Control & Automation

Whisker Labs Sensor Widens IoT Energy Management Possibilities

Whisker Labs's low-voltage sensor identifies electrical signatures, enabling integrators to earn RMR from energy management of every device in a smart home.

Whisker Labs Sensor Widens IoT Energy Management Possibilities
The Whisker Labs sensor does not require an electrical license to install. The sensor connects the main breaker and is tethered to a hub that communicates via Wi-Fi to the cloud where the analytics identify the electrical signature of every device in the home.

Jason Knott · April 14, 2017

With all the focus on devices that are connected to the network, newcomer Whisker Labs believes there is another even more ubiquitous interconnectivity that can be the key to opening up the Internet of Things (IoT) connected home for integrators: the electrical network. Indeed, while only 15 percent of electronic devices in a home are connected to the Internet, every device is connected to the electrical grid, according to Robert Marshall, CEO. And because of that power connection, Whisker Labs can measure it, and integrators can monitor and control it with a simple low-voltage sensor installation. It's a possible gamechanger in that it opens up the possibilities of energy management and control for every appliance and electrical gadget in the home.  

Sure, current transformer (CT) clamps have existed for many years to measure current. These CT clamps measure current flow through a cable, but they require a line-voltage contractor’s license. Even then, the proximity to wedge them around electrical lines near the breaker box made for a cumbersome installation. And the clamps were required to be placed on individual circuits to help identify the power draw from individual appliances, fixtures, consumer electronics, etc.

“Most electricians won’t do it,” says Marshall of the Oakland, Calif.-based company. 

Whisker Labs Low-Voltage Solution

Whisker Labs, which is part of parent company Earth Networks, has bypassed the need for a CT clamp and an electrical license. A small sensor is attached solely to the main breaker on the electrical panel. The sensor is tracking 20,000 samples of electrical usage per second. That level of detail allows the sensor to “disaggregate” devices via their unique electrical signatures. As comparison, Marshall says smart utility meters can only track one sample per second.

“Anything that requires electricity can be identified and measured and eventually controlled. Every device has its own electrical fingerprint. Everything is connected to the home electrical grid,” says Marshall. “We collect data from any device we can get our hands on.”

The sensor is tethered to a small hub that communicates via Wi-Fi to the cloud. From there, Whisker Labs runs the electrical signatures through analytics to identify every individual device on the power grid. The company has written special software to do the disaggregation. Currently, the software is written to track large appliances and HVAC systems.

The software does not just monitor electrical usage, but also can identify faults and diagnose problems with the equipment, offering a specific message that pinpoints the problem. In essence, it is a remote monitoring system for every electrical device in the home. For example, a notification that identifies is a curling iron has been left plugged in, or a notification that the coolant in the refrigerator compressor is low, or the air conditioning filter is clogged.

According to Marshall, their data so far is revealing that the installation of solar panels in a home is a major impetus for the homeowner to want to track his electrical usage at a more granular level.

“Energy is the focus,” he says. “Energy savings and management are the means to an end to deliver value to the homeowner.”

Integrator Opportunities

For integrators there are several opportunities. First, dealers can embed the Whisker Labs data in a third-party whole-house control interface. Currently, the information is presented to the homeowner via a website, an app and via email.

The company plans to work on an API for various control systems. If the data is part of the whole-house automation system, integrators can develop action/reaction responses that allow the homeowner to alter his or her electrical more efficiently and more safely, or prompt the home to possibly even shut down circuits if necessary, such as in the case of the curling iron left plugged in.

Most obvious is the ability to simply charge a recurring monthly revenue (RMR) monitoring fee to clients that tracks the functionality of their electrical appliances and offers notifications when anomalies are detected. Marshall can see dealers easily getting a $20/month fee.

“The dream scenario is to have this information automatically contact a service technician to take a look at the problem,” says Marshall.

Whisker Labs’ approach is to integrate with utilities regarding time of day and demand pricing, solar panel companies, smart meters, thermostats, water heaters and appliances. The company is working with cable companies like Comcast and has pilot programs with various utilities set for the spring, according to Amena Ali, CRO. The product is set to launch in the fall after hundreds of prototypes.

The device debuted at CES 2017 in January and had the quite the coming-out party… it won the Consumer Technology Association TechHome Division’s Mark of Excellence Award for Energy Efficent Product of the Year



  About the Author

Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at [email protected]

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  Article Topics


Control & Automation · Automation · Networking & Cables · Business · Service & Recurring Revenue · News · Products · CTA · Energy Management · Energy Monitoring · HVAC · Internet of Things · Non-invasive · All Topics
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