ubECOtous Responsibility - Ambient Ubiquitous Feedback Systems

Diploma Thesis, 2008

108 Pages, Grade: 2,00


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Rationale for developing a feedback system
2.1. Environmental effects of resource overconsumption
2.2. Health benefits of reducing consumption

3. Conditions for success of the system
3.1. Appropriate location
3.2. Emotional incentives.
3.3. Effectiveness of real-time feedback
3.4. Edutainment’s appeal

4. Technological requirements
4.1 Sensors
4.1.1. Electricity sensors
4.1.2. Water sensors Mechanical meters Digital meters Methods of receiving the reading Monitoring consumption
4.1.3. Gas meters
4.1.4. Oil meters
4.2. Displays
4.2.1. Comparison of technologies
4.2.2. Form Factors
4.2.3. Ambient Displays

5. The System
5.1 Motivation
5.2. Design
5.2.1. Digital and multimedia design
5.2.2. Ambient feedback display design
5.2.3. Redesigning the electricity meter
5.2.4. Redesigning the water meter
5.3 Requirement Analysis
5.4. Building Blocks
5.4.1. Sensors
5.4.2. Data Loggers
5.4.3. Displays
5.5. Possible setups, interfaces, functions
5.6. Personalization and privacy
5.7. Evaluation

6. Conclusion

List of Figures

Figure 1: Energy meter setup and operation [4]

Figure 2: Electronic water meter [76]

Figure 3: Communicating water meter readings to the user [26]

Figure 4: Oil meter [20]

Figure 5: Flexible plastic OLED display [25]

Figure 6: Solution for small form factor devices [57]

Figure 7: Multi-touch, interactive display [49]

Figure 8: Standard home electricity meter [35]

Figure 9: Proposals for redesign of the home electricity meter [35]

Figure 10: Ambient light displays for electricity usage, embedded in tables [35]

Figure 11: Orb energy monitor [15]

Figure 12: Energy Joule or Home Joule [15]

Figure 13: Power Aware Cord [15]

Figure 14: Henry Ellis-Paul’s Tap Meter [14]

Figure 15: Stefan Grosvenor’s Water and energy saving tap [14]

Figure 16: “Squirt” project [14]

Figure 17: “Water/data-fall” project [8]

Figure 18: Light use study (% daily use) [33]

Figure 19: Personalization model for multi-device, ambient-aware information delivery [9]

1. Introduction

The motivation for this research has been triggered by the ever-growing number of reports, news, and personal observations related to unfavorable environmental changes on a global and local scale. Fortunately, this seems to have increased the social and personal awareness of the issue. However, this is only the first step in the right direction and a lot more still remains to be done Once we have identified the problem, it is imperative that we study it thoroughly and, most importantly, that we come up with solutions for solving or at least ameliorating it.

Technology has pervaded our lives and has achieved a perceived degree of potency that might cause people to believe that it can be used to fix problems that are, in fact, resolvable in a much simpler way. In this thesis, a model is proposed for addressing the problem of environmental resource over-consumption by using technology – not as an omnipotent, stand-alone solution but rather as a means for affecting people’s behavior, which in turn is the real force that should bring about the desired result.

The predicted climate change is usually seen both as an immediate, short-term problem and as a long-term phenomenon, which might affect future human generations. Thus there seems to be a conflict between potential targets – cautious management and gradual decrease of resource consumption and pollutant emissions in the long run or immediate measures for fast but transitory relief of environmental damages. Conflict management still remains at the core means of sustainable use of natural resources. Predictions are usually much more reliable in closed systems than in open ones, such as our dynamic world full of uncertainties and undergoing constant change. In other words, even though we have data and core facts, possible future developments are largely unpredictable. Data about the current human population parameters are available and can be used to foresee future trends. However, unexpected twists and surprises may emerge. This should of course not prevent people from taking meaningful measures. In any case, decisions about the future are risky and should be treated and evaluated as risk analyses with the best of the current information and knowledge. Not all decisions need to be perfectly ‘right’, but it is imperative that people learn from mistakes of the past – our own or somebody else’s alike. The concept of sustainability should always involve a strong learning component [71].

