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An Energy-Saving Device That Heats People Instead Of Buildings

An Energy-Saving Device That Heats People Instead Of Buildings
[Image: Thermometer via Shutterstock]

Buildings waste a lot of heat and energy. Thousands of terawatt-hours go into warming floors, ceilings, and walls where people aren’t even in the room.

What if instead of heating buildings, we heated the people in them instead?

Watch this TED talk from Leigh Christie, a designer with the MIT Senseable City Laboratory. With colleagues, he’s developed a motion-sensitive personal-heating device that follows a person around the room. He says it could dramatically reduce heating costs. “There is a tremendous opportunity to conserve energy through the use of dynamically controlled highly localized heating,” he says.

Christie calls the concept “local warming” and likens the shifting heat-beam to a Kinect gaming device. It has a camera sensitive to a person’s movement. His team trialed the machine on MIT’s campus last year, proving the concept works in a basic way. “Think of it as a fireplace but it’s targeted at you,” he says.

The designer imagines a world where we’re linked to wall-mounted heating through a “personal thermostat” on our smartphones. Walk into a room, and the beam would start looking for us, making sure we were warm. “Think of it as a heat spotlight. I can beam the energy directly at you,” he says.

It sounds strange. But then we used to light buildings day and night as well, not caring if people were there or not. Now, we have more people-sensitive lighting systems. Is heating next?

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