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Consumer Technology cosy-system

Published on April 2nd, 2014 | by Guest Contributor

6

The Problem With Tech – And How To Solve It

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April 2nd, 2014 by  

By Green Energy Options Ltd

cosy-system

A lot of people don’t like or understand the word ‘tech’. It’s off-putting; you must be talking about something niche or high-end, something that requires a million lines of code to build and a PhD to use. People hear ‘tech’ and think ‘complicated’.

It gets worse: I work in home energy management.

So there’s a strange dichotomy: lots of us are concerned about our bills going up, but very few of us want to engage with all the energy tech on the market (and there is a lot of it!). Why is that? Is energy management just too techie?

I am a co-founder of Green Energy Options – geo – and we’ve been grappling with energy management and efficiency since 2006. We work in a small village with a limited bus route so we’ve had plenty of time (and few distractions) to focus on R&D and come up with the best way to get people to engage with energy tech.

cosy-app-medium-resolution

What we’re up against

1. People can’t ask for what they don’t understand. We’ve conducted a lot of market research, but as Henry Ford remarked: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. So geo has had to design products, test them in homes, revise and refine our ideas, and progressively develop something that really works for people.

2. Interoperability is as difficult to achieve as it is to say. It’s like a rainbow – always just out of reach. For five years we’ve been helping to define specs, evolve solutions and test equipment for smart meters, and are nearing the end of a nine-month Joint Integration Testing programme. But nothing like this is being done in the home automation field, so whilst there are several open protocols available, consumers can’t buy products from different manufacturers and be confident that they’ll work together – and nor are they likely to for many years.

3. Pragmatism rules. So we had a choice: wait for technology to mature or develop something ourselves that’s reliable and can get into the market now. We took the practical approach and developed the Legato protocol, which is the way our devices speak to each other. It’s simple, reliable and currently working in well over a million devices in the market. We know we will have to move to an open platform in due course – but that is our problem – not our users’. For now we have to keep it simple for them: it has to work out of the box.

4. You say ‘installation’ they hear ‘hassle’. Installation is a barrier. It’s costly, can be a hassle to arrange and is often a way to let designers off the hook. It’s far easier to make something to be installed by a technician than something that’s simple for non-technical users to set up. So we have worked hard – and are still working hard – on making it easy for our users to get started.

Cosy switch 01

How we are trying to solve these challenges

The big thing is working out just what the true value to the consumer is.

Saving money is the conclusion most people jump to but in our experience this only appeals to a very few – even with bills going up. Why do we prefer to use cars rather than public transport? Because we like the comfort and convenience of the car. We buy a new car to improve the comfort and convenience; energy efficiency is a ‘nice to have’. We believe it’s the same with our homes: we want to enjoy them first – and if we can save money at the same time all well and good.

Which brings us to our Cosy recipe: comfort, simplicity and efficiency.

Cosy is a smart heating system that uses an app to control your heating (at home or remotely) with added device control to wake up the home for your return.

Comfort made simple

How many of us battle with our boiler controls – or ignore them entirely only to return to a cold house because you got home early? Or it’s spring, the sun is shining and you’ve turned the heating off – only for the weather to change and you return to a cold home again. Even when you are home it’s not easy: every time you want to alter the heating you have to get up and go to the thermostat in the hall or do battle with the boiler controller in the airing cupboard.

Convenience made easy

We understand that life is a little more complicated than ‘on’ and off’ – and that mobile phones have transformed the way we interface with tech. So we’ve transformed the traditional thermostat and split it in half: a wireless switch mounted in parallel with your existing controls and a mobile display that shows the temperature; which includes a temperature sensor and provides immediate controls. You can now control your heating from the palm of your hand – either through the app or from the Cosy display that sits by you.

Come home to Cosy

A warm welcome is yours to command. Now you can turn your house “on” on your way home (and “off” when you leave) with the press of a button or touch of a screen. With the “Welcome home” function you can also make sure a light is on, or the radio is playing – whatever makes you feel most at home.

Saving is inevitable

With Cosy we aimed squarely for what people really want: comfort and convenience. The app is key because it provides simple screens, logical user journeys and flexible profiles – so your home works to your schedule and not the other way round. As a consequence people use less energy to heat their homes: if spontaneity strikes or work keeps you late you can use the app to delay or override your schedule. With Cosy you’re never heating your home when you’re not there.

