May 2008

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A simple motion detector will take care of turning lights on when somebody is in the room and turning them off when they leave. It has some flaws--the cat will turn the lights on--if you sit quietly reading very slowly you may need to learn to read faster, but that's already commercial.

On the other hand, I like the idea of a master light switch. Keep the price down and you could market it. It's already done with thermostats, why not lights?


I've been in an office that has a motion sensor. When you turn the switch on, if no movement is detected for 20 minutes the lights go OFF. If you're deep in a novel or a DILBERT compendium, you have to wave an arm or a leg to get light, but that's OK, its good for the circulation.

Mark Wilding

from Graff;
" I feel we could get used to about anything that isn't physically painful. Like, electrical shocks administered at way. But other things, we could "

I recall an uncle who ran a dairy farm when we were children. He became so accustomed to the shock of the electric fences, that he would hold down a hot wire to take a shortcut into a paddock rather than walk to the nearest gate. Nonchalantly absorbing a jolt that would send a 1000 lb beast into quick retreat. He had a neat trick, where he would lean on one of these fences prior to greeting visitors with a handshake.


How about RFID microchip system and have the microchips implanted under the family members' scalps? Because we all know that SOMEONE will lose their ring or drop it down the drain or something, and I'm sure the little buggers will cost $40 or $50 apiece.


My parents give out to me for leaving lights off in room where there is nobody in it


It is available off the shelf. Check this:


The RFID system is pretty neat.

Of course, you need power to the sensor. The chips we use claim a peak current of 80mA, which (assuming my maths is correct) means that the total power consumption of the system equates to about 3 bulb-hours of wasted illumination every day.
Of course, that's assuming that the chip's stated peak power is used constantly. In practise, this isn't the case. A RFID reader running off a normal 9V battery usually lasts 3-4 months.

On the downside, you'll need some kind of computer to keep track of where people are. If you've already got a couple of webservers in the garage, its just a case of hooking the tag readers up to a spare parallel port, and an X10 controller for the lights. But if you have to run a computer just for the lighting, you're sure to be wasting energy. You could probably build a pretty cheap ARM-based system, but I don't know what the real world power consumption of those is.

Someone mentioned using motion sensors. I'm not sure how much power they use, but I suspect its a little more than the RFID option. On the other hand, if you've got motion sensors anyway for your alarm anyway, that's no extra cost.

On a little side-note, a computer that knows where in the house everyone is has more benefits than you might imagine:

* An onscreen plan of the house lets you find the cats easily when its vet-time

* When listening to music, the sound follows you from room to room by the wonder of ESD

* Attach RFID tags to your phone/keys and the computer can tell you where you left them

* Instant messenger status set to "brb" when I'm in the bathroom, or "away" if I'm in the kitchen

* Your PVR knows who is in the room, and can start up with a list of episodes you haven't watched yet from shows you're interested in (if I can ever get my head around mythtv's plugin interface, at any rate)

* If you got motion sensors too, you don't need to disarm your burglar alarm. The alarm only goes off if it sees motion and no RFID. Great for those of us with cats


I work in a large office where the lights are on manual timers. Each timer controls a zone. When the time runs out, the overhead lights go off until someone gets up, walks through cubicle town and cranks the switch.

I didn't know about this system when I started work here. My first day I'm sitting in my cube, typing something, and suddenly all of the lights go out. I expect to hear a buzz of consternation, but...nothing. Conversations are proceeding around me without missing a beat. Eventually the lights come back on. No one comments on the black-out.

In time I grew accustomed to the black-outs. Visitors to the office will be surprised when the lights go out, but I hardly notice anymore. "The lights? Oh, yeah...they went out, didn't they? They'll come back on. There. Now, where were we?"

I feel we could get used to about anything that isn't physically painful. Like, electrical shocks administered at way. But other things, we could.

"What? Oh, yes, a caribou did just walk down the aisle. We have them here."


Richard Haven

How about a timer light-switch that really works. The ones I've found are either mechanical (those often fail to work) or electronic (those are hideously hard to use).

How about a 5-pole, 5-position switch: middle - nothing; up half - turn on for 30 minutes and return to middle; up full - on and stay on, switch stays full up; down full - lights off and switch stays down.

The down half is only useful if the switch also has scheduling capabilities: down half - turn off until the next scheduled "on".


already invented :-(

lots of home-automation type light systems (including the real basic X10 based devices) can do 1 button off type scenarios.

real complex ones like lite touch use home-run style wiring (6pair I think) to each button pad so any button can control any number of lights anywhere in the house..


I love my countdown timer light switches. I have a multi-level home, it use to be trips upstairs and downstairs at bedtime or if we left the house in the evening. Now it's just forget it, they'll go off eventually.


THIS is what's going to get you that nobel!! Imagine all the energy that will be saved when we can turn off the house with one switch! genius.


THIS is what's going to get you that nobel!! Imagine all the energy that will be saved when we can turn off the house with one switch! genius.


