Smart plugs can render an otherwise dumb device or appliance “smart,” allowing you to control a plugged-in appliance wirelessly via a smartphone app. You can even configure them to turn your appliances on or off based on certain rules or a pre-set schedule. But Washington, D.C.-based startup Ottomate’s smart plug, the Ottobox, is a bit different.
The Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-enabled Ottobox automates the whole process of turning devices and appliances on and off based on your schedule and usage patterns, while also helping you cut down on energy costs. For instance, it can turn on the coffee maker and pre-heat your curling iron just before you typically use them each day. The company says the device needs around two weeks to fully familiarize itself with your schedule.
It also has something called Cense that, well, senses when you’re around and automatically turns things on or off. For good measure, it also comes with two USB ports so you can charge your USB-powered devices.
The company is trying to raise $50,000 on Kickstarter to help fund the initial production run and sort out FCC and UL certifications. As part of its Super Early Bird deal, anyone can snag an Ottobox by pledging $49, a considerable discount on the $120 expected retail price.
Why this matters: If Ottobox works as well as Ottomate says it does, it will be one of the smartest connected plugs on the market when it arrives in December—assuming the Kickstarter campaign is a success. Although the kind of automation being promised here is achievable with existing products, ironically enough it usually requires a bit of manual programming. We’re not so sure about the quantum of possible savings that’s being claimed, though.
Developed by Ottomate’s chief engineer Ameer Sami when he was just 16, the Ottobox has undergone several rounds of refinement over the last 19 months and is currently on its fifth prototype. The 18-year-old Sami and many of his family members have been testing it in their homes. The results have apparently been stunning, with the beta testers reporting a 50-percent dip in their energy bill.
This is one lofty claim. According to the Kickstarter page, the Ottobox achieves that savings by eliminating so-called phantom loads—the power drawn by devices such as TVs and game consoles even while switched off. It goes onto cite the U.S. Department of Energy as saying such phantom loads account for “75% of your electric bill,” when in fact the department only said that “75 percent of the electricity used to power electronics and appliances is consumed while the products are turned off—costing about $100 a year.”
Quite clearly the department could have phrased it a bit better, but the fact remains that phantom or standby power accounts for around 5 to 10 percent of residential energy costs around the world. It’s not clear, therefore, how Ottobox is going to deliver on its promise of up to 50-percent lower energy bills.