More artificial intelligence for smart meters

Intelligent electricity meters offer insights into smart homes – benefiting the residents. Where older people live alone, their electricity consumption data can be used to determine whether they are in good health. They can also help us to reduce the risk of high electricity bills. As a doctoral student at the DECIDE doctoral school, Hafsa Bousbiat is researching models that make optimal use of the new possibilities.

Intelligent electricity meters, so-called smart meters, provide regular data on domestic electricity consumption. If the data is transmitted within a relatively tight timeframe, it is possible to deduce when and which electronic devices are switched on in the household. This does not require a separate intermediate meter for each appliance, as Hafsa Bousbiat explains when asked how you can tell whether the television or washing machine is on: “That’s where the magic happens. This is where artificial intelligence helps us. Using certain models, we can relate the electricity consumption to different devices.”

In the course of her work on her doctoral thesis at the doctoral school DECIDE (Decision-making in a digital environment), she would like to improve and adapt the available models in order to achieve greater accuracy and less margin for error in the allocation process. After all: “This improves confidence in the system.“ For the users of such smart homes, the benefits are obvious: Older people can live at home for longer, even with relatives living further away. If someone reliably prepares food around the same time each day, you know that everything is all right. However, watching television between one and four o’clock in the morning night after night may indicate insomnia. Ultimately this information can be used to support health and care services.

The second possible benefit lies in the provision of information to consumers: If I know that the electricity is more expensive between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., I will be less likely to switch on the washing machine at that time. Due to certain peak hours during the day, electricity is sometimes more expensive, while at night it can be provided more cheaply. A washing machine that is turned on at night is therefore cheaper for the consumer in the long run.  It is also conceivable to use automatic systems that leave the control to the electricity supplier.

We inquire of Hafsa Bousbiat whether this might not also involve surveillance of the customers. Bousbiat has studied the literature dealing with the acceptance of such systems and has gained useful insights: “Yes, there are some sceptics. But many more welcome the new technical possibilities and the benefits they can bring.” The doctoral student firmly believes: “We are living in a digital world today. If you take advantage of the benefits of these systems – while also saving money – you will come to appreciate the new technologies.”

Hafsa Bousbiat has been in Austria for the past year, having previously completed her Masters in Computer Science in Algiers. She is firmly committed to the noble goals of science: “We dedicate our lives to making the world a better place. I consider this to be an important mission.” If successful, she would like to remain in the academic sphere after completing her doctorate. She appreciates Klagenfurt because of the tranquillity she enjoys here: Here, she says, as a scientist she can concentrate on her own work.

A few words with … Hafsa Bousbiat

What would you be doing now, if you hadn’t become a scientist?

Well, there are many interesting careers that I would have loved to do but the first thing that popped up to my mind was to become a social entrepreneur.

Do your parents understand what it is you are working on?

I would say that they only have a broad idea of what I am doing, nevertheless, that never prevented them from being very supportive and encouraging all the way along.

What’s the first thing you do when you get to the office in the morning?

I check my calendar, have a quick overview on my notebook to plan my daily to-do list.

Do you have proper holidays? Without thinking about your work?

I do have proper holidays that I spend home, in Algiers, with my family but as any scientist me and my work are inseparable. I find my self constantly thinking about new ways to improve my work.

What makes you furious?

Disrespect between people.

And what calms you down?

Talking with my siblings and my friends.

Who do you regard as the greatest scientist in history, and why?

Well, I think all scientist are great. All of them try to improve the world we live in somehow. However, if you ask about a scientist that I am eager to work with, my answer would be Yann LeCun, one of godfathers of AI and the founding father of convolutional networks.

What are you afraid of?

The thing that I am afraid of the most is to die without leaving a good trace in the world.

What are you looking forward to?

I am looking forward to becoming Dr. Bousbiat 🙂