A few years ago, we covered an award-winning design proposal called Comfort-on-Demand that was intended to democratize workplace HVAC systems. No, that doesn’t sound terribly sexy, but if you think about how often office workers either shiver in silence or curse the manager who set the thermostat too high, a system to remedy this suffering starts to make sense.
Once Comfy is installed in an office building, it provides an interface layer to workers–accessible through the web or Comfy’s app–for interacting with the heating and cooling system in their workplace. You use a map to tell the system where you’re working, then you instruct it to “cool my space” or “warm my space.” From there, the Comfy software “sends a command to the existing hardware of the heating and cooling system to turn the air flow on high and deliver warm or cool air for 10 minutes into the space. That way people know that the system has heard them,” says CEO Andrew Krioukov.
Comfy can’t control the microclimate of your individual desk, of course. According to Krioukov, “The way buildings typically work is, floors are divided into smaller thermal zones”–perhaps a cluster of desks or a conference room–which can be heated or cooled relatively independently. With Comfy, Krioukov explains, “we add software that allows people to interact with this system.” It’s an ingenious way to redesign a workplace experience by using the system that’s already in place.
Like the Nest learning thermostat, Comfy uses machine learning to adapt to preferences and nudge offices into adopting better energy habits. But it’s a little more complicated with many employees hitting “cool my space” or “warm my space” whenever they feel like it. How does Comfy avoid thermostat wars?
Through peer pressure, actually. “As a Comfy user, your usage is visible to your colleagues. This encourages good communication and civility between colleagues who share a zone,” Krioukov says. “Anytime there differing opinions in a zone, we put the zone in a holding pattern for 10 minutes. In larger zones, we can enable a feature where, upon making a request, a user is asked to get an additional person sitting nearby to agree with them before we supply their requested stream of air.”
But does it work in practice? Comfy’s pilot program included clients like Johnson Controls and UC Berkeley, and according to Comfy’s VP of Design Beau Trincia, “over multiple seasons, Comfy reduced HVAC energy by 23% at [Johnson Control’s] Milwaukee headquarters. Almost 80% of the occupants used Comfy regularly, the total set-up time for their facilities team was less than six hours, and they received no temperature complaint calls since Comfy was enabled.”
It sounds like a real employee value-add for company stakeholders to consider along with gourmet cafeteria chefs and expense accounts: after all, knowing that your job will provide this kind of on-demand, design-savvy temperature control could be quite a perk to attract talent. Krioukov says that Building Robotics will start to share more results from their pilot programs in August, so start your job hunt then.