I was asked recently to give a guest lecture about how we use ‘Embedded Intelligence’ in our business. After a few blank looks and a bit of googling I found out that, for us, this meant the use of sensors, controls and building management systems to improve the building for its users and owners. With this in mind I developed a talk on the topic.
The lecture took the students through traditional heating design, its inefficiency and lack of control, through to modern design and how building regulations, the rising cost of energy, and increased expectations of users have all had an impact on how we approach building services design and controls. I also took along one of our new graduates, Ozak Esu, with me when I gave the talk, and this is her view:
Since joining Cundall in November 2014, I have actively been seeking ways to link my PhD research work and possibly applying it to Building Services. My PhD at Loughborough University was on the instrumentation of low-cost consumer electronics for condition monitoring of wind turbine blades. Accompanying Chloe to the talk which coincidentally was at Loughborough University, was the flick of the light switch for me. I found it very interesting how sensors were being used in modern designs for improved energy efficiency, and for potential feedback to designers to improve building designs and educate clients on future projects.
This got me and the students thinking and talking about sensors that could be integrated for monitoring buildings. During discussions, ideas raised included implementing thermal sensors to detect human presence, as opposed to using standard PIR sensors which detect human motion or expensive CO2 sensors, especially in reconfigurable buildings. A room could potentially become able to detect that for instance, two individuals entered the room and can activate services that provide good comfort levels for the exact number of individuals whilst saving energy. Another really exciting discussion was about whether wearable technology will influence the HVAC designs of the future.
Barriers impeding the implementation of embedded intelligence were also discussed during the session, with costs being a major factor. The solution of offering to share the cost of sensors and controls with clients in return for their monitoring data was suggested by a student. The data collected would be fed back to the design team of consultants at Cundall for references on future similar projects, facilitating innovation in sustainable building design. Subsequently, government and regulatory bodies/organisations could be approached with strong evidence which could result in subsidies/benefits for the business whilst setting a benchmark for others within the industry. Indeed very interesting points were raised during discussions, and the engagement of the research students made it worthwhile for me.
It wasn’t just Ozak and the students who found the talk enlightening though. By taking the time to explain to others why we take the approach that we do, we sometimes remind ourselves of the purpose behind our designs. It has certainly served as an eye opening, and exciting reminder to me to watch out for future developments in controls technology to make our buildings more adaptive and efficient. And perhaps those developments will be made by the very students we inspired.