Introduction

Home automation technologies have become more accessible to consumers over the last couple of years. As computing moves from PCs to the cloud, tablets and smartphones and, then, onto wearable and distributed versions, we, at AnandTech, want to be in the forefront of covering it for our readers. Towards this, we started our home automation section earlier this month with an overview.

Some home automation technologies also tend to make consumers aware of the energy usage profiles of their electrical devices. In the overview, I had briefly touched upon Visible Energy’s UFO Power Center, which fulfills that criterion. We have been using the unit over the last few weeks, and we believe that this is a unique product which can serve multiple markets (some, better than others).

Visible Energy is a bootstrapped 4-person startup headquartered in Palo Alto. The company aims to help people conserve energy by creating, in their own words, energy-aware smart products with cloud-based interactive services. These services include energy management and home automation control.

Put simply, the UFO power center is a power strip with four electrical outlets. It connects to a Wi-Fi network and obtains an IP address through DHCP. Instead of a physical on/off switch, the outlets are controllable over Wi-Fi. Real-time power consumption monitoring as well as energy consumption history are available on a per-outlet basis. Wi-Fi control can be realized by any of the following three means:

  1. Using Visible Energy’s cloud portal after registering the device on their site
  2. Using an iOS app where the iOS device and the UFO power center are in the same Wi-Fi network
  3. Sending specific HTTP requests to access one of the open APIs provided (through a custom app / script / program)

The UFO Power Center can serve the following markets, though Visible Energy promotes the unit as being fit for the first one below:

  1. Home energy management / electricity consumption monitor accessible over the network
  2. Networked power controller / power distribution unit (PDU)
  3. Advanced electrical parameter measurement tool

Visible Energy’s targeted marketing makes sense, as we will see further down in the review. Even though the latter two markets can be served easily, the unit requires some tweaks (mainly in firmware) before it can appeal to those consumers.

We will first start off the review with an overview of the internal hardware and the some comments on the industrial design. Following that, we will have a detailed discussion of the available functions and a description of the cloud back-end. Before providing the concluding remarks, we will devote a section to the open APIs provided by the platform and how we are actually using it at AnandTech.

Hardware and Industrial Design
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  • DukeN - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    How dare these capitalists make a profit after paying for materials, assembly, hardware and software developers! Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    I don't want to come across as 'defending' the product, but the fact is that this is cheapest solution for the set of functions that it delivers. Have you taken a look at the Watts Up? Pro .NET solution which delivers similar functionality (electrical parameters measurement / network switching / cloud back-end) on one socket for almost double the cost?

    The solution that you put in requires plenty of work to make it 'Internet' enabled, and it is not a generic solution. What about energy history? There are plenty of features and the components needed to achieve those add up.

    Btw, where are you getting a good relay (rated for 15A) for less than $5? When I looked up the Schrack relay being used in the UFO, I found that each of them costs $6 by itself [ http://www.newark.com/te-connectivity-schrack/rt31... ]. 4 relays makes it ~$25 by itself.

    I stand by my concluding remarks: The UFO Power Center presents unbeatable value for the $130 MSRP / ~$115 Amazon selling price.
    Reply
  • ZETAPIERRE - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    There's a big difference between hacking circuits together for a single use and creating a product that meets safety agency and provides ease of use. We too started with just a relay and worked our way up to a nice product.

    The price of this product is quite reasonable. We only have 2 relays, but still have a micro and WiFi. Ours will be around $99 once it goes to market.
    Reply
  • jgarcows - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    "It is possible to set up port forwarding to access the unit via the default HTTP port. However, in the case that this port already forwards to another machine in the local network, the user has no way to access the UFO over the Internet without modifying the HTTP port of the other machine."

    There are many ways to get around this: forward a different port to the UFO, use a sub-domin to choose where which machine to forward the port to, have the machine currently receiving HTTP traffic check the request and forward appropriate requests to the UFO, etc...
    Reply
  • cserwin - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Wow, the manufacturer really needs to be commended for using 16A switches on all outlets.

    It makes sense that they limited the device to 15A overall - as I understand it that is the limit of common household outlets in the United States. If they permitted higher draws, it would likely trip circuit breakers or fuses.

    A lesser manufacturer would have designated 1 outlet as 'up to 10A' and the rest as 1.25A or some such nonsense.
    Reply
  • ZETAPIERRE - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Well, one is almost forced to use 16A relays in this application. Since there is no front end fuse, one needs to rely on the circuit breaker. So, that means that the traces on the board and the relay contacts need to survive long enough during a dead short for the circuit breaker to trip.

    My concern is if they plug this into, say a kitchen outlet that is at 20A.

    We do the same, each relay is rated for 16A, but we set the whole unit to 15A because of the one pigtail going to an outlet.
    Reply
  • danjw - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    To solve the issue of the wall warts not seating properly, you can use a power strip saver. Usually these are just about 1' long extension cords. Then the warts can sit in the base and not have a problem. I use them on my power strips to deal with blocked sockets. That said, they really need a smaller design that will fit in better. I am a function first, form second kind of guy, but this still puts me off. Reply
  • Henk Poley - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Seems like a nice match with the DIY Kyoto Wattson :: http://www.diykyoto.com/uk/wattson Reply
  • CharonPDX - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    This review has nothing to do with iOS. Did you really feel it necessary to bring up your slam on iOS in it? A simple "I had no iOS devices to test with" would have sufficed. Better would be to have a friend who has an iOS device come over and test it for you, or let you borrow their device to test with.

    I can understand making an iOS comment on an iOS review, or even an Android system review; but not this.
    Reply
  • Tomislav R - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    +1 Reply

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