Home energy monitoring is the tip of the spear in terms of cutting energy costs. Give people an idea of how much their appliances are costing, and when, then give them the power to adjust their energy use, and you not only save the planet, and save people real money, but create a nice business for yourself.
Two words. Open source. By announcing first as an open source company, People Power was able to secure, not only start-up capital, but firm alliances with UC Berkeley and Stanford University. That’s a lot of brainpower.
People Power plans to launch a project dubbed the Open Source Home Area Network (OSHAN), which can be embedded in any device, essentially acting as the commercial arm of a project to be housed at Stanford and Cal.
People Power’s management team has extensive experience in mobile radios and sensornets, headed by former HP executive (and jazz composer) Gene Wang.
But most relevant may be director of engineering David Moss’ work on The Collection Tree Protocol, a sensornet management program based on TinyOS. He worked at Rincon Research working to deploy sensornets in rugged environments — as rugged as your living room.
The launch of People Power is also part of a larger, important trend, that is the desire by universities to work in an open development environment.
In the past, a university project would transfer its code to a company, sign a royalty contract, and then its researchers would wait for money to flow to the chancellor’s office. A project had to be fully-formed before going out the door, or at least complete enough that its creator (usually a professor) could get it to market working part-time off-campus.
Thus colleges set up entrepreneurship programs for their staffs, hoping for profitable spin-offs.
In this case you have bits and pieces of code, along with commitments of academic time, going into a shared pot, with the commercial arm acting as a sponsor of the resulting project rather than owner.
In this way the project attains a life of its own, dependent not so much on the commercial launch team but on their ability to gain allies within the academic community.
In the case of People Power, this means the breakthrough that makes the founders wealthy may not come from Berkeley or Stanford at all.
Maybe it will come from a Rice undergraduate, or someone in Atlanta noodling with the software on their own PC. The commercial arm will try to productize what the open source project creates — all of it — without discrimination between “our” code and “their” code.
In this way open source will try to save the world.