ONR Research Helps Navy
November 29, 2016
With support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR),
engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have
designed a portable measurement system to precisely and cheaply
monitor the amount of electricity used by individual household
appliances, lighting fixtures and electronic devices.
"Supporting research that targets key military and national energy
challenges is a vital component of ONR's mission, which is to drive
technology advancements," said Dr. Richard Carlin, head of ONR's Sea
Warfare and Weapons Department. "Projects like this have the
potential to address broad energy needs."
support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), researchers at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology have designed a portable
measurement system to precisely and cheaply monitor the amount of
electricity used by individual household appliances, lighting
fixtures and electronic devices.
The system was developed by Dr. Steven Leeb, an MIT engineering
professor, and Dr. John Donnal, one of Leeb's graduate students and
a former U.S. Army captain. It comprises five postage stamp-sized
sensors placed above or near power lines coming into a house. The
sensors are designed to be self-calibrating--enabling them to
automatically pinpoint the strongest electrical signals.
The system can distinguish between each type of light, appliance and
device based on unique signatures; which ones turn on and off; and
how often and at what times. It then displays this data in real time
on an app that allows users to focus on specific time
segments--revealing when, for example, a refrigerator goes into its
defrost cycle, or how regularly a water heater switches on and off
"There are already ways to monitor household energy use," said Leeb,
"but they involve hiring a licensed electrician or cutting through
power lines or pipes to attach expensive, specialized equipment.
With our system, you can install non-contact sensors using zip ties
or even velcro, and use signal processing to measure power
consumption. It's fast, easy and much less expensive. It also could
serve as a way to tell when equipment needs maintenance or
While the benefits to civilians are obvious, the system could be a
valuable tool for the military. Consider a forward operating base in
a combat zone, for example. Using MIT's technology not only could
generate major savings in fuel or power--it also may safeguard the
lives of warfighters responsible for base resupply.
"The military is an ideal customer for this technology," said Donnal.
"At a forward operating base, fuel conservation is paramount.
Heating and air-conditioning thermostats run too high or too low.
Large tents are heated all day during winter, even if they're
unoccupied during daytime hours.
"Or take the case of a Navy vessel," he continued. "By cutting back
on fuel and power consumption, a vessel might be able to sail for
longer periods of time before needing replenishment. Having a way to
track energy usage in real time would be extremely valuable."
Leeb is conducting at-sea tests of the system aboard three U.S.
Coast Guard cutters based in the Boston area, to mirror some of the
conditions and challenges facing Navy vessels. Donnal, an assistant
professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, plans additional tests on the
training ships the school uses to teach midshipmen navigation and
Leeb's research is
part of the Naval Enterprise Partnership Teaming with Universities
for National Excellence initiative, or NEPTUNE, conducted by ONR and
the Department of the Navy.
NEPTUNE's goals are to help the Navy and Marine Corps discover ways
to improve energy conservation, generate renewable energy and
implement energy-efficient technologies--while giving active-duty
military, military students and veterans the chance to immerse
themselves in university-level research.