Besides the purely physical and economic aspects of resource consumption, social, cultural and even historical elements come into play in the discussion about natural resources management. The social factor is now gaining more recognition as a result of intense learning processes [71]. One major lesson is that while the final target might be unattainable for the time being, people can at least try to regulate the processes that aim towards this target. There are several theoretical and practical approaches to environmental management at large. A particular problem in natural resource management is the need to make decisions under different types and levels of uncertainty, sometimes caused by the lack of data or the inability to accurately evaluate available data. New practices in research policies may prove helpful for sustainable use of resources. In the past, when research was an ‘internal’ matter of universities, the assessment of its social impact was usually made ex-post. The results were interpreted and evaluated only after the research had been done. Now the emphasis is on ex-ante evaluation. This means that problems are defined ahead of the process and national priorities are set for the research. Both approaches might be useful today because our predictions might sometimes be rather poor and incorrect. It often comes as a surprise that some very important and influential discoveries and innovations are made unexpectedly, even by chance. In this light, our strife for sustainability should not necessarily and by all means avoid risk. The inborn human curiosity in itself can be a powerful driving force for innovations, which are the building blocks of a sound and responsible development. Sustainability is not confined in the present. It is rather a self-correcting learning process that extends far into the future. The Finnish innovation policy [65] recognizes the need for a balance between social, cultural and technological development. The explicit goal of the Science and Technology Policy Council of Finland is to support and encourage social and technological innovations. Traditionally, innovation has been used to denote strictly technological advancements. Now its meaning has been extended to social innovations, as well. More specifically, those are the social innovations that could support sustainable development in its best sense. There have been multiple different attempts at defining sustainable development. In any case, the definition should not be the monopoly of any particular group pushing its own interests. The definition should be derived and used by the civil society at large. Kaivola and Rohweder believe that this is the core challenge for higher education institutions, and, in fact, also for the entire education system and the society [71]. At the end, sustainability is of the people , for the people and should also be achieved by the people.

Sir Nicholas Stern [68], former economist of the World Bank, has illustrated a positive correlation in the long run between economic activities and ecological sustainability. Stern suggests that governments need to invest 1 % of GDP (Gross Domestic Product, referring to the cumulative value of goods and services produced in a country and thus measuring the size of its economy) now to fight climate change. Otherwise, a recession comparable to or even worse than the one in the 1920s is likely to occur in the near future.

The findings in the report discard the commonly held economic argument against anti-global warming measures. Stern insists that fighting global warming will actually save industry’s and government’s money and he argues that tackling the problem will not prove as economically burdensome as some experts predict. Investment in new technologies could, in fact, stimulate national and global economy. In this case, the general term “new technologies” includes extremely diverse range of innovations, such as technologies for CO2 emissions reduction, for environmentally-friendly lifestyles, for natural resource consumption control, and for educating people about the environmental consequences of their actions. The comparative study conducted by the World Economic Forum’s in 2006 pays attention to the level of environmental protection in different countries and their respective economic competitiveness. The results are encouraging because it has been clearly shown that economic and environmental sustainability are not incompatible on a national level. According to the most current rankings, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden and Denmark are among the top five most competitive countries. These same countries are ranked among the best in several rankings on environmental protection. They are all democratic countries with a stable political environment and high Human Development Index. These facts imply that social sustainability might have a positive impact on economic and ecological sustainability [71].

In addition to the examples above, several other instances of positive and negative correlations between economic and sustainable development can be pointed out [48]. None of them present a universal solution for balancing the different dimensions in a sustainable way but it is clear that the possible approaches are all inextricably linked to time: how to make people today care about the quality of life in the future? What is people’s responsibility towards future generations? More attention should be paid to the topic of the ethics of sustainable development. Bringing it up in education is a good start. Ethical and moral rules must be examined critically as part of the education for sustainable development. One critical question remains: what kind of sustainability should people aim for? There are generally two major approaches to sustainable development – light and value-based. In the former approach, the ecological, socio-cultural and economic dimensions are integrated into a balanced unit that relies on long-term planning. Advocates of value-based sustainable development believe that in spite of being essential to humanity, the economic exploitation of natural resources should not be a final goal in itself. Steady-state economists believe that people should rather aim for a more moderate alternative economic growth [71]. Ideally, economic growth should be combined with social justice within the carrying capacity of the ecosystem and passed on as a stable principle from generation to generation. One prerequisite for the value-based approach is that society should take into consideration the diversity of values and should strife both for a good life and for a secure world. This approach to sustainable development is often met with skepticism, because it requires fundamental changes in society’s structures and attitudes. On the other hand, the light interpretation of sustainable development attributes that development and prosperity are of greatest importance [71]. This approach is based on a highly anthropocentric, utilitarian way of thinking. Nature is only seen as a resource that is to be exploited but not without rules and limits. When interpreted lightly, sustainable development is almost equal to sustainable economic growth, neglecting all other dimensions. This interpretation is criticized by environmentally conscious social scientists and ecologists. They view the light approach as nothing more than a way of lessening people’s feeling of guilt with no actual effects. Maybe the truth is somewhere in between and one should, therefore, not be excessively critical and dismissive of the light approach as it can prove to be the starting point in a continuous process of sustainable development. It is possible that, eventually, this process will come closer and closer to the value-based approach smoothly and naturally. This of course might take a lot of time and generations that start re-evaluating the standard consumerist way of life. As it is often the case, it is incomparably easier to declare oneself in favor of the value-based approach than actually implementing it [71].

