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Embedding intelligent eco-aware systems within everyday things to increase people’s energy awareness


There is a lack of energy consumption awareness in working spaces. People in their workplaces do not receive energy consumption feedback nor do they pay a monthly invoice to electricity providers. In order to enhance workers’ energy awareness, we have transformed everyday shared electrical appliances which are placed in common spaces (e.g. beamer projectors, coffee-makers, printers, screens, portable fans, kettles, and so on) into persuasive eco-aware everyday things. The proposed approach lets these appliances report their usage patterns to a Cloud-server where the data are transformed into time-series and then processed to obtain the appliances’ next-week usage forecast. Autoregressive integrated moving average model has been selected as the potentially most accurate method for processing such usage predictions when compared with the performance exhibited by three different configurations of Artificial neural networks. Our major contribution is the application of soft computing techniques to the field of sustainable persuasive technologies. Thus, consumption predictions are used to trigger timely persuasive interactions to help device users to operate the appliances as efficiently, energy-wise, as possible. Qualitative and quantitative results were gathered in a between-three-groups study related with the use of shared electrical coffee-makers at workplace. The goal of these studies was to assess the effectiveness of the proposed eco-aware design in a workplace environment in terms of energy saving and the degree of affiliation between people and the smart appliances to create a green-team relationship.

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    A complete model description and the whole selection criteria was thoroughly described in López-de-Armentia et al. (2014).


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The authors are very grateful to the University of Deusto for the financial support to their Ph.D. studies and also to the project Future Internet II (IE11-316) supported by the Basque Government.

Author information

Correspondence to Diego Casado-Mansilla.

Additional information

Communicated by A. Jara, M.R. Ogiela, I. You and F.-Y. Leu.



ANNs as a soft computing technique are widely used as forecasting models in many areas. ANNs are data-driven, self-adaptive methods with few prior assumptions. They are also good predictors with the ability to make generalised observations from the results learnt from original data, thereby permitting correct inference of the latent part of the population. The wide use of ANNs is due to their very efficient performance in solving nonlinear problems including those in real world. This is in contrast to ARIMA, which assume that the series are generated from linear processes and as a result might be inappropriate for most real-world problems that are nonlinear (Adebiyi et al. 2014). Although ANNs have provided competitive results when compared with ARIMA models (Khashei and Bijari 2010), we have evidenced that in our specific case, the ARIMA-based model performs better when using the Mean Absolute Error (MAE), Root Mean Squared Error (RMSE), Mean Absolute Scaled Error (MASE) and Mean Absolute Percentage Error (MAPE) comparative metrics.

ANNs in a nutshell

An ANN is an interconnected group of nodes able to approximate a functional relationship between input and output variables in a certain domain of interest. Using the analogy with human neural networks, the nodes, that compose the ANN, are said neurons and the directed edges which communicate them are called synapses. The neurons are organised in layers which are usually fully connected by synapses. Each of the synapses is attached to a weight indicating the effect of the corresponding neuron in the whole model. The data pass through the neural network as signals. They are first processed by the so-called integration function combining all incoming signals (usually a summation); and second, they are processed by the so-called activation function obtaining the output of the neuron. A neural network with zero hidden layers is a linear expansion. The general model of a neural network usually has three layers (one is the hidden layer) with a single output. It is represented by the following equation:

$$\begin{aligned} o(x) = f\left( w_0 + \sum _{j=1}^q w_j \cdot f\left( w_{0j} + \sum _{i=1}^n w_{ij} x_i\right) \right) \end{aligned}$$

where \(w_{ij}\) \((i=1,2,\ldots ,n; j=1,2,\ldots q)\) and \(w_j\) are the weights of synapses; n is the number of input nodes and q is the number hidden nodes; f is the activation function. The definition of an ANN predictive model consists in determining the weights that provide the best fitting of the real data through usage of learning algorithms (Khashei and Bijari 2010).

ANN’s topology selection

This process encompasses the selection of the number of hidden layers, as well as the number of input, hidden and output neurons in each layer. As the model creation is driven by the data, we overview the shape of our time series. Our dataset which is openly availableFootnote 6 consisted of (1) the training-set with the number of coffees prepared throughout each of the one-hour slots (starting at 7.00 a.m. and ending at 7.00 p.m) in 18 working days (weekends excluded). (2) The test-set which is the same type of data corresponding to the 5 consecutive working days; (3) 5 more working days of real data to test the models’ performance.

