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Sensor Research Targets Smart Home Technology Using Radio-Frequency Identification

November 29, 2017

Photo of Gregor Henze.

University of Colorado Professor and NREL Scientist Gregor Henze is leading one of 15 new projects as part of the DOE ARPA-E Saving Energy Nationwide in Structures with Occupancy Recognition (SENSOR) Program. SENSOR intents to develop a new class of sensor systems that can significantly increase energy savings by reducing demand for heating and cooling in residential and commercial buildings.

Since 2013, Henze has held a joint appointment at NREL. He is professor of architectural engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), where his teaching focuses on thermal sciences, high-performance building design, energy system modeling, building control, and automation systems.

In addition to CU Boulder and NREL, the research team includes the University of Washington (UW) and the Iowa State University. In addition to Henze, NREL Senior Engineer Anthony Florita will be working with Joshua Smith at UW and Soumik Sarkar at Iowa State.

The research team will develop an occupancy detection system that uses a wirelessly powered sensor network, which communicates using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. The sensors will use privacy-preserving microphones and low-resolution cameras to detect human presence and fuse the information from these physical sensors together with activity patterns of electricity use. The sensor system will be powered wirelessly, so it can be installed cost effectively and without invasive rewiring.

"Commercial and residential buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of U.S. energy consumption and 75% of our electricity use," said Chuck Kutscher, director of the NREL Buildings and Thermal Sciences Center. "This project will provide a means to sense occupancy patterns throughout buildings and thus allow the heating and cooling systems to be controlled in a way that reduces energy consumption while preserving occupant comfort. We’re very excited to participate in this important research effort."

ARPA-E describes the project as a battery-free RFID sensor network with spatiotemporal pattern network based data fusion system for human presence sensing and awarded the team $2 million during the next three years.