OK, I admit my post (that you seem to have pulled) about your Beemer was bit cheeky. But it was a legitimate question. I mean why care about leaving a few lights on whilst sucking down dinosaur juice like Kool-Aid? BTW, I drive a Jeep that's almost as bad but I'm not advocating energy efficiency. In fact, I say we should all enjoy a veritable orgy of waste because the sooner we're actually in danger of running out of oil the sooner they'll be motivated to offer something better. =-)

Ginger Beer

We need to get back to the root of the problem which is the inadequacy of our eyes to see in the dark. I propose a bit of genetic engineering to add an additional pair of eyes above the existing pair which can see infrared. Then we would not need lights at all. While we are at it a pair of X-ray eyes would also be usefull. The body is a fantastic piece of equipment but there are many improvements which could be made. For instance why not have 2 willys - twice the fun. After all we have 2 hands. Another poor design is having to urinate out of the same equipment as we use for fun and entertainment. A better option would be to have a hole in the end of the little finger. Then, when we need to go, it would be a matter of inserting the little finger into a purpose made hole in a wall.

mike pollock

Hmm, kinda sucks as an idea as I use energy saver lights, a brain and a finger, which means that my lights are rarely left on and when they are its not a problem.

That said, there is a case for the 'I'm going out now' switch by the door... except that it should have a broader remit: Turn off lights, turn off TV (not standby mode which is only 50% better than leaving it on). And the video/dvd player. And the cable/satalite receiver. Turn down the heating a bit (say to 10 degrees... cooler than you want it when you are in but warm enough not to freeze the cats or to take too long to warm when you get home) Shut down PC (unless override setup for explicite purpose). Turn off printer. Turn off spare hard disk. Turn ON the answerphone. Feed the cat, do the ironing, vacume (last three are for the advanced model)

John E

I like to quote my friend who is an HVAC consulting engineer when he says you are better off not puttin gin a light switch at all if you don't need to. The cost of the wire, switch, and the person to put it in is so high that you could never save enough power to get the pay back. Not to mention that your bulbs last longer when they are never turned off.


My father, God rest his soul, raised 5 kids through out the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's. It was his number one complaint with us kids... shouting, "Shut the damn lights off!" He would have loved your suggestions!

Some Random Internet Denizen Pretending

I have a simpler system:
Take a poll among all the people in the house.
Separate those who want to walk around in the dark all the time switching lights on and off and place them next to the front door.
Hand them a small bundle of twigs, a roll of felt, some paraffin wax, and a small quantity of matches.
Tell them to go and live in a cave.

A Wart

Motion sensors need electric too 24 hours a day..
I have recently changed all the lights in my house to low energy bulbs most given away free by local supermarkets and newspapers, I will save £100 ($190) dollars per year comparing 24hour day use with normal light (60watt) bulbs. Other option is not have any kids saving at least £30,000 ($58,000) per year in all other costs and getting a jacuzzi still a massive saving and added fun.


I dont know if a RF sensor for every person in the help will use less electricity than leaving the lights on. Motion sensing has merit, but a little education can go a long way in convincing kids and grownup kids to just switch the lights on. To do the switching for might encourage further lazy behaviour.


You're right, it's a brilliant idea. unfortunately for your future wealth and fame, it's been done... actually, it has been around since the 80's... The most popular system is called Dynalite, and it used to be my job to sell it in Australia. Every light switch in the house is changed to a panel with 1 to 10 buttons on it which can all be programed to set the room to a different environment. The best implementation of the system are:

3: The all off but pretend I'm home button,

2: the "M/S" button on the bedside table - stands for midnight slash, dimly lights up the way to the bathroom

1: The "feeling lucky" button on the man's side turns the bedroom into a nightclub. The "not tonight" button on the other side turns them off.

the best part is the total programmability of the system. it can run your projector / tv and the lights in the room, it can change the lights depending on the time of day, or who's in the room, it can open and close blinds, works with the garage door opener, timers, remote control, music (cd's, computer, radio) with speakers in every room (in the ceiling or freestanding or whatever) all programmed in the same way as the lights (that's why you need 10 buttons on a panel)

I am surprised you don't already have one installed!

Bill gates is one of the few people who has the ring thing.
Guests wear a smartcard that communicates with the system, telling it what music to play and how bright the lights should be. I think it even releases pleasant smells and changes the 'pictures' on the walls. But you have to have a few quid to do that.


Someone sillily mentions:
One of the best ideas I have seen is the
manual on, automatic off light switch.
You press it to turn it on and off,
but it also shuts itself off after a
set time limit it doesn't detect motion.

You've obviously never worked in an office with this feature. If you have a laptop with the integrated mouse (touch pad or mid-keyboard nipple), you can "work" for long periods of time without moving enough to reset the motion detector. I've gotten into the habit of randomly waving an arm every so often just to keep the lights on...


I love it. put me down for one of each,where do I write down my credit card number?


I love it. put me down for one of each,where do I write down my credit card number

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