MIT’s SENSEable City Lab Debuts Personal Air Conditioner Prototpye That Follows User Around

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Being cool has taken on a different, more personal meaning — thanks to MIT’s SENSEable City Lab.

MIT’s new research initiative recently debuted a prototype personal heater that only heats the user’s immediate personal space. Now, the lab has gone on to create a similar system that helps users stay cool.

The inspiration for both heating and cooling systems — which are only at the experimental stage and not yet finished products — is fairly simply: energy conservation. Micro-targeting the user’s personal space requires far less energy than heating or cooling an entire building or room.

Local Warming, the heated version of the personal climate control system, was installed as a prototype in Venice, Italy last year and used servo motors, infrared lamps, and motion tracking to beam rays onto the areas where people were standing.

Last week in Dubai, the Lab showcased Local Warming’s sister project, a personal cooling system called Cloud Cast, designed specifically for desert climates.

The Cloud Cast system is made up of several thin aluminum rods that are installed on the ceiling of a space. These rods use ultrasonic sensors to determine the speed and location of the system's users.
The Cloud Cast system is made up of several thin aluminum rods that are installed on the ceiling of a space. These rods use ultrasonic sensors to determine the speed and location of the system’s users.

The Cloud Cast system is made up of several thin aluminum rods that are installed on the ceiling of a space. These rods use ultrasonic sensors to determine the speed and location of the system’s users.

“Measuring the time interval between sending the signal and receiving the echo to determine the distance to the floor, visitors passing between the sensor and the floor will produce an increase or decrease in this time interval, having either absorbed or reflected the sound waves respectively. Data from these sensors is fed to a central control system used to trigger hydro-valves and LED lights in proximity to the detected target,” explained Carlo Ratti, MIT’s SENSEable City Lab founder and director.

Depending on the user’s exact speed and location, nebulisers spray a cooling mist as the user passes. In traditional systems, however, a lot of energy and water are consumed for cooling outdoor spaces, even when sparsely used,” said Ratti. “In our project, we focus misting on people, gaining order of magnitudes in efficiency.”

In theory, Cloud Cast is very similar to misters found in hot, arid climates around the world. However, it is designed to use far less water and energy by only misting a single human-sized space at a time.

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