Hackernoon logoThe Internet of Things (IoT) and the HVAC Industry by@wintersc

The Internet of Things (IoT) and the HVAC Industry

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@winterscwintersc

Tech enthusiast

The term “Internet of things (IoT)” is often used in tech-savvy conversations, and its prevalence in society is increasing exponentially. It is here to stay by making our lives ever more productive. The days of standalone appliances are long gone, and interconnected ‘smart’ devices are the way forward. Even though IoT is already making its presence felt in the fields of consumer electronics, household appliances, power utility distribution, and financial services, there are still some obstacles to cross and mountains to climb before we truly live in an interconnected world.

One exciting use of IoT is in household appliances, especially those relating to the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) industry. The widespread proliferation of smart controls or IoT in the HVAC market can be witnessed by the fact that the global smart AC controller market is expected to reach a value of $8.7 billion by 2025. The combination of the HVAC industry, coupled with the IoT concept gives rise to the ultimate consumer convenience and comfort, with remote controls being the first rung of the ladder.

Let’s see how HVAC is upgraded by IoT and the ways through which
it makes our air conditioning ‘smart’ and our lives more comfortable!

How to Make HVAC Appliances Smart?

To know what a smart device is, we first have to define the word “smart.” Only having a Wi-Fi connected device might be sufficient in the nascent stages of IoT, but when we have gone past the introductory stage, passing Wi-Fi connectivity as smartness is not acceptable. What is then sufficient
to be called ‘smart’?

True smartness is achieved when a device can perform decision-making processes on its own and be able to do them without any human input. This is done by analyzing the current ambient parameters, observing past
usage profiles, and considering appliance capabilities.

As an example, a smart thermostat can simply be controlled from the phone and record and store the past usage data of an air conditioner. It can then send this data back to cloud storage and display it for the user. This practice of data storage, transfer, and analysis is not something that you would want a truly smart device to do. In the case of a programmable thermostat or smart air conditioner controller, room temperature and
humidity are maintained as per the programmed settings.

As an example, you can set your smart AC controller or thermostat to maintain a temperature at 72oF. By using sensors, it will take temperature and humidity inputs from its surroundings to make decisions such as turning an AC on or off to achieve and maintain the desired temperature, automatically!

How the collected data is used for additional functions is the true barometer of smartness. But how is this achieved?

Decision-Making With Algorithms

An algorithm is a computer code that is used to send out instructions to an electronic device. This code functions like a human brain, making decisions and processing data and information to perform certain operations.

For example, geofencing is a popular feature available in smart thermostats/controllers. By allowing the smartphone to send its location
to the smart device, the appliance can be turned on or off depending upon the proximity of the user (through their smartphone) to their homes.

This is an excellent example of machine learning algorithms, which can learn the behavior of the AC and manage startup times so as to reduce
energy wastage.

The IoT Concept: How It Works?

Before diving into the particulars of IoT-based devices, it is prudent to understand how the IoT ecosystem works. Each component within the
system has its own part to play, and if any of those components do not work as intended, the whole system comes crashing down. The first thing that an end-user notices while using IoT affiliated services is the speed and responsiveness of the application. A delayed response to user commands will definitely put off the customer and be a major disadvantage in the proper functioning of the system. A solid foundation is thus needed for the IoT infrastructure, which is developed by having an efficient and error-free backend.

Let’s see how the implementation of the IoT concept works in HVAC.

The user has the app through which they can send commands to their connected devices. Once a command is sent from the mobile or web app, it is sent to a cloud service. The cloud acts as a relay, sending the commands further on to the device itself. Common cloud services currently in use are Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Upon receiving a command, the device sends an infrared signal (in the case of ductless air conditioners with remote control) or through wires (in the case of ducted systems or furnaces).

Moreover, there can be an additional device within the whole system, and that is a home assistant such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa. Through
these services, voice commands, routines, smart skills, and other actions can be performed to get the complete smart home experience.

Thermostats and Controllers: What’s the Difference?

There are hundreds of such devices currently available on the market, and all this time, you would have thought that both are the same. If you did, you are sadly mistaken. Even though both devices are used to control HVAC appliances and provide smart functions to the said appliances,
there is a significant difference between the two. It all depends on if you
have a ducted air conditioning system or a ductless. Ducted systems usually do not have infrared controls and have to be hardwired to the smart thermostat. Ductless systems often come with IR functionality and can be used with smart controllers that send out IR signals to the appliance. Except for these differences, the software and smart concept are largely the same, having similar features such as global control, geofencing, scheduling, voice controls, usage history, and more.

An example of smart thermostats for ducted systems includes the Google Nest Smart Thermostat. For a ductless air conditioner, such as wall-mounted mini-splits or window air conditioners, a smart controller, like Cielo Breez Plus, is used. Ductless air conditioners can also be used as standalone devices with the capability of working in zones, only cooling down single, selected areas of the indoor space.

The Future of IoT

The Internet of things (IoT) promises an exciting future with lots of innovations and revolutions. More and more players are entering the field, giving rise to increased competition and drive for improvement.

With the first stage of IoT implementation, which includes device communication and Wi-Fi connectivity, it is time to move a step further
and make our devices truly smart. Machine Learning algorithms allow the device to think independently and make decisions by incorporating a host of different variables such as ambient weather, usage history, and user preference. An exponential increase in energy savings and user comfort will then be witnessed and serve as a testament to the benefits of IoT for the HVAC industry.

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