Deakin University is set to deploy mini cube senors at 15 sites across its campuses to gather data on physical comfort levels in a bid to decrease energy bills while boosting worker health and productivity.
The Cube Comfort Monitors, nicknamed ‘Baby Cubes’, are small boxes containing sensors that track room temperature, humidity, light intensity, light temperature, sound levels and air quality indicators like CO2 and volatile organic compounds.
All of this data is available for immediate analysis through a cloud-based web server to give building managers accurate and timely insights into how they could use building resources and energy systems more efficiently.
Scott Adams, a PhD student working with the team from Deakin’s School of Engineering on the Cube Comfort Monitor, said the inspiration came during heatwaves in January this year when the university’s Facilities Services Division sent out reminders about managing thermal comfort in the work environment.
“We wanted to know how temperatures and humidity levels fluctuated during that time to help us manage our cooling systems more efficiently,” Adams said.
“Contemporary office buildings generally have in-built monitoring systems but that’s less common in older buildings so there is a real need to improve how we monitor workplace comfort in older buildings, ensuring the heating and air conditioning systems are working effectively, that lighting is not too bright or too dull and that the room is not too stuffy or noisy.”
Due to the Baby Cube’s unobtrusive size, Adams said the Cube could be placed on individual desks or scaled up to whole-of-office systems that sit in the corner of the room, giving a clearer picture of how HVAC systems function or how noise travels.
“It is a low-cost way of collecting data that will help building managers monitor what’s happening in any office, or part of that office,” he added.
Aside from saving on heating or cooling costs, the Cube Comfort Monitor could offer insights into the health and productivity issues associated with poor heat and sound management.
An Australian study from last year found that workers don’t perform any worse if an office’s thermostat is set a few degrees higher than 22 degrees, which is often viewed as the optimal temperature, and building managers could safely raise temperatures a degree or two in summer to lower power bills without affecting the health and productivity of workers.
However, a 2018 meta-analysis of 947 reports and 111 studies from around the world found individuals working a single shift under heat stress “defined as wet-bulb globe temperature beyond 22 or 24.8 degrees depending on work intensity” were four times more like to experience occupational heat strain.
Even though most office work could likely be classified as low physical intensity, a desk by a north-facing window in summer in a poorly ventilated building could easily edge above 25 degrees.
The Cubes could also back up claims that open-plan offices are noisy hellscapes in which productivity dwindles, or whether the indoor plants you always forget to water are keeping the air as clean the label said they would.
Deakin is looking to commercialise the Cube Comfort Monitors by the end of the year after the on-campus trials.