By eco-interaction, we mean the study of interaction between humans and energy-consuming systems with an eye towards minimizing energy use while preserving an acceptable level of user-perceived benefits.

In this research project, we seek to inform the design of future eco-interaction systems by investigating users’ experiences with home heating and cooling systems.

To date, we have conducted a qualitative study with both manual and programmable thermostat users and another with Nest thermostat users between 2011 and 2013. Both studies consisted of semi-structured interviews augmented by a diary study, for a total of 90 interviews and 508 diary entries. We focused on home heating and cooling systems as it represents a large chunk of overall energy use, making them an interesting and important area of smart home technology.

In our first study [Ubicomp2013], we studied the lived experience of an advanced thermostat, the Nest, which utilizes machine learning, sensing, networking technology, and eco-feedback features. The results show that while the Nest was well-received overall, the intelligent features of the Nest were not perceived to be as useful or intuitive as expected, in particular due to the system’s inability to understand the intent behind sensed behavior and users’ difficulty in understanding how the Nest works. Based on these findings, three avenues for future development of interactive intelligent technologies for the home are proposed: exception flagging, incidental intelligibility, and constrained engagement.

In our second study [CHI2104], we compared people’s interactions with conventional thermostats with interactions with the Nest. One key finding was that the Nest impacted users’ pattern of heating and cooling control, but only for a while, and caused new problems that resulted in unrealized energy savings. Users did not know when and how to enact their control to improve performance of the system. Findings assert that designing more cooperative, collaborative and coordinated interactions between intelligent systems and their users, and figuring out how to sustain those interactions over time is critical to achieve the goals of energy savings.

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Making Sustainability Sustainable: Challenges in the Design of Eco-Interaction Technologies

The smart home is here. One area where smart home devices promise to deliver great benefits is in the control of home heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) systems. In this paper, we seek to inform the design of future heating and cooling systems by investigating users’ experiences with the Nest Learning Thermostat, a commercially available smart home device. We conducted a qualitative study where we compared people’s interactions with conventional thermostats with interactions with the Nest. A key finding was that the Nest impacted users’ pattern of HVAC control, but only for a while, and caused new problems in unrealized energy savings. In leveraging these findings, we create a set of design implications for Eco- Interaction, the design of features and human-system interactions with the goal of saving energy.

Learning from a Learning Thermostat: Lessons for Intelligent Systems for the Home

Everyday systems and devices in the home are becoming smarter. In order to better understand the challenges of deploying an intelligent system in the home, we studied the experience of living with an advanced thermostat, the Nest. The Nest utilizes machine learning, sensing, and networking technology, as well as eco-feedback features. We conducted interviews with 23 participants, ten of whom also participated in a three-week diary study. Our findings show that while the Nest was well-received overall, the intelligent features of the Nest were not perceived to be as useful or intuitive as expected, in particular due to the system’s inability to understand the intent behind sensed behavior and users’ difficulty in understanding how the Nest works. A number of participants developed workarounds for the shortcomings they encountered. Based on our observations, we propose three avenues for future development of interactive intelligent technologies for the home: exception flagging, incidental intelligibility, and constrained engagement.

Publications

Making Sustainability Sustainable: Challenges in the Design of Eco-Interaction Technologies
Rayoung Yang, Mark Newman, Jodi Forlizzi
CHI 2014
pdf

Learning from a Learning Thermostat: Lessons for Intelligent Systems for the Home
Rayoung Yang, Mark Newman
UbiComp 2013
pdf