How much can you save? Well, that’s partly up to you. Some studies have shown people can save 20%–40% a year through improving their heating controls but it entirely depends on your system and your lifestyle. As a guide, think about how often you heat your home when you’re not there, or how many times you’ve turned the thermostat up and then forgotten about it. Then work out how much you could reduce your bill by if your heating was so much easier to control.

Cosy display 01

This is only the start

Cosy will measure how your home performs against the weather outside and work out how to get the best from your heating. Longer term, you’ll only have to say what temperature you want your home to be when and then leave it to Cosy to work out when it needs to switch the heating on – or off for that matter. Hot water and multi-zone controls will be in the next release and then we’ll be extending the system to interact with solar products and smart metering (we are the leading manufacturer of in-home displays for smart meters).

So solving the tech barrier is about providing users – you and me – with products that appeal to our needs, are simple to install and use and deliver greater efficiency.

Come home to Cosy: comfort made simple.

You can support us on Kickstarter here.

Find out more about Cosy here.

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  • Michael Berndtson

    I can’t speak for the other 7 or so billion on the planet, but when I hear the word “tech,” I think of flighty and mostly useless gizmos and software applications. Hawked by Silicon Valley types, where only about 1 in 5 could actually build or code something of sustaining value. The rest are poseurs who hopped on the tech bubble 2.0 bandwagon trying to sell us something we probably don’t need. That was a bit mean, but hey I’m in my early 50s, a chemical engineer and have seen “tech” evolve and implemented for over 30 years. Some is awesome. Like pizza and free beer awesome. Some is useless crap. Like, what a freaking waste of time and money crap.

    With all this said, energy use management is an important business. Just ask Johnson Controls, Honeywell, ABB, Siemens, Schneider, Rockwell Automation and others in I&C that have to design, install and assure operability of system indication and relay via programmable logic control under regular and extreme conditions.

    I guess my question is this, if a smartphone internet based home environment control accidentally overrides the furnace controls and the house blows up, does cozy or even Google for that matter carry liability insurance? Or does all this fall under what the tech world calls “disruption.” I’m not being snarky. I’m really curious.

    • Bob_Wallace

      If Google/whomever sells a product with a flaw that causes a house to blow up then they will be open to a damage suit. And likely lose.

      Huge companies probably self-insure against this sort of thing. They may carry some sort of “the poop has really hit the fan” insurance if they screw up very big time.

    • JamesWimberley

      I don’t think you are being fair to the upstarts. A modern car has several dozen microprocessors in various systems, many running some version of Linux. ARM engineers do understand about redundancy and hardening in safety-critical uses. Why do you assume NEST and Google can’t and won’t do the same?

      • Michael Berndtson

        Tech in general and software specifically don’t seem to burden themselves with end use of its products and end users’ problems. Not all of course. And I’m sure really good stuff will come out of this in the end. I’d recommend anyone purchasing Nest or Cosi to read the agreements. And figure out demarcations of responsibilities. Standard stuff for traditional I&C suppliers and owners. Seems kind of fuzzy between a tech company and a home owner. Home owners are giving up a lot of control to algorithms and startup enthusiasm. As they say, it’s all good until something bad happens. And we’re not talking an Angry Birds app crashing here.

  • JamesWimberley

    ” .. whilst there are several open protocols available, consumers can’t buy products from different manufacturers and be confident
    that they’ll work together – and nor are they likely to for many years.”

    That’s a shame, and a major failure of the DoE, the EU Commission and other government agencies to knock heads together and nail down the protocols for home energy management. What’s the point of smart meters and time-of-use pricing if homeowners can’t use the information in an intuitive way to manage their many appliances?

    I hope Google’s purchase of Nest is not hands-off but will bring to bear Google’s vast resources to solve this through open standards and top-grade software. Nest was founded by Apple engineers. Apple and Google are the two companies in the world that really know how to build friendly and reliable user interfaces on top of rugged software. So I live in hope.

    • Matt

      So what was their answer? Pick what they thought was the best existing protocol? Where best might be based on market they plan to enter, most functional, most users, etc. No NO no, they created their own. FAIL!

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