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Infographic of the Day: Lamps Project Electricity-Usage Data in Real Time

Watt-Lites are a non-judgy way to visualize electricity usage, and are being tested in Sweden now.

Infographic of the Day: Lamps Project Electricity-Usage Data in Real Time

In an age of shaming gadgets that clock your appliance power draw and e-wallpaper that declares your wastefulness on a wall, it's easy to feel like a jerk just for switching on a task light at work. A new concept by a pair of Swedish interaction designers proves that tracking energy consumption doesn't have to feel like a schoolmarm's wagging finger — and it can be good-looking, to boot.

Loove Broms and Li Jönsson of the Interactive Institute, in Kista, prototyped a set of lamps, whose light beams expand and contract to visualize various levels of electricity consumption. Built like over-sized flashlights, Watt-Lites are designed explicitly for industrial facilities. They produce light beams big enough to be projected on the ground or against a wall, and they're color-coded to detail current, maximum, and minimum energy consumption. So at any moment, all you've got to do is look down for a picture of how the factory's faring compared with previous usage.

White is a meter of real-time consumption. The beam's diameter waxes and wanes throughout the day. Blue shows your lowest readout and orange your max. They put your real-time consumption in context.

It might seem a little namby-pamby at first — why would a bunch of factory toughs care about some pretty, colored spotlights? — but it's actually a great idea. The industrial sector draws tremendous amounts of energy, yet, by and large, employees have little sense of the magnitude of their carbon footprint. Watt-Lites do what any good infographic does: They convey complex information simply, objectively, and with a frame of reference. Imagine if Broms and Jönsson projected watts consumed in numbers instead. Unless the factory's rife with earnest eco types who follow that kind of stuff religiously, you can be sure it'd produce a roomful of glazed eyeballs. Shapes are much easier to grasp — all the more so here, because they're arranged in a clutch, providing obvious points of comparison. One light beam wouldn't tell you anything. Three tell you a lot. Also: Note that there's no baseline dictating what your consumption ought to be (another way to make people's eyes glaze over). Watt-Lites don't judge. They're just the facts, ma?am.

Certainly, you could argue that the projections are so inconspicuous, workers are just going to ignore them. Truth is, most of the time, you want them to do precisely that. (Maintain productivity, people!) The real question is whether they'll modify behavior — the ultimate goal of this sort of thing, however quietly stated. At the moment, Watt-Lites are being tested in eight Swedish factories. We'll keep you posted.

[Images via Interactive Institute]