Smart home heating and cooling

August 28, 2015 by Rob Matheson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Credit: Christine Daniloff/MIT

Smart temperature-control devices—such as thermostats that learn and adjust to pre-programmed temperatures—are poised to increase comfort and save energy in homes.

Now MIT spinout Ecovent is further refining this technology with an automated system of vents and sensors that allows control of individual rooms through an app—and which has surprising connections to missile-defense technology.

Ecovent's system is centered on smart vents that homeowners install in place of traditional vents. They then plug one sensor into each room, place a control hub anywhere in the house, and input the desired temperatures for each room into a smartphone app. The sensors constantly measure a room's temperature, and relay that information to the hub, which tells the vents how much to open or close. The system also learns behavior, so it eventually adjusts to the users' preferences.

A system for a four-bedroom home—with a current cost of around $2,100—can be installed in any of the 74 million U.S. households currently using central heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Ecovent will begin shipping their $1.2 million in preorders in the next few weeks.

While Ecovent aims primarily to increase comfort, a long-term goal is curbing energy usage in homes, says co-founder and CEO Dipul Patel MBA '14, who invented the system at MIT after years of programming the extremely fast and accurate radars used to track and destroy missiles for Lockheed Martin. Today's HVAC systems, Patel says, dump air into homes indiscriminately, wasting energy by heating or cooling vacant rooms.

"Companies today are focused on more efficiency in cars, phones, and electronics," Patel says. "But you look at a house and it's [inefficient] from the ground up."

Homes with Ecovent systems, Patel estimates, could save roughly 10 to 15 percent on their utility bills. Over the next year, the company plans to put its systems "through the ringer," he says, to nail down the exact percentage.

By turning a home traditionally controlled by only one temperature gauge—the thermostat—into a distributed sensor network, Ecovent is trying to change "the backbone of the home," Patel adds.

Other Ecovent co-founders are chief operating officer Yoel Kelman MBA '14; chief technology officer Nick Lancaster, who previously built control systems for missile defense at Lockheed; and chief information officer Shawn Rose, a former engineer of weapon systems.

Homes as battlefields

Mapping temperatures in homes and rooms is a very complex science, Patel says. Homes differ in sizes, floor plans, external climate, window quality, and number of residents, among other things, which make determining temperatures very difficult.

But Ecovent's system factors in all variables that impact temperatures even minutely, in fractions of a second, and adjusts accordingly. The sensors can detect, for instance, heat from sun shining into rooms, or from cooking. The system will also calibrate if sensors are plugged into areas that could affect readings, such as behind furniture or near windows.

The system's robust design is due, in large part, to the co-founders' backgrounds in missile defense, Patel says—which involved creating algorithms to make sense of tons of raw data quickly. At Lockheed, Patel worked on phased array radars used to locate and intercept incoming missiles on the battlefield or in space; Lancaster, now key developer for Ecovent's algorithms, designed the intercepting missiles.

While it may sound strange, Patel says, the programming feats used for share remarkable similarities with those used to for Ecovent's plug-in sensors: Both jobs require detecting signatures, patterns, and anomalies—just in different sets of data.

"With both, you're using very curated sets of sensors and putting them in a highly unknown environment," Patel says. "In the military space, your enemy is trying to confuse you, so the technology has to be very robust. By virtue of how people are, the home is very confusing: We seldom have schedules or patterns. You need to develop robust systems to understand those variables too."

MIT: The game changer

Patel came to the MIT Sloan School of Management in 2012 specifically to develop and commercialize smart vents. He'd come up with the idea after trying to save money in his New Jersey home by shutting off some air vents. When his mother visited, he once forgot to open the vents again, and she froze all night without sleep.

Within a few months at MIT Sloan, Patel's business had taking shape. "Everything that seemed impossible suddenly seemed reachable," he says. "There's something special that happens at MIT—it's a game-changer."

In one of his first classes, Patel met Kelman, an enthusiastic entrepreneur who fleshed out Ecovent's business plan and strategy.

In January 2013, Patel brought the business idea to StartIAP, a startup accelerator held over MIT's winter break. This led Rose—Patel's old friend from college—to fly from Philadelphia to help design a prototype.

