A system of personalised ‘bubbles’ of heat which track individuals moving across a space in real time has been developed as an answer to the problem of energy waste in buildings. A prototype on display at the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale, Local Warming, was created by a team of researchers headed by Carlo Ratti, Director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab.
The heating system directs infrared beams onto individuals within a space and uses WiFi-based motion tracking to follow their movement. Individuals therefore have their own controllable personal climate, whilst the air surrounding each person remains unheated. The method is not unlike the personal air conditioning systems and jets of cool air on coaches and planes, although slightly more advanced.
The system was developed following an MIT report into heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems which found an imbalance between HVAC system usage and building occupancy in large non-domestic buildings. Buildings are the largest consumer of energy in the US, and HVAC systems at the time of the study accounted for 53.4% of energy usage within commercial buildings. Large, sparsely populated spaces such as lobbies or those with fluctuating occupancy levels like lecture halls, which require vast amounts of energy to heat in relation to their occupancy, are a prime target for the system.
The potential to create personalised micro-climates within a building could inspire new forms of architecture: rather than gather round the fire, let the warmth come to you. But what will this mean for social interaction? Will warm-blooded types congregate to boost their personal air cons, giving the ‘cool kids’ a whole new meaning?