Well, the robots seem friendly enough so far. This one just wants to keep you warm.
Two German designers, Daniel Abendroth and Andreas Meinhardt, are working on an autonomous black cube on wheels called Hagent that can soak up heat in one place and deliver it to another. They say it could point the way to “the heating systems of tomorrow.”
The Hagent has wheels, infrared sensors, and thermal sensors, allowing it to move around on its own and seek out places with high temperatures. When it gets to one, it sits there, absorbing the heat with a special “phase change material”—a substance that can store and release large amounts of heat as it melts and solidifies. Once the Hagent is at capacity, it can then move to a cooler area and release the heat.
In other words, you don’t need to huddle by the fire if you don’t want to. The Hagent can bring the heat to you. Or if you have one room that heats up from sunlight, the Hagent can distribute it around the rest of the house. Or it could grab the heat from the car in the garage and drop it off by the dog’s bed.
Designing more efficient ways of using heat energy is not a trivial challenge. Climate control–heating, ventilating, and cooling–accounts for more than a third of America’s residential electricity use. Whether or not this is a trivial solution remains to be seen. The Hagent proposal recently won 2nd prize in the 2011 Prix Émile Hermès design competition, where it was recognized for “its forward-looking approach in the context of a quest for objects fulfilling completely new functions,” but it’s still a long way from production.
One could imagine the Hagent being useful as personal space heaters in a large, open office space, perhaps. But even if it isn’t the “heating system of tomorrow,” this project is a nice reminder that the world isn’t running out of energy, per se. It’s just that we’re not using it very efficiently.