The building industry is already addressing the problems associated with natural resources over-consumption by moving towards the development of “smart” buildings. Such buildings make use of energy management control systems (EMCS) and energy information systems (EIS) that provide highly sophisticated technological feedback and control in order to minimize resource use [56]. Ideally, micro-sensor technology could be coordinated with climate delivery and control systems to generate environmental conditions tailored individually to each building occupant [16]. An obvious problem with this somewhat utopian technological vision is that many residential buildings are relatively old. This means that they posses old control technology, which is not easily upgraded, as well as archaic energy management systems. Prosperous, developed countries are not an exception. For instance, the technology currently employed in the central heating plants on some prestigious US university campuses dates back to the 1940s. It is expensive to equip older buildings and centralized energy systems with state-of-the-art EMCS technology. A substantial initial investment is required and is likely to take a long time to pay back [75].

Modern building control systems are already being optimized with automated computer-controlled technological feedback. This trend is expected to gain increasing significance in the efficient management of buildings in the future [22]. However, one should not forget or neglect the human dimension to feedback control in buildings, which is crucial. If building occupants and users are made aware of resource use, their attitudes and behaviors can potentially be changed in ways that lead to resource conservation. Researchers have referred to feedback systems that combine both technological and human decision making factors as “socio-technical” feedback (e.g. in [22]).

In this thesis, sustainability innovations and technologies are classified into two main categories. The first group includes technologies that aim at controlling and fixing the negative consequences of human actions, while the second group consists of technologies that target human perceptions, values, attitudes, and lifestyles. In other words, the former have a direct effect, while the latter lead to desirable results indirectly. In this research a method for acting indirectly on resource usage patterns is investigated.

A resource consumption feedback systems aims at raising the awareness of people about their consumption and, consequently, at encouraging them to reduce it. It provides real-time information about the amount of electricity, water, gas, and oil being used. This can be done in a variety of ways – through means such as text, light, sound, color, images, animations, etc. In this thesis, the system is referred to as “ubECOtous Responsibility”. This name points out three of the main features of the system, namely its ubiquitous character, its ecologically charged purpose and its ability of addressing people’s sense of responsibility. The name is not used to denote a particular product but is rather a hypernym (umbrella term) referring to a range of possible ambient display systems used for resource consumption monitoring and control.

The thesis opens with a discussion of the two major groups of factors encouraging the development of a consumption feedback system – environmental effects of resource overconsumption, on the one hand, and health benefits of reducing consumption, on the other. Then, it confers the conditions that will help the system fulfill its goals. These are: carefully selected location, emotional incentives provided to the users, encouraging real-time feedback, and engaging edutainment. The technology overview chapter contains a thorough review of popular sensor and display technologies. The former include electricity meters, mechanical and digital water meters, gas meters, and oil meters. The second section compares display technologies according to their availability, market presence, image quality, price, energy consumption, etc. Issues related to devices with different form factors and the specifics of ambient displays are discussed in the last two sections of Chapter 4. The next chapter is dedicated to ambient feedback display systems that can be referred to as ubECOtous Responsibility. Firstly, the motivation for creating such a system is presented. Then, major design principles are discussed, starting with general guidelines for digital design, and going down to ambient feedback display design and examples of redesign of the standard electricity and water meters. Further, building blocks, including sensors, data loggers and displays that can potentially be integrated into the ubECOtous Responsibility system are presented. In spite of the wide choice for building blocks, only a small portion of them are feasible for ubECOtous Responsibility. Possible setups and interfaces of ubECOtous Responsibility are described in section 5.5. The broad spectrum of devices that can be used as parts of an ambient feedback system, as well as the variety of its users, require that the issues of personalization and user interface adaptation (section 5.6.) be considered during the design process. Different types and modes of displaying information lead to different usage scenarios and use cases that are described in section 5.5. Each of these takes into consideration the type of users and their abilities, knowledge, demographic characteristics, interests, preferences, as well as the location and the usage situation. The evaluation (section 5.7) of the system is dependent on the correct evaluation of possible user interactions.

2. Rationale for Developing a Feedback System

The ubECOtous Responsibility system is an attempt at reducing the harmful impact of resource consumption in buildings. The two areas, which are most negatively affected by over-consumption and will thus benefit the most from a reduction in the usage of resources, are the environment and human health. Since both of these have an extremely large value charge, the stakes seem to be placed very high.

