Retreating from the heat to a pleasant, temperature-controlled environment is one of modern life’s joys. Living in tropical Southeast Asia, it’s right up there with a good meal and good company. But in environments such as an office, food court or shopping center, it’s a delicate balancing act.
How do you set the air-conditioning to maximize comfort when everyone’s preferences vary? Get two people in a room and opinions will differ about the optimal temperature. It’s no wonder that during their 2000 wedding Brad Pitt vowed to Jennifer Aniston to “split the difference on the thermostat”.
Facing a mission impossible
Throw more people in the mix and keeping them all happy is almost impossible. Especially in large public spaces with dynamic occupancy. Think food courts or traditional Singaporean coffee shops – kopi tiams. If it’s empty, you need snow gear, but swelter when it’s full.
The one-size-fits-all approach is out of step with our era of customizable user experiences. We select our preferences to suit our needs in many aspects of life. Now, the Internet of Things (IoT) adds temperature to the mix.
The IoT involves connecting smart and sensor-enabled devices to communicate via the internet. This enables remote control. It also collects the usage data that lets you make better decisions, or automate processes. Is it possible, I wondered, to harness IoT to make the air-conditioning in public spaces smarter? This would make it more comfortable for users and better for both the budget and environment.
Getting it just right
My colleagues from our Corporate Research team and I decided to find out. Our guinea pig was a place as close to our hearts as thermal comfort: the canteen at Bosch Singapore.
This isn’t because it’s always too hot or cold (honestly!). But it gave us an environment where we could test our idea and see how it worked. Given that Singaporeans love food courts almost as much as they love food, it’s easy to see the benefits for them. It could also reduce energy costs and CO2 emissions.
Energy-efficient ceiling fans connected to the cloud can be remotely adjusted to direct air flow. When diners press a button, it changes the fan speed and temperature settings. This is done via a telemetry message to the Bosch IoT Suite running on the Bosch IoT Cloud.
Creating the right environment
Automation has reached a point where wireless technologies become commodities. A coin cell battery now powers radio modules and some sensors for years. Shaking off a location or large battery makes devices mobile.
With such advancements also comes complexities and challenges. Mobility can create connectivity loss, service quality drops and data loss. Bosch IoT Things – one of the cloud services of the Bosch IoT Suite – solves these problems. It acts as the proxy between the physical and the virtual world. Applications are decoupled from complex connectivity and state management tasks.
Applying this to our canteen, the Bosch IoT Things’ central registry features a digital twin of the fans and sensors. This creates near-real time representation of a device online. It means you can communicate with it regardless of the device’s connectivity status.The system collects data from the digital twin and uses an algorithm to calculate the optimum set points for both the fans and the air-conditioning system. This is then relayed to devices.
To see how well it was working, we set up a feedback panel at the canteen entrance. Users could rate whether the temperature was too cold or hot. Since we wanted to create a better experience for diners and lower energy consumption, we needed to check they were happy with the result.
Good for the planet, too
Through the addition of ceiling fans, we could increase the canteen thermostat from 24.5°C to around 26°C and the feedback from diners remained positive. This temperature change almost halved the canteen’s cooling demands. We estimate that this will not only save around 4,000 SGD annually but reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than eight tons.
Our building undergoes regular certification under the BCA Singapore Green Mark scheme. We hope that projects like this will show how seriously we take our responsibilities in this area. A screen in the canteen is displaying a dashboard of the energy savings. Now Bosch associates can see the difference they are making every lunch time.
This is clearly a project that will have application in Singapore and beyond. It also demonstrates something we believe passionately – the IoT is not some remote futuristic concept and many of the solutions are already within reach.