In this week’s Community Feature, we speak to Dr Zuraimi Sultan, Christopher Soyza and Manish Gupta from SinBerBest, a 5 years research programme that is funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) of Singapore and headed by Professor Costas Spanos since 2012.
What is SinBerBest and what do you do?
SinBerBest stands for Singapore-Berkeley Building Efficiency and Sustainability in the Tropics. It aims to deliver energy efficient building technologies for the tropical built environment while optimising human comfort, safety, security and productivity within the building.
Most of the research is geared towards developing state-of-the-art building technologies and improve energy efficiency in office buildings. The key items of interest would be to deliver energy efficient air-conditioning and lighting systems, facade technologies, data analytics solutions, energy grids, occupant localisation in terms of people management and environment control in order for them to operate productively when they are present.
Are these technologies already utilised in Singapore?
Maybe bits and pieces in the industry, because these technologies are not necessarily required by building owners and local standards. However, these technologies have been proven to reduce energy consumption in Singapore buildings.
Where do you usually testbed your technology?
At the first stage, we will test it in our CREATE testbed. Once the technology has been proven at the testbed level, we then deploy it in an actual building. We have a life-scale deployment in BCA Academy at Braddell road, where we deploy up to six technologies to reduce the energy consumption in the net zero energy building.
What are some of the technologies that you guys are focusing on this year?
One of the technologies that we have is called the “Building in a Briefcase” (BiB). It is a special technology that will help to monitor the environmental parameters within the office building. Through monitoring, we can then implement control measures to improve the environment such as lighting and temperature. Chris and Manesh are responsible for developing this technology and we have gone through several iterations ito enhance the features .
Why do we need this technology? Who is it for and what is the main purpose of it?
Many buildings are not efficiently run through our research surveys. By having a portable BiB kit, we can actually take it into a building for monitoring and analysis, trying to evaluate if the building is underperforming. For example, we can note the performance of air conditioning system through monitoring data related to temperature and humidity. We collect the data and analyse them, to see if we can optimise the building environment and system operation. That would be one of the key driving points for BiB.
Who are your potential partners? Will you partner with specific companies or sell directly to building owners?
We are open to partner with another company. Most of the focus here is on research and the outcome of the research can be translated into a reusable commercial technology. One of the key things about this kit is that we want it to be low-cost. So we have to set a reasonable and valuable price mechanism to achieve that goal. It makes it easier for anyone to own one and use this technology for their own purposes.
Will a person with no technical expertise be able to deploy this system?
Yes, it is simple enough. We brought it to a point where you can take it out and turn on the sensor. Once it is activated, it will start collecting data and pushes the information back to a storage space – our own sort of ‘private cloud’. The person who has access to that space can collect and view that data later on, perform analysis and make a decision depending on whatever he or she wants.
Do you need to recharge the batteries often?
They are battery based to make it portable and easy enough to use. At that moment, we are using a version that does not require charging. It is a one-type use that holds up to about 1- 1.5 years, depending on how often you use it and what kind of data is being captured. We have worked on a rechargeable model that is actually in the works at the moment. There are main challenges that we face in the design most of the time. Although, the sensing part is reasonably simple, it is dependent on what kind of data we are sampling. For example, there is no cheap and energy efficient method to capture data for carbon dioxide. These are the challenges we are trying to improve on.
Why is this technology not commercialised yet?
BEARS is a non-profit research entity that develops the technology. Any technologies that we have come up with is patented. We encourage industrial partners to come and use our technology through the patent office in NTUitive.
Are your industry partners aware of this technology? How do they gain awareness?
One way of advocating the use of this technology in actual buildings is through partnerships with industries and government agencies such as Building and Construction Authority of Singapore. Through such flagship project collaboration, we can help to provide exposure to our technology.
What will BEARS work on next? Will you focus on improving on the Building in the Briefcase or move on to develop another technology?
Well, it is a combination of different technologies. We build our electronics in-house and use different kinds of communication mediums. Right now, we are using 3G services which can be upgraded to 4G services with the goal to always improve as much as we can. Another aim is to find a way to get the cost lower. We are probably going to be reinventing as much as we can. If we can get an investor on board for collaboration, that would be great.
Why did you choose to use WiFi to operate your sensors?
There are many kinds of radio transport technologies that we tried in the past but they didn’t suit our requirements. WiFi makes sense for the amount of information we are trying to move. One key reason is that it is more adaptable. It can be used in a reasonably wide area space and more robust.
What happens if WiFi fails?
We solve this problem by running our own service internally. There is no dependence on other services. The system loads up and runs its own WiFi environment – there is no dependency on a third party.
Could you explain the process of running an exclusive WiFi service, for those who are unfamiliar with the mechanics behind it?
At home, you have your router and you turn it on and you have your WiFi. We have done the same except we modified the software to automatically connect to the base station and its preset. The user does not need to worry about configuring and setting up. In a sense, it is a plug-and-play solution that makes it a lot less cumbersome to use.
What are you looking for at this stage? Is there some call to actions you want to add?
At this stage, we are always interested in research partnerships to look into how we can improve our product and for deployment purposes as well. We are looking for more buildings where we can test out our product such as commercial office buildings and even home use.
How can potential collaborators reach out to you?
You can reach out to us through our website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch the full video interview with SinBerbest here:
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