Open Exhibits Blog



A Smart Choice for Exhibit Design: Smart Strips

Smart StripWe’ve written before about some good ways to make your museum exhibit greener and I’d like to offer a few specifics on a type of device mentioned in that post: smart power strips. Not quite the intelligence level of Skynet, but some of them offer very cool features that almost anyone (with basic computer knowledge) can take advantage of.

How ‘smart’ are these devices? Let’s have a look at a few we’ve come across and tested in the lab.

The original Smart Strip, by Bits Limited, is a relay-based power strip that controls a number of outlets by monitoring the voltage on a main outlet. Once the ‘control’ device is powered on, the slave outlets become active. This is very handy when you have a computer that controls other devices, such as monitors, projectors, printers, etc.. The downside: voltage differences in different locations. The Smart Strip has a small adjusting switch to change the threshold at which the controlled outlets will turn on. Not every building’s voltage on a given circuit will continuously stay the same. A small difference of 1 or 2 volts can make this device a pain instead of a boon. If you happen to be running your George Foreman grill cooking up some goodness on a plug down the way, your monitor may not turn on when your computer powers up. While not a huge hassle, this can turn into a big problem in certain situations where powering a device on at the right time is very important.

USB-controlled power strips, like the Ecostrip 2.0, could be the answer to your power saving/controlling needs if you run into dodgy voltage issues. This power strip claims to turn on the controlled outlets when power is applied to the computer. While this is true to a degree, it’s not completely true. Most motherboards these days enter an S5 power state when they are ‘powered off.’ While in S5, these boards still provide power to certain things like a network card (so it can respond to Wake-on-Lan commands), modems, keyboards (via PS/2), and yes… USB. As an out of the box solution, this may not be the strip to use.

A programmable smart strip offers the most control over your devices. Enter Power USB. We were able to get one of these devices to try out in the lab. This strip looks much like the EcoStrip, but packs an interesting punch. Power USB can be controlled by a small application in Windows, and also has a command line tool that can be implemented into startup/shutdown scripts within Windows. These tools are used to switch 2 of the strips 4 outlets on or off. Power USB also offers their software API, so if you’ve got some C++ knowledge, you can whip up your own tool to control the 2 outlets on the strip. These devices offer different types of control over electronics.


by View all posts by Chris Steinmetz on November 4, 2010