2.1. Environmental effects of resource overconsumption

Over-consumption of freshwater, which, besides being a utility itself, is also one of the sources of energy production, leads to groundwater and surface water depletion, pollution and habitat destruction [29]. The last decades have been marked by a constant decrease of Europe’s water resources and deteriorating freshwater quality and quantity [77]. Over-consumption, along with pollution, climate change and natural scarcity, is one of the major reasons contributing to this trend. Unsustainable water management practices may eventually bring harm both to nature and to the human population. Aquatic ecosystems are experiencing high stress, rivers are being heavily overexploited. As a result, the survival of the associated fauna and flora is jeopardized and the availability of agricultural and industrial resources is reduced. Irresponsible water management has the potential to deteriorate the quality and quantity of fresh water, needed in all spheres of people’s lives. Drought is a complex phenomenon that implies social, economic, and environmental consequences. Strategic planning of water resources consists of the following measures [77]:

a) Short-term actions – contingency plans to limit a drought’s adverse impacts on the economy, social life and environment.

b) Long-term actions – structural and institutional measures for preparing a system to meet future demands under drought conditions. Very important alternative actions are water conservation, efficient use, demand management, resource protection, research, educational programs, and public awareness.

- Long-term drought preparedness plans of action should be based on the following principles: Reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience to drought.
- Reducing the risk and effects of uncertainty.
- Mitigation of the possible impacts of the hazard.
- Proactive management – modification of infrastructures, national laws and institutional agreements, improvement in public awareness.
- Contingency planning and management strategies for droughts – sufficient information, early warning systems, effective networking and coordination between central, regional, and local authorities.

Water resource management is a massive effort and should therefore be supported by all stakeholders, states, and institutions. The vision of sustainability experts is that fresh water is a scarce and valuable resource that requires careful long-term management and observation of the following conditions [77]:

- Freshwater ecosystems fulfill basic socio-economic and environmental needs that have to be prioritized.
- Partnership and active cooperation at local, national and international level must be promoted.
- Knowledge is a key factor for a sustainable water management. Plans and strategies must be realistic and sound.
- Both demand-side and supply-side measures should be implemented in case of overexploitation of resources.
- The equilibrium between water supply and demand should be optimized.
Briefly, supply-side measures relate to the preservation and restoration of natural catchments and aquifers, improvement the efficiency of existing water infrastructures, and the creation of water recharge aquifers. The ambient resource consumption feedback system described in this thesis addresses the demand-side of the issue. Demand-side measures refer to [77]:
- Subsidies promoting changes in water consumption
- Reduction of leaks in water distribution networks
- Improvement of irrigation technologies, optimizing soil water utilization, practical research to reduce water consumption by crop rotation, genetic variety, etc.
- Promotion of waste water reuse
- Responsible use of water resources, implementation of new technologies, redesigning industrial and agricultural processes
- Setting up water banks and quota systems
- Implementing a policy system encouraging investments, developing financial mechanisms to internalize external costs, estimating profit from water savings
- Development and conduct of educational and awareness campaigns [77].

Most of the aforementioned demand-side measures are not addressed by this thesis because they are not within the functionality of an ambient display system for resource consumption feedback. Such a system, however, can be part of an educational and awareness campaign aiming at raising people’s knowledge about the issue of water overconsumption and encouraging them to decrease their consumption. In short, raising users’ awareness is the main goal of the systems discussed in this thesis.

In addition to water, energy is another resource whose consumption affects the human population and the environment alike. The benefits of more efficient energy use are significant and pertain to better health, fresher air, cleaner water and limiting the damage on the atmosphere [52]. Furthermore, over-consumption of electrical energy leads to a broad range of unfavorable environmental phenomena, including climate change and acid precipitation. Besides, it has been linked to health disorders such as lung ailments and mercury poisoning [29]. As part of a global effort to reduce energy consumption, France has made the “energy label” mandatory for all housing units as of 1 July 2006. This is a standardized scale for measuring the energy performance of buildings and is usually assigned when they are being sold. For rentals, the law has been enforced a year later – on 1 July 2007. The plan is to extend the label to gradually encompass more and more energy-consuming products [27].

Three main types of fossil fuels are used for energy production – coal, oil and gas. Economic growth has been linked with the over-consumption of natural resources and thus with an aggravating impact on the environment, particularly on the atmosphere. Practices for sustainability should take into account the fact that non-renewable fuels must be preserved for the future. More specifically, any sustainable energy policy should address the issues of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the amount of energy used per person in highly industrialized societies is substantially higher than the use in developing countries. As an illustration of this discrepancy, the average person in the UK uses 35 times more energy than the average Indian [23]. A large portion of the energy comes from non-renewable sources – the fossil fuels coal, oil and gas. They are being used much faster than they are produced and may thus become scarce or unavailable in the near future. Another worrisome effect of energy over-consumption is related to its production, which is harmful to the environment. The emitted greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, while the emitted sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides lead to acid precipitation. It is imperative for current generations to preserve some of the available fuels for the future and to find alternatives in the form of renewable energy sources. These include solar, wind and hydroelectric power using the sun, the wind, and water, respectively, to generate electricity. These 'green fuels', in spite of being clean and environmentally friendly alternatives that are not likely to get depleted, are currently not used widely as energy sources. Countries should strive to increase the proportion of their energy that is supplied by environmentally sound, effective, renewable sources. What can be done in the meantime is limiting the negative impact of energy production from fossil fuels by decreasing consumption [23].

