Top Innovators: University of Washington/Zensi

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Shwetak PatelYou probably don’t know it yet, but each appliance in your home sings its own particular song. Recognizing that song could help households cut their energy consumption. Shwetak Patel and his students at the University of Washington have developed intelligent in-home sensors that are able to differentiate between different appliances drawing gas through a line by using acoustic recognition to identify each appliance’s “song.”

The sensors are available in three different models: HydroSense, GasSense and Powerline Event Detection (PED). Each sensor performs the same task, albeit in a slightly different way. HyrdoSense relies on the different pressures, GasSense uses acoustics and PED analyzes spikes from electrical switches flipped inside mechanical devices.

Using such devices, customers can see what appliances are using energy and take measures to reduce their use or to unplug appliances that consume energy when not in use. The technology can also help utilities create incentives for consumers to restrict the use of energy-hungry appliances to off-peak periods.

Energy monitors were previously a luxury available only to large companies. In April, Los Angeles-based Belkin acquired Patel’s startup, Zensi, and will soon bring energy monitors that use Zensi’s technology to market, allowing homeowners to identify specific sources of wasted energy.

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