Monday, April 02, 2012

Zome!

One of the threads of research that's really got me excited these days it my Zome work. That's Zome as in Zome Energy Networks, a company that I helped get started, based on the distributed energy management work I did at MIT during my postdoc.

The thing that really sets Zome apart from the rest of my work is that it's about this far from actually changing the goddamned world. The other things I'm working on I think are really cool and important, but the path to getting out into the field is much longer. With Zome on the other hand, we're talking about possible pilot projects in the next year or two. And "pilot" seems to mean a huge lot more houses to the energy industry than I would have thought when I was but a poor postdoc proposing to wire a couple dozen appliances to radio-controlled switches.

So, in a nutshell, the big idea of the Zome work is this: we put a vast number of energy-consuming appliances under distributed control, using an algorithm and architecture that I developed. The elegant thing is that, because of how the algorithm operates, even though the electrical utility gets a knob to adjust up and down the amount of power that's being consumed, individual consumers like you and me never have to feel like Big Brother is breathing down our necks. You see, the appliances never give up power unless we're willing, we always get an override, and all the most sensitive information stays inside the house. The aggregate information that goes upstream has all sorts of appliances from lots of different houses combined together---because otherwise it's just too hard to ship bits fast enough---and that gives security by obscurity. It's an idea that I learned to appreciate from my friend Rachel Greenstadt's thesis, where she showed that distributed constraint optimization could be made more secure through aggregation of information. What we're doing is similar thematically, though it's different in pretty much every way technically.

In any case, Zome's been really cooking along recently, and we've had some big results that I'm writing up now---hopefully for publication in the not too distant future. And that's why it's one of the things that's got me really excited... expect to hear more about it soon.
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