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People Power rides 'Internet of things' to smart grid

Start-up has developed embeddable chip and Internet software for remotely controlling electronic gear for better energy efficiency.

The best path to energy-efficient electronics is connecting them to the Internet, according to People Power.

The Silicon Valley-based company today launched a system that uses embedded networking chips and Internet software, called the Energy Services Platform, to monitor and control plugged-in devices for better efficiency. It says it's working with some business partners and expects its products to be available in the first quarter of next year.

People Power is targeting manufacturers with its networking chip which can be embedded in electronic devices for remote control and monitoring.
People Power is targeting manufacturers with its networking chip which can be embedded in electronic devices for remote control and monitoring. People Power

There are dozens of companies seeking to reduce waste in electronics with energy monitoring and control technologies, with many developing home energy management systems made available through utilities.

People Power, by contrast, is targeting electronics manufacturers, such as Japanese office equipment and appliance manufacturers. It has developed an embeddable networking module that will connect equipment, such as TVs and copy machines, to the Internet over a wireless network. Once connected, electronics can be monitored for power consumption and controlled to improve efficiency.

A person could, for example, view how much electricity different plugged-in devices use, turn them on and off from a smartphone, and schedule when to turn them off. From the cloud-based energy management service, People Power can compare one home's energy usage to neighbors and provide recommendations to optimize power, said Gene Wang, the CEO and co-founder.

The company intends to make money by licensing its wireless module and providing data services, such as energy monitoring, from its hosted software.

"We are licensing to manufacturers so we can really go mainstream," said Wang, who previously worked at Bitfone, which developed software for businesses to manage cell phones using the cell phone network. "This is best done by piggybacking manufacturers that are already there."

The company developed the wireless module, which is built around software called Open Source IPv6 Automation Network (OSIAN) that uses a communications protocol which is low-power like Zigbee but has longer range than Wi-Fi, explained Wang. The radios in the module will work with other wireless protocols, including Wi-Fi and Zigbee.

People Power said that it is partnering with other companies around its automation system, including Ricoh Innovations which it says is a customer, although no third parties have announced plans to use the technology in products.

In addition to giving end users more data on energy usage and remote control, the Energy Services Platform can give electronics manufacturers a better way to demonstrate improvements in efficiency, Wang said.