In contrast to their limited influence on energy production, for instance by coal or gas fired power stations, or by wind or solar power, people have substantial control over the usage of the available energy. The measures for effective reduction of energy consumption do not need to be massive and complicated. Saving money on utility bills may be an incentive not only for the environmentally conscious. Heating (of buildings and water) accounts for about one quarter of the energy use in the UK. The costs for air heating add up to more than half of the overall fuel bills. In spite of the fact that heating of water can be responsible for up to 20% of the fuel costs, hot water is still being irresponsibly wasted. People can cut back on their energy consumption for the two purposes mentioned above without compromising on their comfort. The possible solutions include energy-saving light bulbs with lower running costs and longer lifetimes, efficient electric appliances from carefully selected manufacturers, brands, models and year of manufacturing. In order to make the selection task easier for the customer, European retailers are obliged to mark new refrigerators and freezers with a special eco-label indicating the level of efficiency and energy consumption of the product. Domestic appliances account for a significant portion of the total electricity used. For instance, in the UK they are responsible for 20% of the electricity consumption. Reductions in individuals’ consumption will reduce the overall need for energy production, which, in turn, will contribute to the conservation of natural fuel resources and the reduction of pollutant emissions [24].

2.2. Health benefits of reducing consumption

Reduction of greenhouse gases emissions, associated with the production of electrical and heat energy, has the potential to bring along huge health benefits, in addition to avoiding the consequences of global warming. The circumstances that lead to excessive greenhouse gases emissions, more specifically the overconsumption of energy and the disproportionate use of vehicles, are major causes of the epidemics of the modern society – coronary heart disease, obesity, and diabetes [46]. A lot can and should be done to encourage a decrease in fuel and electricity consumption. The changed lifestyles would not only be healthier for the individual, but also crucial for the health of the planet.

A decrease in electricity consumption will possibly mean less demand for energy production, less power plant emissions, and consequently, less particulate matter in the air we breathe. Exposure to particulate matter from power plants has been shown to have undesirable effects on human health. Particulate matter is the generic term referring to the mixture of microscopic solid particles and liquid droplets dispersed in the air. Ambient particulate matter, found mainly in urban areas, is composed both of directly emitted particles and of secondary aerosols of sulfate, nitrate, and organics. The particles are either emitted directly by combustion sources or are formed in the atmosphere through reactions involving gases, such as SO2 and NOx [2].

Power plants produce sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), among other hazardous gasses. In many parts of the world power plants are the largest and most significant emitters of these gases, which, besides being harmful themselves, contribute to the formation of acid rain and particulate matter. Particulate matter reduces visibility, often producing a milky haze that covers wide regions and poses a serious hazard to the health of people living there. Over the past decade, numerous studies have linked particulate matter to a wide range of adverse health effects in people of all ages. Epidemiologists have consistently attributed cases of premature death, hospital admissions, asthma attacks, and chronic bronchitis to exposure to particulate matter. The study by Abt Associates, Inc. [2] documents the health impacts of power plant air pollution. Using emissions and air quality modeling programs, they forecast air quality for a “baseline” scenario for 2007. Then, they estimate the health impacts from all power plant emissions. Finally, they predict and evaluate air quality for a specific policy alternative: reducing total power plant emissions of SO2 and NOx by seventy-five percent from the levels emitted in 1997. The difference between this “seventy-five percent reduction scenario” and the baseline provides an estimate of the health effects that would be avoided by this reduction in power plant emissions [2].

The authors of the same study [2] further consider and discuss the value of decreasing air pollution from another perspective as well. The willingness-to-pay (WTP) is a measure of the value that a person places on gaining a desirable outcome. In other words, the WTP measure is the amount of money that suffices to make an individual indifferent to whether he/she has the good/service or the money. An alternative measure of economic value is the willingness-to-accept (WTA). It refers to the monetary compensation that is needed to counteract deterioration in welfare or well-being, in such a way that the person would be indifferent to the choice of having the money or not having the deterioration. Speaking of air pollution, if we assume that people have the right to clean air, they should be compensated for an increase in the level of its pollution. The appropriate measure of the value of avoiding an increase in air pollution, in this case, would be the compensation that would suffice for people to accept the more polluted air.

The willingness-to-pay value is a reflection of subjective, individual preferences. Therefore, WTP is likely to vary from one person to another for both market and non-market goods (e.g., health-related improvements in environmental quality). In contrast to market goods, environmental quality improvement is a public good, whose benefits are shared by many individuals. The beneficiaries may have different WTPs for it but the total social value of the good is the sum of the WTPs of all individuals who consume or benefit from it. In the case of health improvements associated to pollution reduction, it is not clear who exactly will receive the particular benefits. The health benefits are, in fact, reductions in the risk of getting certain health disorders. The mean willingness to pay in the society is the correct measure of the value of the avoided health hazards and it is a function of income. The most significant monetized benefits of reducing concentrations of particulate matter in the air are attributable to reductions in health risks associated with it [2].

