The BlackRemote: A Regular Guy Attacks Vampire Power

Omar Lutfey of Loveland Colorado, inventor of the BlackRemote, quickly points out he's "just a regular guy trying to do something that I hope will make the world a better place." The current focus of Lutfey's efforts, a device to completely turn off television and home entertainment equipment, addresses an issue that's off the average person's radar.

"It can be incredibly difficult to know how much an electrical device costs to keep running in standby mode," said Lutfey. On average the entertainment devices in a home account for about 5% of the monthly electric bill when they're turned off, but drawing idle current or "vampire" power. That costs the consumer from $70 to $200 a year and wastes 65 million kWh annually. To state the figure more dramatically, that much power equals the production of 115 Hoover Dams and costs $5.8 billion.

When his project was in the fledgling stages, Lutfey used a measuring device called a Kill-a-Watt to find out exactly where his electrical dollars were going. "I discovered that my PlayStation 2, currently the most widely used video console in the world, has a built-in infrared receiver, even though there was no remote control device that came standard with the unit." Devices with remote controls are the main culprits in phantom energy loss because they "listen" for remote signals even when they're turned off.

"It's easy to assume that if a device doesn't have lights, a clock, or cooling fans running in standby mode that it isn't consuming electricity," said Lutfey. "My own experience has been that any device can consume a surprising amount of current without any outward signs of activity." His solution to this problem is called the BlackRemote, which is plugged into an electrical outlet. The device to be controlled is, in turn, plugged into the BlackRemote. When the monitored device's remote control is placed in the BlackRemote's holster, all power to the monitored device is turned off eliminating the idle current.

Lutfey admits that some electronics "specifically designed to remain running around the clock including Tivo devices, digital video recorders, and cable boxes" are not suited for use with his invention. "Most other devices such as televisions, monitors, audio and video receivers, DVD players, Blu-ray players, and video game consoles are designed to be safely disconnected from their power source when not in use," he said, also pointing out that there are more televisions in the United States than there are people.

Lutfey has filed for a patent for the BlackRemote, a long, complicated process that required the assistance of a patent attorney. He's now waiting out the 18 months required for review and approval. "It can be frustrating to have to wait a year and a half," he said. "Once the patent is approved, I can more aggressively approach electronics companies." He believes his technology could be incorporated into electronic devices such as portable stereos by existing manufacturers or be built to work in tandem with home entertainment systems.

While he's waiting, Lutfey remains committed to the idea that "important changes in the world are made by individuals who care enough to make a difference." In the future he hopes to explore other energy saving avenues. "I believe there are some simple technologies that have the potential to reduce the heating and cooling costs in new home construction," he said, citing radiant floor heating as an example. "We need more common sense in how things get built." In the meantime, he works as a UPS package car driver by day and comes home at night to his wife, daughter, and dog -- just an average guy with above-average ideas.

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