to use to take notes. Before we began I described my project and explained what I wanted them to do.

I wanted each member to self report each time they thought about or interacted with the prototype. I explained that I wanted them to report their feelings, thoughts  and experiences of using the prototype. I included a few questions and bullet points on the instruction sheet to help stimulate thought. Basically I wanted each member to explain what, where why, when, who and how they interacted with the prototype. I also asked them to  report any improvements, likes or dislikes.

Main Findings that influenced change in the prototype

  • “Not very interested in the in between colours I just have a quick glance to see if its blue or red”
  • “It seems to be always blue and then every now and again it goes Red if someone in the shower or kettle is on etc”

The focus seemed to be on how it changes when large appliances are turned on but not on any of the small changes. Numerous times it was mentioned or suggested in some way that it needed to be more sensitive, and change colour more throughout the day and not just when large appliances are turned on.

Because of this I introduced a third colour which would allow me to make the prototype more sensitive and at the same time not go red easily. On testing this with the same group of people they all preferred it and agreed that it worked better.

  • “At night in a dark room the colours are much too bright”

This inspired me to investigate including a light sensor so that when the room gets darker the light dims. I am only implementing this feature at present so I still have not tested the results.

  • “Can you turn it off? Now that I’m conscious of turning lights off around the house it seems mad to leave this on all the time”

This supports my decision to include a motion sensor so that when nobody is in the room the prototype will automatically turn itself off.


2 Apr

I am now focusing more on the aesthetics and design of the Ambient Energy Information Display. I began by researching what symbols, words, materials, designs etc were related with environmental awareness. I investigated the use of a “tree metaphor” as this is often associated with environmental awareness. I was also exploring the idea of using a wooden sculpture because its more natural and nature related.

The “Mood Lamp” and “Flower” are two prototypes I have developed. The Mood Lamp is a hand-made, wooden sculpture that can also be used as a candle holder. At an earlier stage in the project I was considering the use of a candle holder because candle light is an effective form of mood lighting that doesn’t consume electricity.

The Flower prototype is still at an early stage but the concept is to incorporate the use of colour into a flower sculpture.  Using Fibre Optic strands and LEDs I was able to develop an abstract flower design.

The Mood Lamp

The Flower


24 Mar

I am now investigating the idea of building my Ambient Energy Information System within an everyday product and an energy-efficient platform.

A big problem with present Energy Information Displays is that people stop using them after the novelty wears off. In order to keep energy consumption low and change people’s behaviors the EID needs to be used over a long period of time. If I embed my display within a product that is already used in people’s homes and has pre-existing functionality then it will not be discarded as easily.

Lamps are a major cause of energy consumption within a living room. Research shows that lamps are very common and sometimes peoples favorite thing within the room. If I was to provide an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly lamp (refer to LED Lighting) that would replace existing lamps and not only reduce the energy consumption from the lamp itself but also help reduce energy consumption for the whole house.

This would also address the domestication of new technology. People are sometimes reluctant to purchase new technology and artifacts for their home. Because lamps are already familiar, common and frequently used products it would help people accept the new EID and also help ensure that it is seen and used over a long period of time.

Lamps are often used more for their aesthetic qualities rather than their functionality. This will help the Ambient Energy Monitor (lamp) fit in and suit the overall aesthetics of a room. Table lamps are designed to be placed in a visible area of a room, lamps are not designed and functional in a drawer or behind a TV.

Energy Information Display (EID)

22 Mar

In order for an energy information display to be successful it should be able to do some of the following:

Teach the user about the amounts of energy that various appliances use. Gaining knowledge about what appliances use the most energy will help reduce energy consumption. This means that the display must be sensitive and provide immediate feedback. The user must be able to easily see the various states of the display and immediately see changes when different appliances are turned on and off. This also makes people feel that their actions are visible.

The EID must be pervasive while at the same time aesthetically pleasing and not bombarding so that the user does not get annoyed by the display and stop using it.

The EID should be conveniently, easily and quickly accessible so that it does not take the user too much time, become annoying, distracting and therefor not useful.

The EID itself must be energy-efficient so that it can always remain on therefor providing the user with constant information and reduce energy consumption.

The EID must be as motivational as possible to encourage the user to use less energy.

I feel that the use of colour would be an ideal medium to be used as an EID. Immediate changes whether small or large can be seen. The display can remain unobtrusive and subtle while at the same time easily and quickly accessible. The use of colour could be embedded in an aesthetically pleasing artifact and provide convenient enjoyable access to information. By providing the colour with the use of LEDs it would mean that the display would be energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. The display could also be motivational by using certain colours. For example using the colour blue to represent when the energy consumption in a house is low. The colour blue affects us physically and mentally and is calming and sedate while the colour red which could be used to indicate high energy levels increases enthusiasm, stimulates energy and encourages action.

