Syracuse University Awarded $1.2 Million to Develop New Energy Saving Technology

 an electric meter

November 30, 2017

Syracuse University researchers have received $1,200,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). SU will partner with SRI International, a nonprofit research center, to develop a low-cost, high accuracy sensor platform that accurately detects human presence inside buildings to dramatically reduce energy use in residential settings. 15 teams from across the U.S. were selected to be supported under ARPA-E’s Saving Energy Nationwide in Structures with Occupancy Recognition (SENSOR) program. Their goal is to reduce the amount of energy used for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) by as much as 30 percent.

“One of the major goals of this program is to develop sensor systems, for occupancy detection, that will have a huge impact on energy savings if they are successful. The team we have assembled has great expertise in this field of research, and we believe that the technology we are developing could lead to large energy savings,” said College of Engineering & Computer Science Professor Senem Velipasalar, who is the principal investigator of the project. “We are looking forward to collaborating with SRI and the Syracuse Center of Excellence, and applying our research to providing significant energy savings for residential buildings.”

About 13 percent of all energy produced in the U.S. is used to heat, cool, and ventilate buildings. HVAC is the largest consumer of energy in commercial buildings, totaling 37 percent of all energy used in this sector. Much of this energy is wasted by heating, cooling and over-ventilating unoccupied or partially occupied spaces. Due to a lack of accurate and reliable occupancy information, existing building automation and control systems are limited in their ability to substantially reduce HVAC energy use.

“We are delighted to bring SRI’s expertise in embedded vision and machine learning to deliver a portable solution that is robust, and without loss in privacy,” said Sek Chai, Ph.D, program director, SRI International. “Automated identification of small objects in low-resolution images remains a challenging problem, especially in cluttered environments. Our goal is to develop technology that will result in a disruptive change to the state of the art, enabling distributed IoT devices that are usable, effective, low-cost and easily deployed.”

The Syracuse University team, partnered with SRI, will develop a low-cost, high-accuracy residential occupancy sensor that can operate independently for several years on typical alkaline batteries. The device will pair a low-resolution optical camera (which inherently preserves privacy) with an infrared sensor, microphone, and low power processor to understand its surroundings and determine human presence. Algorithms will be developed to analyze and combine data from these sensors to enable occupancy sensing that would be impossible by each sensor alone. The collected data will be processed locally, so that the device will not require connections to the internet or “cloud” to function.

The project team includes faculty researchers from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the School of Architecture. The Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems played a vital role in the success of this proposal and will be a major contributor to the execution of the award. Substantial cash and in-kind contributions will be provided by NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) and Syracuse University.

For more information on the SENSOR program –