Oregon State students Berkeley Fisher, Kit Morton, Emily Raterman and Bennett Rand work on the final details of their senior design project called Dr. Wattson.

Educating consumers about their power consumption is the primary goal of “Dr. Wattson: Power Inspector,” a capstone senior project that brought together three electrical and computer engineering students and one computer science student.

“It’s something that anyone can use, and that’s what made it interesting to us — it could potentially be worthwhile to a lot of people,” said Kit Morton, senior in electrical and computer engineering.

Dr. Wattson takes energy monitoring in the home to a new level by allowing consumers to monitor several outlets at once. The data is sent wirelessly to a base station, where it is entered into a database. A web interface pulls the data from the database and displays it in a way that makes it easy for consumers to understand, and is accessible by a computer, tablet or phone. This advances current technology, such as the Kill-A-Watt, which monitors just one outlet and requires the user to look at the actual device where it is plugged in — sometimes under a desk or behind furniture.

Their project was won honorable mention at Intel’s 2014 Cornell Cup competition, held on May 2 and 3 at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. As part of the contest, Intel donated a DE2i board for the students to use as the base station of their system. The Cornell Cup offers a unique opportunity for the students to have their project vetted by engineers working in industry. “Everyone wants to win, but I’m really looking forward to some criticism so we can make our product better,” said Berkeley Fisher, senior in electrical and computer engineering, before the competition.

The team agrees that having computer science student Bennett Rand use his expertise to write the software for the base station and web interface has helped make their project more user friendly. Consumers can see their general energy usage at a glance, labeled by device, such as “computer” or “refrigerator.” Selecting a specific device will bring up more detailed graphs and the cost of each to the consumer.   

Emily Raterman demonstrates Dr. Wattson at the Engineering Expo.

Rand is looking forward to unveiling his portion of the project at Oregon State’s Engineering Expo on May 16. “I want people to come up to it and start poking buttons and understanding it. That’s my goal,” he said.

To test out the usability of the system, Emily Raterman, senior in electrical and computer engineering, set up a user study. “We’re going to give it to people who do not have experience with the project, so that we can see if people can figure out how to use it,” Raterman said.

The one thing that has surprised all the team members is how smoothly the process has gone so far.

“We have had very little failure in our design and nothing has sparked or blown up or smoked,” Fisher said.

“It’s been too quiet,” Raterman agrees. “We all feel like something needs to blow up, so we know we are doing this right.”