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TalkingPlug Uses RFID-Enabled Power Outlets for Energy Management

The system, developed by a company named Zerofootprint, places passive high-frequency RFID tags into the electric plugs of appliances and other devices.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
As the appliance or device is used, the TalkingPlug outlet measures the amount of time the plug draws energy. The consumer can employ the Velo software to program specific appliances or devices to power off during specific times of the day when they are generally not in use, thereby saving energy. If a consumer's electricity utility provider offers variable pricing, the Velo software can access this information via the Internet, and show the consumer what he is paying per kilowatt-hour for the energy being consumed.

If the utility has a demand-response program, the consumer can program Velo to provide power to certain devices or appliances, through communications with the TalkingPlugs, only when demand on the electrical grid is low and, thus, the electrical rates are low as well. What's more, being able to see the amount of energy an appliance or device uses can help consumers determine whether upgrading to newer, more efficient models will lead to energy and cost savings. Finally, the software can be utilized to benchmark consumption in order to help a household set and stick to energy-efficiency goals.

The RFID reader embedded in the TalkingPlug outlet can be set to provide power only when a plug, equipped with a RightPlug tag, is inserted. This is a safety feature that 2D2C designed into its flagship product, the SafePlug, upon which the TalkingPlug is based. The SafePlug is designed to help prevent electrical fire and shock, and uses overload fault circuit interrupter (OFCI) technology to detect dangerously high resistance connections, high line voltages and appliance overloads. A TalkingPlug outlet is the same as a SafePlug outlet, but with the addition of an ISO 802.15.4 (the same standard on which ZigBee is based) radio, used for networking the outlets and the gateway.

While the RightPlug tag contains a passive 13.56 MHZ RFID inlay compliant with the ISO 14443 standard, it is customized in several ways, explains Steve Montgomery, 2D2C's executive VP. The tag's read range is stepped down to just three-eighths of an inch, so that the interrogator in each receptacle in the outlet reads only the tag in the plug inserted into it, and not the plug inserted into the adjacent receptacle. Furthermore, the air-interface protocol used for tag-to-reader communication uses special algorithms designed to authenticate the RightPlug tag, so that appliance and electrical device manufacturers could integrate the tags into their products, and the TalkingPlug outlet could verify that the products were not counterfeit.

The RightPlug Alliance and 2D2C have been developing the SafePlug and RightPlug devices for the past five years, Montgomery says, and are just now starting to bring the devices to market. The system is being marketed for safety and product authentication purposes, and now—through the TalkingPlug—as an energy-management device.

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