Using AI to optimise indoor temperature

Viboo founders have developed an algorithm that predictively controls and monitors a buildings indoor temperature, saving electricity and money.

Conventional thermostats, which are commonplace in many residential buildings today, only reacts to the indoor temperature when it falls below or exceeds a certain threshold. The reaction is therefore always too late and too severe, as the desired temperature is to be reached again as fast as possible. This costs energy and therefore, money.

As a result, researchers have created a solution of a thermostat that looks ahead and regulates the room temperature with foresight. Viboo, the spin-off from the company Empa, is making this possible.

Predictively controlling a buildings indoor temperature

Viboo, which stands for ‘viable intelligent building operation optimisation’, as a part of their research at Empa, the founders Felix Bünning and Benjamin Huber developed an algorithm that controls buildings predictively.

Remarkably, collecting data of only two weeks, such as valve positions and indoor temperature measurements, are all that is required to create a model of the building. In combination with predictions of the local outside temperature and global solar radiation, the algorithm then independently calculates up to twelve hours in advance the ideal energy input for heating or cooling the building. This eliminates any sudden reactive control operations, thus eventually consuming significantly less energy.

“The potential is huge. Our experiments at NEST have shown that this approach can achieve energy savings of between 26 and 49%,” explained Felix Bünning. They then applied their research to the innovation building on the Empa campus in Dübendorf, to test and further optimise the algorithm in a real-world environment. The field tests generated interest from the industry, and the researchers realised that they should bring their algorithm from their lab to the market.

The motivation of the two scientists is not financial, but rather societal: “An enormous amount of energy is used worldwide for the heating and cooling of buildings,” justified Bünning. “This is one of the reasons why the building sector accounts for a large share of the global CO2 emissions. With our algorithm, we want to help as many households as possible to save energy and thus make our contribution to reducing these emissions.”

A first funding initiative has already acknowledged the potential of this concept. In November 2021, Venture Kick awarded Viboo a grant of 40,000 Swiss francs. In addition, Felix Bünning is supported by a BRIDGE Proof-of-Concept Fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and Innosuisse, Switzerland’s innovation agency.

Pilot project for smart thermostat control in conventional buildings

“We are currently focusing on thermostat manufacturers for residential buildings,” added Bünning. “Many of these companies already have smart thermostats in their portfolio. We integrate our algorithm into them by using a cloud-based solution.” A first partner is the international thermostat manufacturer Danfoss. Together with the company, Viboo is now implementing the first pilot project in a conventional building to predictively control and monitor a buildings indoor temperature.

In this project, the conventional thermostats in Empa’s administrative building are being replaced by smart thermostats, on which the Viboo algorithm is operating. Based on the indoor climate data, the algorithm will first create a model of the building. It will then take over control of the heating over a period of four months. The central question is: How efficiently does the algorithm regulate indoor temperatures compared to a standard solution? This will provide information about its potential for older buildings.

In addition to the pilot project, Viboo is already talking to other industry partners to explore further potential applications. The spin-off will, for example, integrate the algorithm directly into the construction automation system in a new building in Zurich and thus optimise the heating and cooling control in this office building.

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