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US-based institute highlights IEQ benefits of Roving Personal Comfort device

As government-funding for research nears end, insider says the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Energy Engineering is open to exploring prototype’s commercial viability through investor funding

| | Feb 11, 2018 | 5:19 pm
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The University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Energy Engineering (CEEE) has successfully developed the Roving Comforter, RoCo for short, which provides smart, personalised thermal management for people in inadequately or un-conditioned environments. Vikrant C. Aute, the Associate Research Scientist involved in the project, spoke extensively about the benefits of the prototype and possible plans to introduce the design to a wider market. Aute said that the prototype was developed due to the efforts of the CEEE’s team of researchers and support from the US Department of Energy. Since the government funding for the project is coming to an end in the next few months, Aute said, the centre is “seeking investor funding to manufacture a significantly high number of these devices and implement field tests in select locations, worldwide.”

RoCo, Aute said, was designed with the intention of providing a solution to the issue of wasted energy and thermal discomfort, which is rampant in the built-environment. “The primary energy of a building goes into heating and cooling the building itself, not so much the occupants,” he said, noting that this is true even if the occupancy rate is low. “We often see this in our offices, as well,” Aute said. “Even in the summer we have to keep feet warm when the building is cold, because [the] building is a certain temperature.

“If you were to relax the thermostat in your building [even] by a few degrees, [it has the] potential to reduce the energy consumption by more than 20%. Some don’t mind and remain perfectly comfortable, [while] for others [who experience thermal discomfort] we have this portable air conditioning device to keep them comfortable,” Aute said.

RoCo provides 12-30% energy savings compared to typical conditioned building systems, Aute said. It is fully autonomous and is equipped with face-recognition technology to allow add-on features, such as security-access check, among others. The device, Aute said, stores waste heat and is highly personalised, as it can track the individual requirements of the person using directional Wi-Fi from a wearable device. RoCo learns individual thermal requirements through intelligent nozzles that deliver conditioned air to parts of the body as needed, in view of differing sensitivity levels for thermal sensation, and adjusts according to supply air locations and conditions, which are later saved as personal preference data for human metabolic rates, Aute said. He added that RoCo can operate from four to eight hours, depending on the design, and recharges at night. Since its launch, Aute said, the prototype has received a considerable amount of attention in North America.

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