Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Roving comforter is personalizing heating and cooling technology

 Story highlights:
  • The Roving Comforter (RoCo) is a personalized cooling and heating device aimed to decrease energy cost and increase energy efficiency.
  •  The RoCo is a mobile gadget that blows hot or cold air on a user depending on their preference. 
  • UMD researchers expect people to user RoCos in their homes and offices.

Standing in the University of Maryland’s Heat Pump Laboratory, Darren Key described a hypothetical situation to use the Roving Comforter (RoCo), a personalized cooling and heat device UMD researchers first constructed about a year and a half ago.

During the summertime, an office building’s thermostat may be set at 74 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature increases, energy use and costs go down. But in that case, most of the employees would be uncomfortable.

Key, a graduate research assistant for the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said the RoCo limits that issue. The thermostat could be set at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and everyone would be still be satisfied because this device targets the individual user. It blows hot or cold air based on their preference. 

Reinhard Radermacher, a Mechanical Engineering professor at the A. James Clark School of Engineering, and his fellow researchers believe this development will cut energy costs and improve energy efficiency in homes and offices.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) make up 13 percent of the energy people consume in American.
First RoCo prototype
(Photo courtesy of Kyle Stackpole)

That number jumps to 40 percent in a typical U.S. residence. For most homes, these are the largest energy expenses.
The RoCo, Radermacher said, can increase energy efficiency from a few percent to possibly 30 percent, depending on how many people use it, how often they use it and the climate they’re in.
Radermacher and his counterparts came up with the idea after the department of energy had a solicitation for personal cooling technology a few years ago.

At first, Key said the RoCo was intended to be a “robotic air conditioner.” It would follow a person around, blowing air on them when needed.
But test participants didn’t like the concept of having this device shadow them, so the researchers worked to improve the idea.

While their most recent prototype has wheels, allowing the user to transport it between places, the RoCo can’t do so by itself. It rotates in a complete circle and has a nozzle, which moves up and down to blow air depending on which area of the user it’s affecting.

And though not yet installed, the RoCo will lock in on the person using a facial detection camera.
Key and Radermacher expect people to use these devices most when in their homes or offices.

Reducing cost and the engineering design have been the most difficult challenges, Radermacher said. Since the RoCo stores heat instead of wasting it, like air conditioners and refrigerators, constructors have attempted to make smaller, more-compact gadgets while keeping the cost low.

Meanwhile, the company Mobile Comfort was created to promote the technology in hopes selling the RoCo to a widespread audience in the future. The RoCo has also been nominated for 2016 Invention of the Year in the Physical Sciences Category.

We love it,” Radermacher said of the nomination. “Good ideas get recognized.”