Real- world so­lu­tions

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - EDUCATION & FURTHER STUDIES FAIR -

RE­SEARCHERS from the Univer­sity of Southamp­ton are aim­ing to de­velop a “smart” ther­mo­stat to help house­holds in the United King­dom save money on their en­ergy bills.

The pro­to­type au­ton­o­mous de­vice al­lows users to con­trol their heat­ing based on the price they want to pay rather than set­ting it by tem­per­a­ture alone, which ex­ist­ing smart ther­mostats such as Nest, do.

To un­der­stand how users in­ter­act with smart en­ergy sys­tems, a team of re­searchers from Elec­tron­ics and Com­puter Sci­ence ( ECS) at Southamp­ton and the Univer­sity of Zurich pro­duced three dif­fer­ent smart ther­mostats that au­to­mated heat­ing based on users’ heat­ing pref­er­ences and real- time price vari­a­tions: a man­ual one through which par­tic­i­pants ex­plic­itly spec­ify how the heat­ing should re­spond to price changes, and two learn­ing- based ones that em­ployed an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence ( AI) al­go­rithm to au­to­mate the tem­per­a­ture set­tings based on learned house­holds’ pref­er­ences.

The de­signs were tested through a month- long field study in­volv­ing 30 UK house­holds.

The en­ergy price was changed ev­ery 30 min­utes, which could be viewed by the par­tic­i­pants.

The re­sults showed that par­tic­i­pants used all three ther­mo­stat sys­tems to ef­fec­tively man­age their home heat­ing and cre­ate tem­per­a­ture pref­er­ences based on real- time prices.

Co- au­thor of the study, Univer­sity of Southamp­ton PhD stu­dent Alper Alan, said: “Peo­ple were more aware of their en­ergy con­sump­tion and were happy with the au­ton­o­mous sys­tem con­trol­ling their heat­ing on their be­half given real- time prices.

“We saw that peo­ple liked be­ing able to con­trol their home from wher­ever they are.

“We also ob­served in all three treat­ments, most peo­ple re­duced their tem­per­a­ture at high price lev­els.

“We found that peo­ple are ready to in­cur a re­duc­tion of 4° C to save money.

“They said that even though the house was a bit colder than nor­mal, they were okay with it since it was not that cold and they were sav­ing money.”

How­ever, fol­low­ing in­ter­views with study par­tic­i­pants, it was clear that the price was not only the fac­tor that users con­sid­ered for heat­ing their home. Other key fac­tors were out­side weather, oc­cu­pancy and daily ac­tiv­i­ties within the house.

Some par­tic­i­pants ex­plic­itly stated that the use of the ther­mo­stat could be more con­ve­nient if it could learn their oc­cu­pancy pat­terns.

Also, out­side weather and the ac­tiv­i­ties they per­form dur­ing a day within the house have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on how peo­ple feel the in­door tem­per­a­ture.

Co- au­thor from ECS, Dr En­rico Costanza, said: “Fu­ture de­sign of learn­ing ther­mostats should not only take into ac­count oc­cu­pancy pat­terns and out­door tem­per­a­tures ( such as the Nest sys­tem), in ad­di­tion to price pref­er­ences, but also peo­ple’s daily rou­tines and ac­tiv­i­ties.”

The study will be pre­sented at ACM CHI 2016, the top con­fer­ence for Hu­man- Com­puter In­ter­ac­tion in San Jose, the United States, in May.

ECS co- au­thor Dr Sar­va­pali Ram­churn added, “Th­ese find­ings will as­sist de­sign­ers in im­prov­ing user ex­pe­ri­ence, which in re­turn will help us in con­trol­ling home heat­ing with real- time pric­ing and ben­e­fit from them.”

The re­search was funded by the En­gi­neer­ing and Phys­i­cal Sci­ences Re­search Coun­cil ( EPSRC) through the Or­chid and Char­IoT projects.

Through world- lead­ing re­search and en­ter­prise ac­tiv­i­ties, the Univer­sity of Southamp­ton con­nects with busi­nesses to cre­ate real- world so­lu­tions to global is­sues. Through its ed­u­ca­tional of­fer­ing, it works with part­ners around the world to of­fer rel­e­vant, flex­i­ble education, which trains stu­dents for jobs not even thought of.

This con­nec­tiv­ity is what sets Southamp­ton apart from the rest; the univer­sity makes con­nec­tions and change the world.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www. southamp­ton. ac. uk.

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