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John La Grou plugs smart power outlets

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This is a world-changing invention. The smoke alarm has saved perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives, worldwide. But smoke alarms don't prevent fires.

Every year in the USA, over 20,000 are killed or injured with 350,000 home fires. And one of the main causes of all these fires is electricity. What if we could prevent electrical fires before they start? Well, a couple of friends and I figured out how to do this.

So how does electricity ignite residential fires? Well it turns out that the main causes are faulty and misused appliances and electrical wiring. Our invention had to address all of these issues. So what about circuit breakers? Well, Thomas Edison invented the circuit breaker in 1879. This is 130-year-old technology, and this is a problem, because over 80 percent of all home electrical fires start below the safety threshold of circuit breakers. Hmmm ...

So we considered all of this. And we realized that electrical appliances must be able to communicate directly with the power receptacle itself. Any electrical device -- an appliance, an extension cord, whatever -- must be able to tell the power outlet, "Hey, power outlet, I'm drawing too much current. Shut me off now, before I start a fire." And the power outlet needs to be smart enough to do it. So here is what we did. We put a 10-cent digital transponder, a data tag, in the appliance plug. And we put an inexpensive, wireless data reader inside the receptacle so they could communicate. Now, every home electrical system becomes an intelligent network. The appliance's safe operating parameters are embedded into its plug. If too much current is flowing, the intelligent receptacle turns itself off, and prevents another fire from starting. We call this technology EFCI, Electrical Fault Circuit Interrupter.

Okay, two more points. Every year in the USA, roughly 2,500 children are admitted to emergency rooms for shock and burn injuries related to electrical receptacles. And this is crazy. An intelligent receptacle prevents injuries because the power is always off, until an intelligent plug is detected. Simple.

Now, besides saving lives, perhaps the greatest benefit of intelligent power is in its energy savings. This invention will reduce global energy consumption by allowing remote control and automation of every outlet in every home and business. Now you can choose to reduce your home energy bill by automatically cycling heavy loads like air conditioners and heaters. Hotels and businesses can shut down unused rooms from a central location, or even a cell phone. There are 10 billion electrical outlets in North America alone. The potential energy savings is very, very significant.

So far we've applied for 414 patent claims. Of those, 186 have been granted: 228 are in process. And I'm pleased to announce that just three weeks ago we received our first international recognition, the 2009 CES Innovation Award. So, to conclude, intelligent power can, globally, save thousands of lives, prevent tens of thousands of injuries, and eliminate tens of billions of dollars in property damage every single year, while significantly reducing global energy consumption. In the spirit of this year's TED Conference, we think this is a powerful, world-changing invention. And I'd like to thank Chris for this opportunity to unveil our technology with you, and soon the world. Thank you. (Applause)

Video Details

Duration: 3 minutes and 52 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: TEDTalks
Director: TED.com
Views: 325
Posted by: tedtalks on Jun 5, 2009

John La Grou unveils an ingenious new technology that will smarten up the electrical outlets in our homes, using microprocessors and RFID tags. The invention, Safeplug, promises to prevent deadly accidents like house fires -- and to conserve energy.

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