David Phillips


A surge protector that unplugs from the wall when you leave your house, saving the environment and money.


Introduction to Physical Computing

Ever worry about saving the environment? No? Did you know that even when your lights and other appliances are turned off they still sap energy just by being plugged in? Now there is a no brainer solution. UnPlug is a light sensitive device that unplugs your utilities when you leave the house.

My initial idea was to utilize biomimicry and have the surge protector push out of the wall with legs. After running into issues with finding proper springs or a linear actuator, I opted for a basic HiTec HS-311 servo motor. There were also issues with with using one Arduino for both the servo and the wave shield, even when the servo was receiving a separate power source, so I opted for a 2nd Arduino.

As an energy saving device this product is marketable to a large range of users, though the target audience would lean towards a younger, more environmentally conscious user. The addition of music, lending a humorous edge, skews UnPlug towards a trendy green demographic.

User Scenario
The user is ready to leave the house and turns off the main light. But what about the surge protector with 6 things still sucking power? Not to worry. UnPlug recognizes the owner has left from the change in light and proceeds to unplug itself to the triumphal sounds of Sprach Zarathustra (2001, A Space Odyssey). The user will have saved money and the planet.

The current iteration is made of 2 Arduinos, a wave shield, a servo motor, a foamcore chassis and 2 recyclable battery supplies.

Short term goals of the project would switch out the input reaction from a photocell to a bluetooth connection, tied in with your cellphone.

Future implementations of the physical device possibly offer a DIY kit, allow the battery supply to be rechargable from the outlet, switch out the foamcore body with thin recycled cardboard, moving from 2 Arduino boards to one, and in the long term, containing the entire body to the size of the outlet.

While going through servo motors, I learned if you use two voltage regulators to provide power, it will double the current to the servo motor. The initial concept included hobgoblins, an escape path and...well, it was a long and involved narrative. Through talking with the residents, I discovered the need for inherent narrative, not something tacked on afterward. The original project would have come across glib. The current iteration has the same possibility, but to a much lesser extent.