Jul 2, 2014

Stuff I think is cool: Thermal comfort studies

When I was in college, I wrote a research paper on “The Father of Ergonomics,” Alphonse Chapanis. Ergonomics, also called human engineering, is the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. Hippocrates recorded the earliest known ergonomic guide, which advised doctors to arrange surgical implements within easy reach before starting a procedure.

Today, nearly every product on the market is designed with the user in mind, but I found a lab that takes human engineering even one step further.

Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, designed and built a "thermal comfort manikin" and a software application to model human thermal comfort in automobile and office environments. They use the model to optimize local heating and cooling systems, helping automobile designers to build air conditioning systems that won't dry a driver's eyes and enabling large office buildings to extend their thermostat setpoints. (Buildings can use up to 10% less energy for each degree Fahrenheit that the setpoints are extended.)

To design the model, the researchers outfitted 242 office workers with air chamber sleeves to individually heat and cool 19 different body parts. Using this data, they built 120 individually controlled zones into the manikin, and the software model contains 40,000 nodes!

News you can use:
One of the findings from the manikin study was that pulsing cooling is perceived as more effective than step-change cooling. Wristify, the winner of MIT's MADMEC design competition, took advantage of this by building a wristband that cools in five second bursts. It's not for sale yet, but I'm keeping an eye on the site.

The full text of all the UCB/NREL publications are available free online. You can read more about their project here.

-Paige