Mortality is a crucial point in economic analyses due to its high monetary value. There are two main types of exposure to air pollution that may result in premature mortality. The first one is acute, short-term exposure to peak pollutant concentrations, which may lead to excess mortality within a short period after the exposure. The second type is chronic, long-term exposure to high pollution levels, which may result in higher mortality in the long run than normally expected at lower pollution levels [2].

The onset of chronic bronchitis in adults has been linked to particulate matter content in ambient air. The results are consistent with other research that has found that chronic exposure to pollutants contributes to declining pulmonary functioning [2]. In single-pollutant models, there was a statistically significant relationship between one specific particulate matter (PM) pollutant and the development of chronic bronchitis; another pollutant was linked to chronic bronchitis and airways obstructive disease (AOD); and a third one was significantly associated with different cases of asthma, chronic bronchitis, and AOD. The willingness to pay to avoid chronic bronchitis takes into account medical expenditures, lost earnings, pain and suffering caused by the illness [2]. The impact of PM on respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions and on emergency room visits for asthma has been estimated. Society’s WTP to avoid a hospital admission incorporates medical expenses, lost work productivity, non-market costs of treating the patients, such as air and water pollution and waste production from hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry, as well as the pain and suffering of the affected individual on one hand and of relatives, friends, and caregivers, on the other hand [2]. There is plentiful scientific evidence that elevated air pollution levels are significantly related not only to chronic illnesses and hospital admissions but to other morbidity health effects, as well. Research has linked air pollution chemicals to unpleasant symptoms such as coughing, inhalation pain, wheezing, eye irritation and headache, as well as acute infectious diseases like bronchitis and sinusitis. Furthermore, increased concentration of particulate matter was reported to have significant impact on work-loss days, restricted activity days, and respiratory-related restricted-activity days among the adult working population in metropolitan areas [2].

3. Conditions for Success of the System

This chapter deals with the question of how to make ubECOtous Responsibility effective in fulfilling its function – by being installed where it is most needed and through providing users with emotional incentives, motivational real-time feedback, and educational entertainment.

3.1. Appropriate location

In this section the choice to concentrate particularly on the consumption of environmental resources in buildings is explained. The built environment is responsible for the majority of electricity and water consumption in the industrialized countries. This fact should come as no surprise to anyone, since it is evident to everybody that we spend more time in buildings than anywhere else. For example, US Americans spend less than 10% of their lives outside of buildings [1]. Activities that take place within buildings contribute significantly to the steady increase of natural resource consumption and its ecological consequences. Wilson and Yost give us a more detailed picture by breaking up the resource usage of residential and commercial buildings into: electrical energy consumption – two-thirds of the whole supply in the USA, greenhouse gas emissions – 36% of the nation’s total and 9% of the world’s total, fresh water use – 12% of the nation’s supply [1]. It is reasonable to assume that improving the environmental performance of buildings is a crucial predicate for a more sustainable relationship between humans and urbanization, on the one hand, and nature, on the other hand.

Some researchers have concentrated on specific types of buildings for their studies, such as, for example, campus dormitories (e.g. [75]). This makes sense because dormitory residents are significant consumers of campus resources. For instance, at Oberlin College in the USA, dormitories accounted for 42% of the institution's water use and 17% of electricity use in 2004 (Oberlin College Office of Facilities Operations). The personal choices that students make in their rooms with their substantial effect on resource use make residence halls an obvious target for conservation efforts. In general, everyday lifestyle choices that appear insignificant at first glance may have profound effects on the usage of resources, leading to over-consumption or, respectively, to a decrease in consumption. Therefore, people should not ignore the importance of routine daily activities such as showering, doing laundry, switching lights and electric appliances on and off. Theoretical, as well as empirical data supports the belief that feedback systems might indeed contribute to the improved awareness of building occupants and, in turn, to a change in their behavior.

A comprehensive review of thirty-eight studies of household energy use conducted over twenty-five years concluded that information feedback provided to building residents can increase their awareness and can decrease energy use [63]. In another research, Shipper demonstrates that a wide range of different social and behavioral changes can potentially bring energy consumption reductions of up to 50% [41]. These results are promising and should be taken as an incentive for designing and implementing effective, innovative solutions for making people aware of their actions and, possibly, of the consequences of these actions.

