Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Using Brain Computer Interfaces for something useful

There are now a whole collection of Brain Computer Interfaces around... and this latest one from the games company Mattel uses the power of concentration to make a ping pong ball hover. The technology is supplied by NeuroSky, who have also provided the technology for a Star Wars game - $50-$100 for the fun of using "brain waves to allow players to manipulate a sphere within a clear 10-inch-tall training tower..." - something I could imagine myself doing just the once. Never-the-less it's quite good to see the technology coming down in price.

What fascinates me however is how we might be able to use brain waves for real personal benefit and integrate it more with our every day computer interaction experience. People who have severe motor difficulties could use it as a rehabilitative aid. Performing product research, it can be used for detecting when people are excited or not when they experience a particular product or website. When we are browsing on-line, we could combine it with eye tracking to provide feedback on what really interests us, and then tailor our online experience accordingly. When we go to the shops... the cinema... driving in the car... feedback can be provided to enterprise systems in all sorts of situations, which in turn can affect the environment around us. I'm really looking forward to talking with a number of customers about how they can integrate this and other interface technology in their own innovative projects in 2009!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Calculating energy usage is harder than it seems

In my last post, I said a Christmas project was to monitor my usage - but I confess I've got a problem of how to measure my energy usage which is so far unsolved.

As I said, I have a currentcost meter (m1) which reads the current going into and out of the house. Of course, it cannot determine which way current flows, so it reads 50W regardless of whether the 50W is imported to, or exported from, my house. Therefore, I put a second meter (m2) round the wire from the solar panel, which told me how much the panel was generating and was thinking that if the value on m2 > m1 I must be exporting, otherwise I would be importing. However this thinking is flawed:

If I am generating 100W, (m2=100) and I am using 50W, then I will export 50W (so m1=50).
If I am generating 100W, (m2=100) but I am using 150W, then I will import 50W (so m1=50).

So from my two readings, I cannot conclusively say whether I am importing or exporting electricity, unless I am missing something obvious? The bright green import/export meter which Southern Electric fitted manages to work out what is being imported and what is being exported - but there doesn't seem to be a nice little serial port anywhere obvious! The other option is to buy a wireless unit as an addition to the inverter but this costs £120 and doesn't appear to give me open access to the data.

BTW - in 20 days we've generated 16.2 kWh and exported 9 of them. A grey day typically generates 200Wh the whole day - a sunny winter's day like today seems to generate about 2kWh.