From global to 'local' warming
June 16, 2014
by Mark Ollig

Yours truly understands it’s June, and we are just beginning to enjoy the warmth of the summer season.

However, for today’s column, let’s turn back the calendar a few months.

I promise we will recommence with June in just a few minutes.

Ready? Good.

Here we go.

Think of the days when we were in the midst of our coldest weather.

It’s wintry cold outside, and rather than heating an entire building, or a single room for that matter, why not instead provide warmth in only the area “surrounding” a person?

The researching folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT, have come up with an innovative system which tracks, and then envelops the area a person occupies, with a radiated, warming temperature.

They are calling the project: Local Warming.

This system tracks people’s whereabouts throughout a building, using a newly developed Wi-Fi-based, location tracking system.

Ceiling-mounted, dynamic heating elements, communicate in real-time with information sent by the Wi-Fi tracking system.

The intelligence associated within these heating elements will track and “zero-in” on one or more individuals, and create a personalized envelope of warmth around them.

The idea behind this is to save energy and lower heating costs, by focusing the heat directly around a person or persons in a given area, instead of heating the entire square footage of a room, or large, open expanse.

Granted, this sounds a bit like science fiction; wrapping a specialized environment around a person as they traverse. However, this idea has seized the imagination of many in the technological community.

“Infrared heat is emitted to generate what are essentially spotlights of warmth centered on people a few meters away,” said Leigh Christie, MIT project engineer.

The first commercial use of Local Warming technology, according to a lead researcher, could be heating systems targeting warmth to people walking through the exposed, outdoor areas of a building complex.

Places where Local Warming systems could be installed include: office buildings, malls, homes, large lobbies, lofts above industrial buildings, and in areas of buildings people seldom occupy.

Energy and monetary savings could be realized by not having to waste resources maintaining a constant heated temperature via climate control, throughout an empty or low-populated building.

Local Warming technology installed in these types of buildings would track and provide for a person’s warmth needs only within the area they occupy; returning to the building’s previous climate controlled temperature once the space is unoccupied.

Specific temperatures would be maintained, while infrared light beams tracked the tenants throughout the building.

“Local Warming allows participants to engage with their climate directly and to enact a new type of efficient, localized climate control,” explained Miriam Roure, lead researcher of the Local Warming project.

A Local Warming display area was set up, and successfully demonstrated, during the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale, which took place a couple weeks ago in Venice, Italy.

One method of local warming yours truly utilizes has been benefiting people for years, uses no external power, and is very low-tech.

When I need to create a personalized envelope of warmth around myself while at home, I take out the large, comforter blanket I got for Christmas. When wrapped around me, it utilizes the warmth I alone generate; thus saving heating energy resources, and money.

On a more serious note, I look for applications of various-sized Local Warming systems being used in the future.

These systems will co-exist with other designs as a supplementary means for conserving energy, and reducing a building’s climate-control costs during the colder months of the year.

We can now return to our regularly scheduled month of June.

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