Taking into account that one hidden layer is sufficient to model any piece-wise continuous function as stated by Hornik et al. (1989), we have chosen to use only one hidden layer in our model. Regarding the input layer, we have modelled the neural network with five input variables (i.e. five input neurons) that represent the number of coffees counted in the same hour slot along five consecutive days (from Monday to Friday). In the output layer we have decided to use only one neuron. It represents the number of predicted coffees that are prone to be prepared in the same hour-slot of those of the input nodes.

The idea of the proposed model is to feed it with a window of 5 working days of data (i.e. 12 vectors of 5 values each) to obtain the next-day forecast (i.e. a 12 values vector), slide the window forthward one day, including the previous predicted day, and perform again the prediction (See Fig. 6). To clarify, if we feed the model with 5 values corresponding with the coffees prepared in one hour slot from Monday to Friday, we will expect to obtain the forecasted number of coffees from the next Monday at the corresponding slot. If we do the same form Tuesday of the previous week until Monday of the current week, we will expect to obtain Tuesday’s forecasted number of coffees. If we slide again we will obtain the Wednesday forecast. So we repeat this process until the whole week is predicted.

Fig. 6

The sliding window of 5 working days of data used to predict the next-day coffee intakes forecast. The process is repeated until the whole week is completed

ANN’s training phase

To select the most accurate model to compare it with ARIMA, we tested three different training configurations with respect to the number of hidden neurons: 5:2:1 (i.e. two hidden neurons); 5:5:1 (i.e. five hidden neurons); and 5:10:1 (i.e. ten hidden neurons). The training of the network is performed applying resilient backpropagation as a learning algorithm. The training-set is composed by the coffees counted in each hour slot during 18 working days. Therefore, we train the ANN with 36 input vectors of five values each (15 days) and another 36 output vector of one value each (3 days). In this phase, the ANN calculates in an iterative manner the output for each given inputs, it measures the difference between the predicted and given output (i.e. the error) and it uses this error to modify the weights. All the three model configurations were, respectively, trained with 10 epochs using the same training-set and learning algorithm.

Testing phase and model selection

The last phase is the testing session. The test-set was composed by the coffees counted in one week. As the neural network model provides only one output, the execution of one test session is repeated by applying the sliding window approach of Fig. 6.

To determine the best performing structure, we have calculated the different prediction errors for each of the models: RMSE, MAPE, MAE and MASE. They are shown in Table 4. For each neural network configuration these metrics were computed using the predicted values and the remaining five days of real data of our dataset.

In all evaluated indexes, ANN_2 (two hidden nodes) has smaller values than the other ANNs. However, assuming a Gaussian error distribution for our predictions, we have used the root-mean-squared-error (RMSE) to determine the best performing structure as was suggested by Chai and Draxler (2014). Table 4 shows that the RMSE value of testing error is 1.6278 for the configuration 5:2:1, while it is 2.3614 and 2.0953, respectively, for the neural networks’ structures with five and ten hidden nodes. The smallest RMSE bares the best neural network configuration. Therefore, we can conclude that for the time series data we had, the most accurate predictive model, when forecasting the weekly usage of a coffee machine, was a network with two nodes in the hidden layer (Table 4).

Table 4 Comparison of forecasting models

ARIMA outperforms ANN 5:2:1

In a previous authors’ publication we performed a forecasting model selection that better fitted with our specific time series data.Footnote 7 The selected model was an ARIMA (3; 1; 1)(2; 0; 2) which is an ARIMA model with a seasonal part (also called SARIMA). This model was chosen since it presented the smallest Akaike’s Information Criterion (AIC) and because it did not present autocorrelations in the residuals. These two criterion demonstrated that the model provides an adequate fit to the data.

To compare the models’ autocorrelated structure performance, we have confronted the ARIMA error measurements with regard to the three ANN configurations previously discussed. According to Table 4, ARIMA has the lowest percentage error in each of the metrics calculated. In view of the results, we consider that ARIMA is the a suitable forecasting technique for the coffee-maker appliance’s usage.

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Casado-Mansilla, D., López-de-Armentia, J., Ventura, D. et al. Embedding intelligent eco-aware systems within everyday things to increase people’s energy awareness. Soft Comput 20, 1695–1711 (2016).

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  • Eco-aware everyday things
  • Persuasive eco-feedback
  • Energy awareness
  • Machine learning
  • Time series
  • ARIMA models