Bucknell University // Assistant Professor of Computer Science
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Participatory Sensing for Energy Efficiency

How many times have you walked into a classroom and it was uncomfortably warm or cold? Did you then open a window to compensate? Large commercial buildings are difficult to keep comfortable because the heating demand is strongly influenced by the occupants. For example, a classroom filled with 100 students requires a lot more ventilation than when it is empty. Unfortunately automatically sensing occupancy is a difficult task. However, almost everyone carries around a smartphone and can quickly and easily sense these environmental problems.

The idea behind participatory sensing is rather than design and build fancy (and expensive) occupancy sensors, we instead rely and the building’s occupants to participate in the sensing process. After all, the occupants are the ones that the building is trying to keep comfortable anyway.

The goal of this project is to develop a simple smartphone (android/iOS/SMS-based) application where building occupants can provide real-time feedback on room-level building comfort. The app would prompt the user to enter the building and room number and then allow them to rate the comfort of the room using a seven-point thermal sensation scale (-3) very cold to (+3) very hot (0 means comfortable; this scale is the “industry standard” for measuring thermal comfort).

These reports would then be collected in a central database for analysis. A web-based interface would then be created to visualize the data. One visualization could be a dynamic overlay of recent thermal comfort reports on the building floorplan. Other visualizations will be developed to show the historical comfort of different rooms at different times of the day. More advanced analyses are also possible by collecting additional data, such as scheduled room occupancy (from the registrar) and weather reports.

The long-term goal for this project is to develop a comfort assessment tool. For now we will collect baseline comfort in campus buildings. In the future we will implement various building control strategies which might impact occupant comfort. The goal is that this tool will allow us to quantitatively measure this impact.