Circulate

A series of micro sensors that help residents optimize indoor comfort while creating building-wide energy efficiencies.

As the internet of everything extends into our homes, it opens the potential for granular data to inform our daily micro-interactions with invisible resources, such as the flow of energy.

Indoor Heating in Copenhagen
As part of its carbon neutral plan, Copenhagen has set a target of reducing energy consumption for heating 20% by 2025. The indoor heating system in the city, however, provides occupants with little-to-no feedback about energy consumption. Most residents receive one annual bill, leaving them largely in the dark about how their everyday actions relate to their energy consumption.

The obscure heating system is difficult for residents to understand and, unfortunately, some of the most basic energy-saving behaviors are counter-intuitive. For instance, opening the window for five minutes—even in the cold of winter—can dry out the air and reduce the required energy to heat the air to a desired level. Often residents simply turn up the thermostat without thinking about alternative actions.

My initial research highlighted that heating is about much more than an energy bill. When it comes to people, heating is not about energy—it’s about comfort and health.

How Circulate Works
Circulate is a system of micro-sensors that are networked and monitored through a central application. Each sensor collects point-specific temperature and humidity data about their location, for instance a window. The thermodynamic flow of energy is then analyzed to keep the space within the general “comfort range” of humans, i.e. not too hot, too cold, too humid, or too dry. If outside the boundaries, the system reacts by gently illuminating the sensors and sending SMS messages to occupants with the most energy efficient tip, for instance “humidity is rising in the kitchen, open the kitchen window for five minutes”.

A mobile application allows occupants to quickly glance at comfort levels throughout a space and track historical data. If deployed on a large scale, Circulate is designed to help achieve significant energy use reductions.

Process & Learnings
The central focus of my final project was people-centered research. Over this nine week project, I worked closely with residents in seven apartments and a technical advisory group representing the Copenhagen municipality, a technology provider, and a housing block. I conducted drawing workshops, co-creation workshops, in-depth interviews, low-fidelity testing, and left probe kits with residents for a week. I culminated my research by giving two residents working prototypes which they tested over a four-day experience prototype.

Most of my learnings were directly related to structuring, conducting, and synthesizing research. With regards to the concept, I learned that comfort is actually well sensed by the human body, however humidity can be a difficult concept to understand.

Ultimately, my final experience prototypes did not convince me that placing sensors everywhere actually increased comfort. While it did increase awareness, perhaps there are other design solutions that don’t have such a large environmental and data footprint. If I were to take this project further, I would explore different solutions to help people navigate the link between humidity, comfort, and energy consumption.