When Glow CEO Ben Lachman decided to install solar panels on his house, he quickly found out that it hid his energy usage. He wasn't able to see how he used his energy on his electricity bill – and he soon learned from co-founder Robert Kinney, who was working on energy monitoring at the time, that monitoring usage at all was too difficult for most people.
"We both had this moment where we were like, this is not an acceptable solution, we need to make something better," Lachman told Wareable. "We need to make something that can be used and installed by everybody." Enter Glow, an energy sensing smart home devicethat is available on Kickstarter now for $149.
Read this: The best smart home systems
The little smart home pod monitors your energy usage using magneto-sensing technology – that's the same chips smartphones use to power that compass app you never open. They're good at sensing magnetic fields, but Glow uses them to measure the inductive fields that are created when electrical currents flow through your mains into your house.
The Glow can both create a baseline of energy use for your home and figure out how much energy you should be using. Once it's done that, it uses its companion app (on both iOS and Android) to send you information on how to save some sweet cash. For instance, it can send you notifications if you've got some abnormal energy usage going on, and it can also let you know how much your next bill will cost based on your current energy use. You can also set spending goals that it can help you stick to.
The device itself looks a bit like a more colourful Google Home, a short, squat thing with a colour-coded system that works like this: green means you're good, red means something is wrong and the colours in between are gradients. By the way, if you're colour blind there'll be an alternate set of colours for you.
All you have to do is attach the wireless sensor to your utility meter box, and then plug in the Glow on different sides of your home to calibrate it. It takes less than 10 minutes, but you have to plug it in to the opposite ends of your home, since most homes in the US feature two electrical mains. This way, the Glow gets a complete picture of your energy use. Lachman says the size of your home doesn't matter, the only thing that will affect calibration is whether your home is mis-wired.
So if the app does all the grunt work, what's that big colourful pod for? Because a lot of people tend to forget about checking their energy usage when there isn't a glaring reminder sitting around their home. Lachman says the company found that people used the app eight times more when the Glow device was sitting around than when it wasn't there.
Similarly, in the US people tend to not pay attention to how much energy they use, or look at how to save money on energy usage, because the information is too obscure and difficult to obtain, claims a report in The Washington Post. Lachman says one of the reasons is that many Americans have level billing and autopay enabled, making it even more difficult to figure out how much energy someone is using. He's been told that people who don't look at their energy bills use 5–8% more energy than people who do.
"Anything we can do to bring that cost into the picture and help you think about it in a way that's not negative or stressful, if we can step in and be a positive force, it's going to help people," he says.
As smart home devices and electric cars get more popular, Lachman says there's a space for a hub of energy efficiency, especially as many smart home devices are in the vein of Philips Hue – mostly just turning things on or off. The company is also working on potential integrations with other smart home devices, but Lachman won't name any names yet – though he says an announcement is coming in the next couple of months.
In the end, Lachman says Glow's goal is to be able to help people make good decisions by taking the mask off their energy use. This doesn't just mean throwing a bunch of data at people, it means guiding them to understand what's going on with their energy, and how they can make it improve things. "Our goal is to always ask you a question or give you useful information, not just smother you with data," Lachman says. "I think that's going to be the question of the future: How many devices do we really want to have? How many are actually making themselves useful in the home?"
The biggest question for Glow now is whether its technology is any good. To that, Lachman says it's been testing its devices for the past nine months in homes. It's even been doing manufacturing runs in small doses to make sure it can produce at some sort of scale.
Speaking of manufacturing, the Kickstarter money is mostly going toward building those units for backers. The company has additional funding, so won't be using that crowdfunded cash for their paychecks or marketing or anything like that. It's also building its units in the US, with Lachman saying it's trying to keep production as regional as possible. Why?
"It makes building that first product, and a high quality version of that first product, much easier because you don't have to fly to China every time you want to tweak something," Lachman says.
If you've kept your home fairly simple, technology wise, then you probably won't need a Glow. However, if you're looking to smarten up the place and can't help but install all manner of hyper cool Internet of Things devices, you may want to look into Glow.