News and Coverage

WattzOn: Crowdsourcing a Solution to Climate Change

Raffi Krikorian (Twitter), Jeremy Cloud (Synthesis Studios)
Mobile and The Web
Location: Imperial Ballroom
Average rating: ***..
(3.75, 4 ratings)

It is clear that the lifestyles of the western world have become unsustainable. Fossil fuel scarcity and global climate change are threatening to cause great economic and environmental damage to the world. Individuals have been looking for ways to understand their contribution to the global and local energy stages, and make better decisions to reduce their impact. WattzOn.com is providing users with an online tool to calculate, track, compare, understand, and budget their personal energy consumption – much in the same way they would manage their finances.

In doing this, WattzOn also strives to innovate on the tools currently available for personal energy tracking. The status quo on personal impact tools involves online “carbon calculators,” which are already ubiquitous on the Internet. However, these calculators suffer from fundamental flaws that prevent them from becoming an effective tool for change. First, they are static and therefore do not react to improvements in knowledge or allow the addition of data. They are also “black box” in operation and do not clearly show a user how their energy numbers were calculated and what assumptions were made. Finally, they have a singular focus on carbon emissions, which doesn’t fully characterize power usage independent of fossil fuels. WattzOn changes this by providing the entire community with a collaborative environment to understand and manipulate how the numbers are calculated, while also shifting to a more comprehensive paradigm by tracking total power usage in watts.

The WattzOn back-end is powered by a pretty unique database nicknamed “holmz” – holmz is a structured wiki-engine that allows people to not only manipulate and share text, but also lets people collectively edit structured data and workflows. With holmz, WattzOn users can debate how much energy goes into, say, growing an apple; separately debate how much energy is needed to transport the apple to a local grocery store; and then have another set of people combine those two together into one result: the energy cost of an apple. Finally, that data propagates through the system, updating the total watts calculated for people with profiles indicating that they eat apples. The crowds can collaborate on getting all the individual parts of the equation correct so that everybody many benefit.

WattzOn is currently a global tool with assumptions made on a national/statewide scale. However, the ultimate goal of the system is to be able to accurately understand the exact power needs of a user’s lifestyle. Given differences in distances from product sources, weather, population density, and transportation options, the impact of any decision will be dependent on the location of the individual. By allowing users to populate the database with information from their own lives (either manually or passively by linking to online bills), the accuracy of the calculations will improve. Once this detailed database exists, anyone will be able to run specialized queries and create clear graphics to illustrate power usage of various communities and groups.

By giving individuals a tool to clearly visualize how they are “spending” energy, we hope that they will take measures to lessen their impact on the world, ultimately spurring widespread energy reduction in our society.

Photo of Raffi Krikorian

Raffi Krikorian

Twitter

Raffi’s expertise lies in taking things apart and putting them back together in interesting ways. He’s the author of TiVo Hacks: 100 Industrial Strength Tips and Tools, a co-creator of Internet Zero, and serves as an advisor to the platform for open source media. In the past, Raffi was, in association with the Australian Film TV and Radio School (AFTRS), a technical mentor at the Laboratory for Advanced Media Production (LAMP); he also was on the program committee for the 2005 O’Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference.

Raffi’s interests include speculating on the future of television and radio, mobile computing, “inter-networking”, P2P, social software, alternate reality gaming, and embedded systems design. He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Communications at the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, which was named by Business Week as one of the top D-schools. Academically, Raffi holds an SB and a MEng in EE/CS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and an SM from the Physics and Media group of the MIT Media Lab.

Jeremy Cloud

Synthesis Studios

As a senior software architect at Synthesis, Jeremy specializes in software prototyping and algorithmic design. He holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Northwestern University. Jeremy enjoys designing and implementing domain specific languages, such as the one used in Holmz, the brains behind www.WattzOn.com.

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