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TI project receives innovation award for new occupancy sensors
7/30/2013 2:28 PM
New smart occupancy sensors combine smartphone technology and open-source recognition software to detect movement in a room with an accuracy of more than 90 percent. The advancement could unlock enormous energy savings. (Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL)
BPA and its research partners at the Department of Energy’s
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
think they have an energy-saving gem on their hands and industry seems to agree. With funding from BPA’s Technology Innovation program, NREL researchers have developed a new type of occupancy sensor that uses smartphone components and open-source recognition software to detect people in a room. R&D Magazine has named these image-processing occupancy sensor detectors, known as IPOS, as one of its most significant technology innovations for 2013.
“We’re honored for this project to receive this prestigious award,” said Richard Génecé, BPA’s vice president of Energy Efficiency. “I’m proud that our work to bring new efficient technologies to the people of the Northwest is being recognized.”
For the past 30 years, most occupancy sensors relied on motion detection and often performed inconsistently. “Occupancy sensor technology needs to be updated so we don’t have to wave our arms to keep the lights on or have a bunch of well-lit empty rooms,” said BPA Engineer Mira Vowles, who managed the NREL research project for the agency’s Emerging Technologies team.
Since lighting accounts for about 40 percent of the commercial electricity use in the Northwest, BPA and NREL, DOE’s main laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research, pursued the idea that better and more robust occupancy sensors could lead to big energy savings. So in 2011, the two agencies kicked off new research that expanded upon an original concept of image-processing occupancy sensors.
But IPOS isn’t just a breakthrough for lighting controls. The size of a stick of gum, IPOS combines an inexpensive camera with a high-speed microprocessor and computer algorithms to detect movement and human presence in a room. Although it does not identify occupants, it can count the number of people in a room, document their location and register their activity level — information that could be useful in regulating a building’s ventilation.
NREL researchers Luigi Gentile Polese, left, and Larry Brakney hold the processor and camera that make up the image processing occupancy sensor. (Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL)
“It offers the potential of putting lighting or ventilation only where it’s needed,” said NREL senior engineer Larry Brackney, who developed the system with NREL colleague Luigi Gentile Polese.
Initial studies show it’s extremely accurate, boasting detection accuracy rates above 90 percent, about 20 percent more accurate than traditional motion-sensing technology. In addition to detecting occupants, the camera and computer vision algorithms also recognize spots where there aren’t any people and measure the level of luminance and other variables.
Researchers are looking beyond controlling lights and air conditioning systems. Other potential applications include daylight harvesting, daylighting system commissioning, occupancy logging and daylight logging, as well as other uses in security, energy efficiency and customer interactivity.
Even though motion-detection systems are mandated for most new construction, only 7 percent of commercial spaces in the United States have such a system installed. In the Northwest, BPA sees the new detector as another product to help Northwest commercial businesses and office buildings reduce their electricity use.
“Innovative new technologies like this are critical to BPA’s ability to support the region’s growing power needs through energy efficiency,” added Génecé.
The system is currently being tested in a few environments, including a large retailer in Centennial, Colo. The two-year project, which is jointly funded by
BPA’s Technology Innovation Office
and Golden, Colo.-based NREL, is scheduled to wrap up later this year. At that time, BPA and NREL will summarize the results in a final report.
R&D 100 Awards
honor the most significant new technology products to enter the market in a mix of industry sectors. Winners, selected by an independent panel and the editors of R&D Magazine, will be recognized at banquet on Nov. 7 in Orlando, Fla.
emerging technologies program
, often referred to as E3T, is a collaborative effort between BPA, Northwest publicly owned utilities, manufacturers, researchers, universities and experts to identify and advance new technologies with the greatest potential of helping the region achieve the energy efficiency goals set by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The program also performs quality assurance tests, and provides subsidies for energy-efficient equipment and incentives for manufacturers to develop better products.
BPA’s E3T team is also demonstrating and evaluating new technologies related to variable capacity heat pumps; heat pump water heater applications; advanced lighting innovations, including LEDs; rooftop air conditioning; and energy management, including behavioral-based savings.
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