The situation in Europe does not differ very much. Almost 40 percent of the energy consumption on the continent is related to activities taking place in buildings. In Germany alone household energy costs add up to over two million Euro per year. More and more companies realize that it is high time for building owners to be given the opportunity to explore resource saving potentials. The aim of Siemens Building Technologies is to optimize buildings by providing residents with comfort and security while at the same time ensuring ecological efficiency. Within the frame of an energy saving contract, the company utilizes the saving potential of a building by modernizing the technology and implementing energy services. Synco™ living-Home Automation System is a centrally operated, modular system that adjusts all the ambient parameters in a room to the current, individual living needs and preferences [67].

For the time being, in spite of the high potential of computers and Internet as means of transmitting feedback, there are only few examples of data monitoring and display systems with real-time graphical interface that provides building occupants with compelling, easily explicable data on their environmental performance. The hope comes from manufacturers of energy management and control systems who are implementing software capable of delivering data from building control systems to the web, as for example Siemens control’s Apogee system and Johnson Controls’ Metasys system [75].

3.2. Emotional incentives

There are certain psychological predispositions for the effectiveness of the ubiquitous feedback system. Based on these, the potential of the system to achieve the desired result – namely increasing the awareness of consumers, raising their feeling of responsibility, and, ultimately, achieving reduction in resource usage – becomes substantial and graspable.

Behavioral psychology deals with the relationship between human behavior and its consequences. The proposal for a feedback system is built upon the tenet stating that the nature and frequency of certain behaviors can be manipulated by controlling their outcomes and consequences. This phenomenon is known as operant conditioning [47]. It is advisable to observe the principles of operant conditioning during the process of designing the ubiquitous feedback system. The most obvious clue is that there should be a clear, well-pronounced link between user behavior and system output.

In order to make sure that the implementation and utilization of the system leads to the maximum possible desirable result, the design process has to adhere to certain principles. First, the technical output should be directly linked to regular human activity. That is, the system should not require “artificial” interaction on behalf of the user like pressing keys and buttons but should rather be naturally interwoven into the fabrics of daily life. In short, people’s regular activities should be the direct input for the system. In our case, these regular activities are: the daily running of tap and shower water, the switching on and switching off of lights, the turning on and turning off of electric appliances, the igniting of gas ovens, and the manual manipulation of the amount of heat produced by heaters, among others. Not only the input for the system, but also its location, position and orientation should be unobtrusive. The system is to be truly ubiquitous. The interaction with the interface should not consume extensive time and should not obstruct users’ movement, sight or any other activities taking place in the building. The operant conditioning that was mentioned above requires that the feedback users get is instant and immediate.

Another issue that has to be taken into consideration during the design process is the level of disturbance associated with the system. The user should not in any case feel overwhelmed or disturbed by the installation. Otherwise, he/she might develop an emotional intolerance to it and the final result might be just the opposite of what the system is aiming at. An irritating, noisy, or threatening system might trigger an undesirable reaction from the users, such as ignoring it, getting rid of it, or in the extreme case, behaving in a way that contradicts the purpose of the system, i.e. increasing resource consumption to ‘rebel’ against the annoying installation. The latter will not be isolated in a dedicated location. On the contrary, it will be placed within the space of everyday indoor human activities. Therefore, it is imperative to smoothly blend the technology with its surroundings. This means adjusting its design to the type and the size of the building, the interior setup, the materials used, the nature of the activities performed inside, the characteristics of the people residing, visiting, or passing by, etc. The aforementioned principles relate very well to Mark Weiser’s concept of ‘calm technology’. He describes it as technology that exists and fulfills its functions at the periphery of human perception without demanding constant or intense attention [45].

The challenging question that arises is how to ‘conceal’ the feedback system while at the same time letting it deliver a constant flow of plentiful information. The user’s attention should be drawn to the content/information and away from the system itself. A calm technology presenting ‘loud’ information is the paradoxical and challenging final goal.

The concept of operant conditioning comes into play again. The consequences of certain actions must be clearly and explicitly communicated to people in the form of threats, punishments, rewards and incentives in order for the initial behavior to be adjusted accordingly. A primitive form of this method is, for example, the one used by B. F. Skinner – food pellets as motivating factor and electric shock as punishment. The idea of using similar methods in the proposal for a feedback system is of course obsolete but the above are appropriate metaphors for the actual incentives. Human behavior is often seemingly irrational. For example, computer games that are totally unrelated to the real world can evoke intense emotional responses in the players. They feel satisfied and proud when winning and sad, depressed or guilty when losing. Virtual incentives and punishments are capable of triggering similar emotional response to the ones elicited by real-life incentives and punishments. A possible strategy for evoking the desired emotional responses in the users of the resource consumption feedback system is to mimic the techniques used in successful computer games. Creating an engaging technological solution, be it a computer game or a lifestyle feedback system, is a challenging and demanding endeavor [43].

