Pull the plug – literally. Plug_It is a device for connecting and terminating data connections. In addition, it is able to switch electrical devices on and off. The concept illustrates how a universal metaphor can improve interaction in the exemplary fields of internet communication and building services.

Initial Thoughts

The ongoing integration of more and more advanced IT technology in our daily life offers fascinating ne possibilities. But this development also causes an increasingly abstract handling: Processes become complex interfaces with artificial gestures to be learned and programmed. A way of overcoming complexity is automation, but this removes all control and autonomy from the user. Plug_It shows how new functionalities can be controlled with an immediately understandable metaphor.

The Plug Metaphor

Pulling a plug of any electric appliance disables it: This is a natural experience inhabitants of industrial countries have made since 50 years. It is an effect that most people learned as infants and still repeat several times a day. Additionally, “to pull the plug” is a widely used idiom for terminating, stopping etc.

Clear Status

The status of a plug is obvious. It is easily recognizable if a connection is established or not. Figuratively spoken, two separated parts form a whole when joined. Related to Plug_It, an loose curve becomes a closed loop.

Strong Feedback

A big advantage of the plug as metaphor is its distinct haptic feedback. In comparison to other control elements pulling a plug requires the user to overcome a big mechanic resistance. The connection will only be terminated if the operating force is big enough. This is a clear and noticeable feedback to the successful disconnection.

High Relevance

When we want to switch off for sure, we pull the plug. This coherence indicates the growing struggle with increasing complexity and furthermore a mistrust towards the technology we can no longer comprehend. But one thing is clear: Pulling the plug is the most radical form of switching off. It is getting to the point that it seems violent, e.g., when you think of computers or gaming consoles.

How it is done

The prototypes are build with Arduino micro controllers that are interconnected via radio frequency. A hidden Arduino inside the Plug_It recognizes if the plug is pulled or reconnected and sends radio signals accordingly. An other Arduino listens to these signals and powers the wall socket on or off or manipulates Skype via USB and Processing. If you want further information please check out this How-it-works.pdf.

When tinkering, keep in mind that high voltage is very dangerous. In the .pdf you find a save workaround for controlling high voltage devices by interposing a remote controlled socket. The use of actual high voltage plugs for projects like that is not recommended because someone might try to use it as an extension cord. So do not do it at all or be sure that nobody can access your prototypes without your supervision.