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Networked 'smart plug' can monitor appliance energy use; make house smarter

Networked 'smart plug' can monitor appliance energy use; make house smarter

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A new "smart plug" will allow someone to monitor and control the energy use of their home's appliances.

To control the energy use of your home's appliances, you may just have to make your wall sockets smarter.

With a new "smart plug," you'll soon be able to do so. The TalkingPlug, made by Toronto-based Zerofootprint, is a device that fits on top of existing electrical outlets to offer detailed information on electricity use by individual appliances.

The TalkingPlug is designed to be a controllable node on a network, thanks to an RFID chip, microprocessor and wireless networking inside. Since the plug is programmable, the appliances can be controlled -- so Because it's programmable, people can also control appliances -- allowing you to shut down your power strip full of vampiric AC adapters while you're at work.

With several plugs, you can create a network that can send information via a network router to Zerofootprint. Known for monitoring energy use by corporation, the company will analyze the data and show you how much power you're using compared to the Joneses.

If you've ever used personal finance service Mint, it's a bit like the "people in your city" spending comparison that website offers.

The plugs are estimated to cost $50 and are expected to launch this week. If proven popular, prices will likely drop. (For now, Zerofootprint is seeking companies to test the product out.)

Zerofootprint isn't the only company developing energy-management solutions to manage electricity use, but all of them face the same hurdle: getting a "smart" device to interpret information from a "dumb" appliance.

Many of the approaches are similar, using a home's network to collect and distribute data about what's inside. But the real battle for commercial success will be striking deals to integrate such monitoring technology into appliances at the assembly line.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure