“That orb is red, I should turn something off”

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According to Tom Geller in “Beyond the Smart Grid”, CACM 53(6), 2010, pp. 16-17,

One example of how such data is being used is found in Oberlin College’s campus resource monitoring system. The environmental studies program monitors electricity use in each of the college’s dorms, in some cases with multiple sensor points per dorm. Administrators make adjustments to discount nondiscretionary expenditures, such as a kitchen in those dorms with cafeterias, then take a baseline reading to determine typical usage. Data from dorms’ current energy use is displayed in three ways: on the Web at oberlin.edu/dormenergy; as building dash-board video displays throughout campus; and as color-changing orbs placed in several campus locations, including the dorms themselves.

Finally, Oberlin College runs an annual dorm energy competition and gives prizes to the dorm with the greatest reduction from baseline use. Henry Bent, sustainable technology research fellow partly responsible for maintaining the Oberlin system, is especially enthusiastic about the orbs. “Numbers and dials and graphs are fantastic, but you want something that you can see very quickly at a glance,” Bent says. “I just know when I’m on my way to the bathroom, ‘Oh, look, that orb is red, I should turn something off.'”

According to Clive Thompson, regarding the Ambient Orb

That’s the power of “ambient information,” which tries to combat data overload by moving information off computer screens and into the world around us. […] We’re more likely to act on a subtle but continuously present message than an intermittent one we’re forced to stare at.

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