By Ben Schiller
People in a building know when they are hot or cold. This device simply asks them, and then adjusts the temperature accordingly.
We’ve all worked in offices that get uncomfortably hot in the winter, or ridiculosly frigid in the summer, as temperatures are adjusted by some unseen malevolent force with no connection to how people’s bodies actually feel. But there’s an obvious way to get better information about a building: Ask the people in it. Its the tenants who know the warm spots and cold spots, what systems need fixing, and what might be dangerous. By asking them for feedback, it makes sense that things would run more efficiently.
Eric Graham calls it the “human side of the equation” of running a building. And it’s something he’s trying to address with Crowd Comfort–the “world’s first crowdsourced thermostat.”
Crowd Comfort is an app that lets people rate their comfort level on a five-point scale. The system analyzes occupant data and then recommends a temperature for each floor. “It’s the human side of the equation to find opportunities to save money in buildings,” Graham says. “Sometimes, there’s a disconnect and data management problem with the occupants of the building.”
The Boston-based startup has developed its product with the help of two incubators, Greentown Labs and North Shore InnoVentures. It tested the thermostat with EnerNOC, an energy efficiency services company. And its first customers are GE, with one of its 300,000-square-foot buildings, and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which is interested in using the app in trains and stations, Graham says.
With competition from the Nest thermostat, now owned by Google, and dozens of other building maintenance tools coming on the market, it’s going to be hard for Crowd Comfort to get traction. But, ultimately, Graham would like the thermostat to be the beginning of a “human sensing network,” with occupants reporting on all aspects of a building’s operation and experience. Rating your comfort level may be just the start of what you can do.