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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  • Mr Perfect - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    I'd like to see what Anandtech can find in the way of hardwired rackmountable options too.

    We've been looking for such a device, and so far all we've got is a non-rackable device that doesn't seem to be designed to work as part of a system. There are three of them so far with plans for more, but they can't tie back to a central server for management, each unit needs to be addressed individually through a web interface. Does anyone know of hardwired, rackmountable PDUs that can be centrally controlled?
  • ganeshts - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    This one is 'rackmountable' in the sense that it can be vertically mounted along side rail:

    No power measurement / energy management features, though.
  • Mr Perfect - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - link

    Thanks. They've got a couple interesting things. Our devices are PoE, so maybe just getting their rackmountable PoE PDU/injector would work better then putting the existing PoE injectors on a separate PDU.
  • Rick83 - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Looks to me like this is a brilliant use case for PoE.
    That way at least you only have one wasteful transformer in your home, and it can also feed your phone, attached switches, APs and other small light/switch-gadgets and sensors.

    PoE should be obligatory for any IP-based home automation system.
  • Mr Perfect - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    It could work, but would be kind of limited. PoE can deliver 25.5 watts of power, so if the UFO uses 2.2 watts all by itself, you've only got about 23 watts to power your devices. Also, the PoE delivers as DC. You'd either need to throw in a DC to AC converter, or just make it a USB charger.
  • taltamir - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    What is a PoE?
  • ganeshts - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    PoE = Power Over Ethernet

    PoE makes sense for non-Wi-Fi IP cameras and other such devices. Not sure it makes sense for this type of product.
  • ZETAPIERRE - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    PoE would be an RJ45 cable. Since this plugs into an AC outlet already, there's no need to bring power via the Ethernet cable. WiFi eliminates the need for the Ethernet cable.
  • ZETAPIERRE - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    We have units that do the same thing with hardwired Ethernet. The problem I found is that I don't have Ethernet near every outlet, like behind the refrigerator. So, we re-designed ours to use WiFi and now we can place them everywhere. We can also use them to control the lights in the house during Xmas, they can all go on and off at the same time.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    This is an absolute disgrace. There is no way this is worth $130, that is just pure madness. I built my own relay board that takes usb power from my tv and controls a relay to power my home theater receiver. So when my pc goes to sleep, my tv goes to sleep with it, and since its usb port shuts off, it turns off the receiver too. Simple $5 solution.

    I bought a serial (RS232) AC current sensor off ebay for $13 and built my own power usage logger. I've used it to profile my pc's. Yet another <$20 solution. Taking some overpriced gimmick and slapping wifi on it is just blasphemy.

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