By the end of StartIAP, Rose and Patel had designed four small vents, controlled by a basic Web app, that opened or closed to maintain temperatures in each room of a four-room dollhouse. This prototype later earned Patel and Kelman a $1,000 prize from the 2013 $100K Pitch Contest.

Throughout his two years at MIT Sloan, Patel says he received mentorship from MIT's Venture Mentoring Service, endless support from classmates, and "took every startup class under the sun."

A particularly memorable lesson in marketing came from an entrepreneurship class taught by senior lecturer Paul English, co-founder and former of the travel search engine KAYAK. While he had initially marketed Ecovent as a money-saver, Patel soon realized, through English's lectures on value proposition, that its real worth was in personal comfort.

"It was so jarring," Patel says. "The pain point of paying the air conditioning bill is small. What [English] taught me was the comfort in the house is what sucks. Ecovent would make that suck less."

Diagnosing HVAC

In the future, Patel sees the Ecovent system as a potential diagnostic tool for homeowners to identify and fix issues with existing HVAC systems.

In fact, Patel says, Ecovent found critical faults in three test homes. In one, he says, the system measured the temperature coming out of one duct as being dangerously high—close to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the vents were in the ceiling, the homeowner never knew.

It was later discovered that the furnace was overheating and near cracking, which could have cost thousands to repair and potentially leaked deadly carbon monoxide into the house. "We've shown we have the science to make systematic improvements in the house as we go forward," Patel says.

Explore further: Novel stem cell approach promising for heart failure

Related Stories

Novel stem cell approach promising for heart failure

August 3, 2015

(HealthDay)—A new method for delivering stem cells to damaged heart muscle has shown early promise in treating severe heart failure, researchers report online July 27 in Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

One test for all infections

April 20, 2015

If you're returning from abroad with a fever, your doctor will likely test you for malaria. You'll give multiple blood samples at the lab, and if the results are inconclusive, you'll face yet another round of tests.

Phone app for managing heart disease

April 1, 2013

A new smart phone app that helps patients manage heart disease and stay out of the hospital has been developed by a team led by a Rutgers–Camden nursing student.

Engineering prosthetic voices

December 10, 2013

"Never heard me before." That's what William, a 9-year-old boy with a speech-language disorder, said the first time he used the prosthetic voice that Northeastern associate professor Rupal Patel made just for him.

Recommended for you

Technology near for real-time TV political fact checks

January 18, 2019

A Duke University team expects to have a product available for election year that will allow television networks to offer real-time fact checks onscreen when a politician makes a questionable claim during a speech or debate.

Privacy becomes a selling point at tech show

January 7, 2019

Apple is not among the exhibitors at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, but that didn't prevent the iPhone maker from sending a message to attendees on a large billboard.

China's Huawei unveils chip for global big data market

January 7, 2019

Huawei Technologies Ltd. showed off a new processor chip for data centers and cloud computing Monday, expanding into new and growing markets despite Western warnings the company might be a security risk.

24 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

SamB
5 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2015
I believe that industry is chasing a problem that does not exist. A simple thermostat is fine for 99% of the population and the fact that a bedroom is a little cooler than the rest of the house is usually not a problem. I will not be buying technology to check and change the room temperatures in my home. (Silly use of sophisticated technologies)
RichTheEngineer
4 / 5 (4) Aug 28, 2015
No different than traditional VAV technologies. Cost is in actuators and installation, not in "smarts".
david_king
5 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2015
If we simply adopted the passive house standard that's becoming the norm in northern Europe we would see energy savings closer to 90% and at a cost that's equivalent to what this system costs now. If we really want to slow our fossil fuel use we need to rethink our construction methods literally from the ground up.
Equating "smart" heating and cooling systems with comfort is just dumb when you can eliminate them and their noise, their drafts, their complexity and their lifetime operating costs from the start.
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Aug 28, 2015
david king, that requires standards. Our conservatives think standards impinge on their "freedom".