3.3. Effectiveness of real-time feedback

Ayabe et al. [43] examine the concept of using game-like ubiquitous systems to affect people’s behavior. As a result of their research, and taking into consideration the benefits of such systems, they propose a ubiquitous lifestyle feedback system resembling an entertaining pervasive game. Existing software solutions (often in the form of “serious games”) have been used to alter people’s behavior in the areas of nutrition, health, and energy conservation, among others. Currently we are interested in the latter. The effectiveness of such games is limited by the burden placed on the user, self-reporting, and the lack of effective feedback. Based on a simple behavioral model, the authors propose architectural and design principles that overcome the limitations inherent in earlier solutions. They introduce two prototype systems – one promoting proper dental hygiene and the other assisting in maintaining order in a common-use bookshelf. Problems that arise from people’s inappropriate behavior should be addressed by an attempt to alter this behavior rather than by introducing technological solutions aimed at fixing it. The objective of Ayabe et al. was to examine solutions for triggering lifestyle change in everyday human activities. They assumed that in this area ubiquitous computing technologies could provide new possibilities. Such technologies are already being used in spheres such as health, hygiene and food safety. In their paper “Effecting lifestyle changes through ubiquitous feedback systems” the authors focus on areas where a change in voluntary human behavior is the priority. In the past, written text has been a more or less effective means for influencing people’s thinking, attitudes, and behavior. More recently, computer software has entered the realm of educating and re-educating people abut certain issues related to their choices and lifestyles. So called serious games train and affect the attitudes of users during game play. The assumption is that the newly acquired behavior will transfer to similar situations in the real world. Proofs exist that this indeed takes place. For instance, in one study children report having increased their fruit and vegetable consumption with one serving per day after playing 10 short sessions of the game Squire’s Quest at school [70].

There are of course some limitations to the usefulness, convenience, applicability and effectiveness of persuasive systems. For example, if the system requires the undisturbed attention and concentration of the user, this poses the question of finding time for doing so. This effect becomes even more pronounced if multiple, repeated and often practiced sessions are needed for the desired result to be achieved. Furthermore, researchers are convinced that in order for the behavior-modulating game to be effective, it has to focus on a single aspect of everyday human behavior. Thus separate games are needed for different activities. Another troubling issue is that psychological barriers to altering real-life behavior might exist. A phenomenon that is bound to hinder positive, desirable change is human reluctance to sacrifice short-term comfort for long-term benefits or, alternatively, to endure short-term inconveniences in order to prevent long-term troubles. People are tempted and inclined to irrationally choose an immediate indulgence over long-term strategy for well-being even in matters such as their own health and personal comfort. Examples of such behavior are plentiful in everyday life: smoking, poor hygiene, improper diet, and lack of exercise, among others. The aforementioned instances are very personal and have a direct effect on the person him/herself. The tendency to ignore future consequences is likely to be even more pronounced when it comes to matters that are not directly related to the well-being of the individual. Software solutions can counteract this vicious tendency by diverging from the educational/instructional tone and adopting a strategy of turning long-term effects into short-term feedback. So called “quit meters” are commercially available. These devices provide users with a constant flow of information on how much money is spent on cigarettes and how many minutes of life are lost. “Carb counters” for handhelds are suitable for evaluating food choices by giving instant feedback on the amount of carbohydrates, fats, and calories ingested. Similarly, the environmental resource consumption feedback system should be designed to break down large-scale, long-term effects into small-scale, short-term updates. It is not feasible for a system to display information about such large-scale issues as the advancement of global warming, the depletion of the ozone layer, and pollution, nor is it feasible for the users to acquire such information, to process it, and to adequately deal with and react to it. It is, however, feasible to display information about the everyday choices that people make in their resource consumption. Global warming is fuzzy, distant and abstract. Stopping the tap water while brushing your teeth and turning off the lights when going out of the room are both familiar and graspable. The types of systems mentioned above (meters and counters) have both advantages and disadvantages as compared to serious games. On the positive side, simple counters and meters do not require the user to set aside extensive amounts of dedicated time for the interaction. On the other hand, however, such feedback systems have a lower emotional impact caused by the lack of direct engagement and fun for the user. An additional drawback of carb counters, quit meters, and lifestyle-altering games is the demand for self-reporting. This means that the users themselves have to note and report certain aspects of their behavior. In addition to being burdensome, inconvenient and time-consuming, this might be highly unreliable. People tend to submit false data both intentionally and unintentionally. As a result, the system is hampered in its efforts to influence behavior in the desired way. This is where the role of sensors becomes crucial and indispensable from a resource consumption feedback system [43].


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ubECOtous Responsibility - Ambient Ubiquitous Feedback Systems
University Lübeck
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Responsibility, Ambient, Ubiquitous, Feedback, Systems
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Evgenia Nikolova (Author), 2008, ubECOtous Responsibility - Ambient Ubiquitous Feedback Systems, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/88725


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