Colour Meanings and Psychology

22 Mar

Color is light and light is energy. Red, yellow and orange are in general considered high-arousal colors and blue, green and most violets are low-arousal hues, the brilliance, darkness and lightness of a color can alter the psychological message. The psychological association of a color is often more meaningful than the visual experience. Colors act upon the body as well as the mind. Red has been shown to stimulate the senses and raise the blood pressure, while blue has the opposite effect and calms the mind (

Blue is seen as a calm, soothing and cool colour. Blue is the overwhelming “favorite color.” Blue is seen as trustworthy, dependable and committed. The color of sky and the ocean, blue is perceived as a constant in our lives.

Blue is the least “gender specific” color, having equal appeal to both men and women. How the color blue affects us physically and mentally:

– Calming and sedate

– Cooling

– Aids intuition

Green occupies more space in the spectrum visible to the human eye and is second only to blue as a favorite color. Green is the pervasive color in the natural world that is an ideal backdrop in interior design because we are so used to seeing it everywhere.

The natural greens, from forest to lime, are seen as tranquil and refreshing, with a natural balance of cool and warm (blue and yellow) undertones. Green is considered the color of peace and ecology. However, there is an “institutional” side to green, associated with illness or Government-issued that conjure up negative emotions as do the “slimy” or bilious greens. How the color green affects us physically and mentally:

– Soothing

– Relaxing mentally as well as physically

– Helps alleviate depression, nervousness and anxiety

– Offers a sense of renewal, self-control and harmony

Red has more personal associations than any other color. Red can grab attention. Recognized as a stimulant red is inherently exciting and the amount of red is directly related to the level of energy perceived. Red draws attention and a keen use of red as an accent can immediately focus attention on a particular element. How the color red affects us mentally and physically:

– Increases enthusiasm

– Stimulates energy

– Encourages action and confidence

– A sense of protection from fears and anxiety

Purple embodies the balance of red simulation and blue calm. This dichotomy can cause unrest or uneasiness unless the undertone is clearly defined at which point the purple takes on the characteristics of its undertone. A sense of mystic and royal qualities, purple is a color often well liked by very creative or eccentric types and is the favorite color of adolescent girls. How the color purple affects us mentally and physically:

– Uplifting

– Calming to mind and nerves

– Offers a sense of spirituality

– Encourages creativity

White projects purity, cleanliness, and neutrality. Doctors don white coats, brides traditionally were white gowns and a white picket fence surrounds a safe and happy home. How the color white affects us mentally and physically:

– aids mental clarity

– encourages us to clear clutter or obstacles

– evokes purification of thoughts or actions

– enables fresh beginnings

Pinks are youthful, fun, and exciting, while vibrant pinks have the same high energy as red; they are sensual and passionate without being too aggressive. Toning down the passion of red with the purity of white results in the softer pinks that are associated with romance and the blush of a young woman’s cheeks. It’s not surprising that when giving or receiving flowers, pink blossoms are a favorite. Pink is the color of happiness and is sometimes seen as lighthearted. For women who are often overworked and overburdened, an attraction to pink may speak of a desire for the more carefree days of childhood. How the color white affects us mentally and physically:

– Bright pinks, like the color red, stimulate energy and can increase the blood pressure, respiration, heartbeat, and pulse rate.  They also encourage action and confidence.

– Pink has been used in prison holding cells to effectively reduce erratic behavior.


Real-time Energy Feedback Displays

22 Mar

According to the Sustain Blog Real-time energy feedback displays for the home are the current technology du jour, but these technologies face two burning questions: (1) what will incite their adoption? and (2) what will sustain their use?

The blog outlines that:

“It would seem that real-time energy displays are either being marketed directly to consumers (and the only ones interested at this point seem to be “green” consumers–so there is somewhat of a preaching to the choir effect here) or marketed through municipalities (e.g., the utility company offers them at a discount or as part of some promotion). However, the market space is saturated–there are far too many products with few value differentials. Is the promise of price savings around 10-15% off energy bills enough to motivate a large enough pool of consumers to make a purchase, particularly if this price savings is hinged on their behavior change? It seems that most people engage in the same set of evaluative/experimental activities. They go through their house and experiment with turning on and off appliances. Sometimes, this experimentation can be valuable, as found by this Eco-Dad:

After a few minutes I was up and running and monitoring how much I was using. I found the real eco bad guy – our TV, DVD, freeview box and media hub, all powered from one monster multi-plug socket. Tearing it from the wall like a man possessed, my monitor fell to zero pence.

I can’t believe my freeview box was costing that much money a year – and burning all that energy. So, the new rule is only to plug it in when we are ready to watch the telly, and with the money we’ve saved we can get away on a family break next year.

So, this initial learning period after installation is valuable; however, how useful was the display after the initial novelty of the display wore off? Similarly, though Eco-Dad promised to always unplug the entertainment center after watching TV, was this promise actually fulfilled? Consistently?

A related comment by William at the RSA Design and Behaviour blog:

I think these devices might be being thought of in the wrong way. A friend who has bought the Wattson says that it was most effective in the first few days, when the kids ran around the house turning things on and off and playing with the reading, learning what was consuming energy and discovering how much their phone chargers used. Once they’d learned those lessons they tended to look at the read-out much less.”