We will get standards when we "pry them from their cold dead hands". Yeah, I am mixing messages, but the mental-set is the same.
ab3a
5 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2015
gkam, did it ever occur to you that just as artists tend to be leftist liberals, Engineers tend to be right wing conservatives? It's real. Did it ever occur to you that Engineers like me volunteer our time to write these standards?

The most charitable thing I can say here is that you are making up your own reality. Please get a life.
j_huddy
5 / 5 (1) Aug 29, 2015
ab3a, it's understandable that you're upset to be lumped in with those who are opposed to change (no matter how sensible or necessary).
But tell me whether the following viewpoints are *typically* conservative or liberal:
Opposition to taxes
Opposition to (big) government
Opposition to regulation
Opposition to change

There are outliers, and you clearly are one, but I hardly think one is necessarily in a fictional reality if they associate conservatives with adversity to change.
Worth noting: It's essentially your choice to define yourself as a full-blooded conservative and thus be offended by such observations. Maybe you should check what that definition entails, since you don't seem to associate with one of their perceived core values.

(As for engineers being right wing conservatives, I think you'll find that "old white guys" tend to be right-wing conservatives; the field is just dominated by that demographic. Engineering does not have an inherent political bias)
gkam
1 / 5 (3) Aug 29, 2015
I know the engineers to which ab3a refers. When they called me for help they made fun of my shoes. Their tiny little egos demanded it.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Aug 29, 2015
I know the engineers to which ab3a refers. When they called me for help they made fun of my shoes. Their tiny little egos demanded it.
Hey george tell us that bullshit again about how residential swimming pools are commonly used to cool houses.

Ahaahaaaaa that was a goody.
gkam
2 / 5 (4) Aug 29, 2015
Hey, otto, why don't you show us your adolescent fixation on damaging the character of the guy who beat you at your own silly game?

I referenced the article, which did not say it was common. I used it as a reference of what can be done on a larger scale. If you cannot keep up with the discussion because of your silly anger, then go to a site for kids.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Aug 29, 2015
Hey, otto, why don't you show us your adolescent fixation on damaging the character of the guy who beat you at your own silly game?

I referenced the article, which did not say it was common. I used it as a reference of what can be done on a larger scale. If you cannot keep up with the discussion because of your silly anger, then go to a site for kids.
Sure you did. You said it was in common use.

You lied again.

So easy for a psychopath isnt it?
ab3a
5 / 5 (2) Aug 30, 2015
As for engineers being right wing conservatives, I think you'll find that "old white guys" tend to be right-wing conservatives; the field is just dominated by that demographic. Engineering does not have an inherent political bias)


Neither does art. And yet:

Engineering is very much an evolutionary discipline. If you design a fancy new kind of active structure for a building, it better damned well work exactly as expected or many people will die. Engineers try not to change too many things at once. They try to rely upon smaller scale experience first. This is a conservative outlook that tends to spill over in to other points of view.

However, if you perform a new style of music, the worst that could happen is that people are offended.

Dismissing this reasoning as old white males talking is an insult to the people I know in this profession. It's not about race, gender, or any circumstance of birth.
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 31, 2015
One does not need a smart home if it is properly built or modified. Our systems are very efficient now, and with my condensing furnace and increased insulation, in this climate I do not need A/C even when it gets really hot. Part of that is because of the cooling breezes we get at night, which I direct to flushing out the hot air.

A structure oriented to the Sun and taking advantage of the environmental characteristics of the local area can require little additional heat or cooling.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Aug 31, 2015
then go to a site for kids
"...clinical research clearly demonstrates that psychopathy does not spring unannounced into existence in adulthood. The symptoms reveal themselves in early life. It seems to be true that parents of psychopaths KNOW something is dreadfully wrong even before the child starts school. Such children are stubbornly immune to socializing pressures. They are "different" from other children in inexplicable ways. They are more "difficult," or "willful," or aggressive, or hard to "relate to." They are difficult to get close to, cold and distant and self-sufficient.

"One mother said: "...She was always trying to have her own way, whether by being sweet, or by having a tantrum..."

"childhood psychopathy is a stark reality, and failing to recognize it can lead to years of vain attempts to discover what is wrong with a child, and the parent blaming themselves..."

