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Oct. 12: Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. Student Designs Smart Thermostat That Responds to Body's Skin Temperature, Heart Rate


Eric Sloss                   

Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. Student Designs Smart Thermostat
That Responds to Body's Skin Temperature, Heart Rate

PITTSBURGH — JoonHo Choi, a doctoral student in architecture and a researcher in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture's Intelligent Workplace (IW), is rethinking the traditional thermostat. Choi is designing a "smart" thermostat that adjusts a room's temperature according to what he calls a human body's "biosignals."

Choi installed a system of sensors in the IW that facilitates the wireless transmission of an individual's skin temperature and heart rate from an armband or wristband to the thermostat. The thermostat then changes the temperature according to the data received without anyone needing to adjust a manual thermostat.

"The biosensing control is a human-centered approach, which captures an occupant's needs for thermal comfort, and generates optimal temperatures to meet physiological desires of the user," Choi said.

According to Choi, the human body has its own HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) system that keeps the body consistently at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The body's HVAC system uses skin temperature and heart rate to regulate body temperature. Choi's device monitors these biosignals and transmits the data wirelessly to the thermostat in a home or office.

Choi has completed the project's pilot study in the IW, an advanced, environmentally friendly and energy-efficient workplace atop Carnegie Mellon's Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall. He is now trying to improve the control system and to decide whether an armband or wristband is more convenient. The bands can be constructed using commercially available sensors and materials.  

Choi's new thermostat can be used by anybody, but one of the product's target groups is the elderly, or people who cannot change their thermostats themselves.

"The 'smart' thermostat is a human support device that could be essential for the elderly. Elderly people are sensitive to thermal stress. This is due to their health conditions but also due to their inability to adjust the temperature without assistance," Choi said.