Sensor Application: Smart home heating and cooling

CEOAn MIT Alumnus with a spinout company known as Ecovent is further refining Smart Home Heating and Cooling technology with an automated system of vents and sensors that allows temperature control of individual rooms through an app. This technology which has surprising connections to missile-defense technology is centered on smart vents that homeowners install in place of traditional vents. They then plug one sensor into each room, place a control hub anywhere in the house, and input the desired temperatures for each room into a smartphone app. The sensors constantly measure a room’s temperature, and relay that information to the hub, which tells the vents how much to open or close. The system also learns behavior, so it eventually adjusts to the users’ preferences.

The innovator and CEO of Ecovent, Dipul Patel who invented the system at MIT after years of programming the extremely fast and accurate radars used to track and destroy missiles for Lockheed Martin. Today’s HVAC systems, Patel says, dump air into homes indiscriminately, wasting energy by heating or cooling vacant rooms.

According to Patel “Everything that seemed impossible suddenly seemed reachable,” he says. “There’s something special that happens at MIT — it’s a game-changer.”

The goal is that smart temperature-control devices — such as thermostats that learn and adjust to pre-programmed temperatures — are poised to increase comfort and save energy in homes. For example, a system for a four-bedroom home — with a current cost of around $2,100 — can be installed in any of the 74 million U.S. households currently using central heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Ecovent will begin shipping their $1.2 million in preorders in the next few weeks.

“Companies today are focused on more efficiency in cars, phones, and electronics,” Patel says. “But you look at a house and it’s [inefficient] from the ground up.”

Homes with Ecovent systems, Patel estimates, could save roughly 10 to 15 percent on their utility bills. Over the next year, the company plans to put its systems “through the ringer,” he says, to nail down the exact percentage.Ecovent

By turning a home traditionally controlled by only one temperature gauge — the thermostat — into a distributed sensor network, Ecovent is trying to change “the backbone of the home,” Patel adds.

Other Ecovent co-founders are chief operating officer Yoel Kelman MBA ’14; chief technology officer Nick Lancaster, who previously built control systems for missile defense at Lockheed; and chief information officer Shawn Rose, a former engineer of weapon systems.

In the future, Patel sees the Ecovent system as a potential diagnostic tool for homeowners to identify and fix issues with existing HVAC systems. Patel says, Ecovent found critical faults in three test homes. In one, he says, the system measured the temperature coming out of one duct as being dangerously high — close to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the vents were in the ceiling, the homeowner never knew.

According to him, it was later discovered that the furnace was overheating and near cracking, which could have cost thousands to repair and potentially leaked deadly carbon monoxide into the house. “We’ve shown we have the science to make systematic improvements in the house as we go forward,” Patel says.