-So we're you 'playing them like a cheap kazoo' as well?
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 31, 2015
Otto is saying essentially, . . "Doctor, I have a, er, friend with stuff dripping out of his Willie".

Either that, or "Help,. , the paranoids are after me!!".
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Aug 31, 2015
Otto is saying essentially, . . "Doctor, I have a, er, friend with stuff dripping out of his Willie".

Either that, or "Help,. , the paranoids are after me!!".
George. You lie. You lie about your past and you lie about your experience. Youre extremely egocentric and you are under the delusion that everybody wants to hear about your personal life. You are convinced you are that genius that youre obviously not. You crave attention either good or bad. You enjoy playing people like kazoos. You think that your imagination alone produces facts. You go to the VA psych ward for treatment. Youve lost 20+ jobs during the course of your sorry career.

These are all symptoms of psychopathy.

I dont do any of those things,

You do.

And everyone here knows it.
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 31, 2015
Look up the term "fixation". It is probably under psychopathy.

But we do not need smart devices for good interior regulation of a home environment. They help, but so far, the cost is high.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Aug 31, 2015
Look up the term "fixation". It is probably under psychopathy
Well youre right.

"They can also be Narcissists since Narcissism seems to be merely a "facet" of the psychopath or a "milder" manifestation. You could say that the Narcissist is a "garden variety psychopath" who, because of his or her "social programming," has less likelihood of running afoul of the law. In this way, they are very efficient "survival machines," living out their lives doing untold damage to their families, friends and business associates."

-And what is georges favorite subject? Why himself of course.

How much damage have you done?
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 01, 2015
The fixation of "otto" is now public. It is unhealthy, and displays signs of serious emotional instability.

Like other fixations, it may lead to violence.

It is time to STOP this silly nonsense on a science forum. Where are our Moderators??

Do we have to wait until one of these kooks does something violent?
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Sep 01, 2015
The fixation of "otto" is now public. It is unhealthy, and displays signs of serious emotional instability.

Like other fixations, it may lead to violence.

It is time to STOP this silly nonsense on a science forum. Where are our Moderators??

Do we have to wait until one of these kooks does something violent?
You will continue to post lies and make up facts and claim that they must be true because you have shared your real name, in addition to your claims of experience and expertise which you obviously do not have.

And I and others will continue to expose you for the lying psychopath that you are.

This is NOT going to change.

Are we clear on that?
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 02, 2015
otto, you have crossed the line too many times constituting Internet Defamation, more specifically Libel. The Phys Org site has allowed it, making them accessories.

I am reporting my comment to get their attention.
Uncle Ira
3 / 5 (4) Sep 02, 2015
I am reporting my comment to get their attention.


Skippy you reporting on the daily basis for eleven months now. You make as many reports as you do silly postums. You think today's report is going to be the one to get some different kind of attentions?
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Sep 02, 2015
otto, you have crossed the line too many times constituting Internet Defamation, more specifically Libel. The Phys Org site has allowed it, making them accessories.

I am reporting my comment to get their attention
George the loony is currently flooding at a rate of 1 post every 5 minutes, clearly in violation of site guidelines.

Most of these posts are empty one-line snipes such as 'heil hitler', also a flagrant violation.

You should have been banned long ago.
Internet Defamation, more specifically Libel
Of course all claims of the specific nature of your mental problems are speculative. You have made similar claims against me and others here at physorg.

Certain inferences can be made from the content and frequency of your postings, and your behavior appears to fit the definition of psychopathy, in my totally unqualified opinion.

You have talked many times about your ongoing treatment at the VA mental ward. Why dont you tell us what its for?
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 02, 2015
Otto, take your lack of decency and leave.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Sep 02, 2015
Otto, take your lack of decency and leave.
George. You lie. You lie about your past and you lie about your experience. Youre extremely egocentric and you are under the delusion that everybody wants to hear about your personal life. You are convinced you are that genius that youre obviously not. You crave attention either good or bad. You enjoy playing people like kazoos. You think that your imagination alone produces facts. You go to the VA psych ward for treatment. Youve lost 20+ jobs during the course of your sorry career.

This behavior is very indecent.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.