Ten residences now under construction in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, will be getting home appliances—refrigerators, cooktops, and clothes washers/dryers—with minds of their own. These appliances will be talking to the electric grid and the grid will talk back. Based on what they’re hearing, the appliances will adjust their behavior, with the goal of minimizing their demands at peak energy times and therefore saving their owners money. It’s an experiment designed cooperatively by Masdar, an Abu Dhabi based renewable energy company, and GE Consumer & Industrial. Good for the environment, good for the pocketbook, all good, right?
Uh, maybe. Unless I imagine myself as the homeowner in the midst of one of these supersmart homes, trying to inject myself into the dialog.
Grid, “energy prices are up.”
Refrigerator, “OK, raising internal temperature”
Me, low on ice and expecting guests for dinner, “Uh, does this mean I have to drive to the store and buy ice?”
Grid, “energy prices will drop at 11 pm”
Clothes dryer, “drying cycle paused until 11:05”
Child, “Mom, what do you mean my soccer uniform is wet? I need it now!”
GE does envision an override button, that is, the appliances will respond automatically, but if you happen to notice that the water you put on for pasta has stopped boiling, you can hit an override button. It’s highly unlikely, however, that I’d notice things weren’t going as expected until the guests arrived/the soccer game was about to start/I had called the family to dinner.
So I’d like to add one little tiny feature to this new technology—ask permission first. Text me, tweet me, or send me a message on Facebook—it shouldn’t be too hard in the midst of all this other communication these appliances will be doing to make sure they simply say please.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.