Researchers at MIT have developed a system of individual heating in buildings, whereby warmth is beamed on to each individual person. The invention has the potential to revolutionise climate control in buildings and help optimise energy efficiency.

Smart Local Warming Designed to Avoid Heat Waste

In 2011, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a patent for Kinetic Super-Resolution Imaging, a system which takes a series of thermal photographs inside buildings and then maps the areas that are wasting heat. In fact quite a lot of study into climate control in buildings is going on at MIT, and a research team has recently developed a system that can create individual pockets of warmth by using lights attached to the ceiling which sense when a person is actually present. This ‘Local Warming’ system is currently on display at the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale, running from 7 June to 23 November.

Targeting warmth at individual people

Carlo Ratti, Director of the MIT SENSEable City Lab and project leader, is highly critical of current heating methods, pointing out: “Buildings are heated 24/7, even when unoccupied, and the empty spaces are heated just as much as the occupied areas.” So the objective of Local Warming is to synchronise the indoor temperature with human presence in a building, promoting energy efficiency. The system uses a WiFi-enabled tracking system, developed exclusively at the MIT Center for Wireless Networks and Mobile Computing), which is attached to the ceiling, and projects heat in the form of infrared light beamed directly – like a spotlight – on to people when they enter a room. The components of the heating system include LED bulbs which generate infrared rays and revolving optical mirrors to direct the heat rays, driven by a small motor which enables the arrays to change direction and realign with the person being tracked.

The building climate control of tomorrow

“With a dynamic system like Local Warming in place, buildings may not need to waste as many resources on climate control,” argues project manager Miriam Roure. External heating in places that are semi-covered, industrial lofts, or large spaces such as building lobbies, which are only sparsely occupied, could all usefully adopt this system. The next step might be to create an even smarter Local Warming application that would enable people to control their very own ‘heat bubble’ from their smartphone. “Local Warming allows participants to engage with their climate directly and to enact a new type of efficient, localised climate control,” enthuses Miriam Roure.

By Eliane HONG