Introduction

Home automation technologies have become more accessible to consumers over the last couple of years. As computing moves from PCs to the cloud, tablets and smartphones and, then, onto wearable and distributed versions, we, at AnandTech, want to be in the forefront of covering it for our readers. Towards this, we started our home automation section earlier this month with an overview.

Some home automation technologies also tend to make consumers aware of the energy usage profiles of their electrical devices. In the overview, I had briefly touched upon Visible Energy’s UFO Power Center, which fulfills that criterion. We have been using the unit over the last few weeks, and we believe that this is a unique product which can serve multiple markets (some, better than others).

Visible Energy is a bootstrapped 4-person startup headquartered in Palo Alto. The company aims to help people conserve energy by creating, in their own words, energy-aware smart products with cloud-based interactive services. These services include energy management and home automation control.

Put simply, the UFO power center is a power strip with four electrical outlets. It connects to a Wi-Fi network and obtains an IP address through DHCP. Instead of a physical on/off switch, the outlets are controllable over Wi-Fi. Real-time power consumption monitoring as well as energy consumption history are available on a per-outlet basis. Wi-Fi control can be realized by any of the following three means:

  1. Using Visible Energy’s cloud portal after registering the device on their site
  2. Using an iOS app where the iOS device and the UFO power center are in the same Wi-Fi network
  3. Sending specific HTTP requests to access one of the open APIs provided (through a custom app / script / program)

The UFO Power Center can serve the following markets, though Visible Energy promotes the unit as being fit for the first one below:

  1. Home energy management / electricity consumption monitor accessible over the network
  2. Networked power controller / power distribution unit (PDU)
  3. Advanced electrical parameter measurement tool

Visible Energy’s targeted marketing makes sense, as we will see further down in the review. Even though the latter two markets can be served easily, the unit requires some tweaks (mainly in firmware) before it can appeal to those consumers.

We will first start off the review with an overview of the internal hardware and the some comments on the industrial design. Following that, we will have a detailed discussion of the available functions and a description of the cloud back-end. Before providing the concluding remarks, we will devote a section to the open APIs provided by the platform and how we are actually using it at AnandTech.

Hardware and Industrial Design
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  • OCedHrt - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    It does look like it would fit then? Reply
  • ssddaydream - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    I actually would enjoy having a device like this if it were in the common surge suppressor form factor. I think the lamp-like UFO appearance detracts from the product. I usually mount stuff like this behind the desk where it is still accessible, but out of view. I'm sure I could find a way to get this thing mounted and tucked away, but it takes up valuable extra space needlessly. Reply
  • ZETAPIERRE - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    We have one made that is WiFi. It has only a duplex receptacle, but each half is individually controlled. It too uses 16A relays, the same type. We use them to collect power information and to control equipment at work. We power the compressors, printers, solderbench, etc... We also have a control in the system tray that allows employees to turn on the equipment. If they forget to turn it off, it goes off under a timer. It's software, so you can make it do anything, even send out emails. Reply
  • Flunk - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    "There is no way to change the HTTP access port. This might be useful in the case where the user cooks up a custom script to control / query the unit, but wants to use it from an external network. It is possible to set up port forwarding to access the unit via the default HTTP port. However, in the case that this port already forwards to another machine in the local network, the user has no way to access the UFO over the Internet without modifying the HTTP port of the other machine."

    A lot of routers, even cheap ones, support routing with different external and internal ports. E.G. mapping port 3333 to port 80 on 192.168.1.1 so this isn't that big of a deal.
    Reply
  • IKeelU - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    So many of my power cables are longer than they need to be (for my needs), so setting up my home theater or adding a new component always involves some form of cable management to ensure I don't have spaghetti back there. This design, while a bit cumbersome, would alleviate that. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    This is odd for an eco-driven device. Why would I want to buy something that consumes that much power on its own (WiFi/bulb) in order to monitor and regulate power? Seems counterintuitive, but I suppose there are many people that don't have wired connections in their homes (sad). The option would be nice. The fact that it is completely fugly as a lamp is also confusing. That last bit is subjective, I realize...

    Looking foward to future revisions, though! I'd love to have a wired rackmount version for my server rack, my home theater, and then conventional looking power strips for other power-hungry areas (washer/dryer, office devices, other entertainment areas, powertools in workshop, etc.).
    Reply
  • NeBlackCat - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    +1 for rackmount version

    As an eco fascist I'd be tempted to have my house electrics rewired from the standard multiple "multidrop" circuits, to a single star configuration where every power outlet/device goes to a UFO port.

    The things I could then do...
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    The reason most outlets are wired in a multiloop fashion is to minimize copper use. Replacing an N outlet loop with N outlets wired in a star pattern will use approximately N times more copper.

    After being convicted by the court in eco Nuremberg for wasteful use of resources extracted by destructive mining you wouldn't be able to do much beyond pushing up daisies.
    Reply
  • taltamir - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    By law, businesses must be wired in a star configuration rather than multidrop.
    Multidrop is used because its cheaper, but its less safe as multiple outlets share a single line.
    Reply
  • ironargonaut - Sunday, November 04, 2012 - link

    In what country? I can overload a single 20A receptacle by creating a short just as easy as a 10 receptacles on the same loop. The only thing that matters is you keep the breaker small enough to trip before the wire insulation fails. I.E. don't use 14guage wire with a 20A breaker...etc.

    Technically all homes/businesses use a star config as you have multiple breakers, but you also have multiple lights/outlets per breaker. Or am I defining "star" config differently then you?
    Reply

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