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TED2009

John La Grou: A plug for smart power outlets

February 6, 2009

John La Grou unveils an ingenious new technology that will smarten up the electrical outlets in our homes, using microprocessors and RFID tags. The invention, Safeplug, promises to prevent deadly accidents like house fires -- and to conserve energy.

John La Grou - Inventor
John La Grou, a long-time electronics inventor, audio designer and entrepreneur, wants to save lives (and energy) with a new, smarter type of electrical outlet. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
This is a world-changing invention.
00:18
The smoke alarm has saved perhaps hundreds of thousands
00:21
of lives, worldwide.
00:24
But smoke alarms don't prevent fires.
00:26
Every year in the USA, over 20,000 are killed or injured
00:30
with 350,000 home fires.
00:33
And one of the main causes of all these fires is electricity.
00:35
What if we could prevent electrical fires
00:39
before they start?
00:42
Well, a couple of friends and I figured out how to do this.
00:44
So how does electricity ignite residential fires?
00:47
Well it turns out that the main causes
00:51
are faulty and misused appliances and electrical wiring.
00:53
Our invention had to address all of these issues.
00:56
So what about circuit breakers?
01:00
Well, Thomas Edison invented the circuit breaker in 1879.
01:02
This is 130-year-old technology,
01:06
and this is a problem, because over 80 percent
01:09
of all home electrical fires
01:12
start below the safety threshold of circuit breakers.
01:14
Hmmm ...
01:17
So we considered all of this. And we realized
01:19
that electrical appliances
01:21
must be able to communicate directly
01:23
with the power receptacle itself.
01:25
Any electrical device -- an appliance, an extension cord, whatever --
01:27
must be able to tell the power outlet,
01:31
"Hey, power outlet,
01:33
I'm drawing too much current. Shut me off now, before I start a fire."
01:35
And the power outlet needs to be smart enough to do it.
01:39
So here is what we did. We put a 10-cent digital transponder,
01:43
a data tag, in the appliance plug.
01:48
And we put an inexpensive, wireless data reader inside the receptacle
01:51
so they could communicate.
01:55
Now, every home electrical system
01:57
becomes an intelligent network.
01:59
The appliance's safe operating parameters
02:02
are embedded into its plug.
02:04
If too much current is flowing,
02:07
the intelligent receptacle turns itself off,
02:09
and prevents another fire from starting.
02:11
We call this technology EFCI,
02:14
Electrical Fault Circuit Interrupter.
02:16
Okay, two more points. Every year in the USA,
02:19
roughly 2,500 children
02:21
are admitted to emergency rooms for shock and burn injuries
02:24
related to electrical receptacles. And this is crazy.
02:27
An intelligent receptacle prevents injuries
02:31
because the power is always off,
02:34
until an intelligent plug is detected. Simple.
02:36
Now, besides saving lives,
02:40
perhaps the greatest benefit of intelligent power
02:42
is in its energy savings.
02:44
This invention will reduce global energy consumption
02:46
by allowing remote control and automation
02:49
of every outlet in every home and business.
02:52
Now you can choose to reduce your home energy bill
02:55
by automatically cycling heavy loads
02:58
like air conditioners and heaters.
03:00
Hotels and businesses can shut down unused rooms
03:03
from a central location, or even a cell phone.
03:06
There are 10 billion electrical outlets
03:09
in North America alone.
03:12
The potential energy savings is very, very significant.
03:14
So far we've applied for 414 patent claims.
03:18
Of those, 186 have been granted:
03:22
228 are in process.
03:25
And I'm pleased to announce that just three weeks ago
03:27
we received our first international recognition,
03:30
the 2009 CES Innovation Award.
03:33
So, to conclude,
03:37
intelligent power can, globally, save thousands of lives,
03:39
prevent tens of thousands of injuries,
03:43
and eliminate tens of billions of dollars in property damage
03:45
every single year,
03:49
while significantly reducing global energy consumption.
03:51
In the spirit of this year's TED Conference,
03:54
we think this is a powerful, world-changing invention.
03:56
And I'd like to thank Chris for this opportunity
03:59
to unveil our technology with you, and soon the world.
04:02
Thank you.
04:05
(Applause)
04:06

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John La Grou - Inventor
John La Grou, a long-time electronics inventor, audio designer and entrepreneur, wants to save lives (and energy) with a new, smarter type of electrical outlet.

Why you should listen

John La Grou is a patent holder and research engineer on Safeplug, a new brand of electrical fault circuit interrupters. The Safeplug technology, which combines microprocessors in power outlets and RFID tags in electrical plugs, might just represent the next generation in residential and commercial electrical delivery. Besides conserving massive amounts of energy, Safeplug promises to save lives and prevent injuries by making the electrical systems in our homes "smart."

La Grou is also CEO of Millennia Group, an audio design and manufacturing company that produces audio components held as the gold standard among professional musicians and producers.

The original video is available on TED.com
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