"Cyber-physical systems and buildings research are areas where undergraduates can really contribute. We have great spaces on campus for undergraduates to help develop solutions for our buildings to save energy."

Smart phones. Smart TVs. Smart cars. Smart refrigerators. If Professor Alan Marchiori, computer science, has his way, smart buildings will soon be added to the list.

Marchiori, who holds degrees in electrical and computer engineering and computer science, is working to develop low-cost technology to enable the detailed monitoring and control of building energy consumption. In a broader sense, this field is considered cyber-physical systems, where the goal is to create an intimate connection between the physical and electronic worlds.

Many commercial structures already have so called building management systems – the thermostat registers below a certain temperature and the heat comes on or a hot day triggers the air conditioning. In a more advanced system, a sensor might detect occupancy and shut off the lights when no motion is detected. However, there is a problem with motion sensors in that if the occupant doesn't move enough, the lights might shut off anyway. "Using recent advancements from the fields of engineering and computer science, such as non-intrusive sensing, low-power wireless networks, mobile computing and big-data analytics, there are huge opportunities to make the building a whole a lot more intelligent," he says.

For instance, a classroom should adjust the room's airflow based on the number of people detected. If there are 80 people in the room, the air flow would adjust for 80, and as people leave the room, the air flow constantly adjusts. The result is reduced heating and cooling costs while simultaneously improved comfort.

Marchiori says that keeping buildings up to date with the rapid improvements in the fields of computing and electronics is a big challenge due to their relatively long lifespan. "Cyber-physical systems and buildings research are areas where undergraduates can really contribute. We have great spaces on campus for undergraduates to help develop solutions for our buildings to save energy. If we were to reduce Bucknell's energy consumption by even 10 percent, that would be a big deal," he says.

Another goal Marchiori has for his students is to have them help develop an online energy dashboard showing where Bucknell is using energy in real time. The project will give students hands-on experience using campus as their research site. "I am passionate about areas of research like these," says Marchiori, "because I believe they are great opportunities to drastically improve the sustainability of our society." 

Posted October 10, 2013

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