In 2014, CE Pro wondered: “Are Smart HVAC Vents the Next Big Thing in Energy Management?”
We cited EcoNet Controls, Keen Home and (later) Ecovent as examples of motorized registers that could turn otherwise dumb HVAC systems into smart zoned systems that save energy and enhance comfort in every room of the house.
Now Google is interested in this home automation niche, having filed a patent application for “wireless zone control via mechanically adjustable airflow elements.”
As with the others, Google describes a system in which smart HVAC registers replace existing manual vents that otherwise rarely move from the opened or closed positions, except when guests or college-aged kids come and go.
Meanwhile, throughout the day certain rooms are unoccupied and others are either too hot or too cold for the occupant. Smart registers allow users to adjust the temperature in any given room via the motorized vents, along with one or more thermostats and a central controller.
Here’s the abstract of the Google patent application:
Electronically-Controlled Register vent (ECRV) that can be easily installed by a homeowner or general handyman is disclosed. The ECRV can be used to convert a non-zoned HVAC system into a zoned system. The ECRV can also be used in connection with a conventional zoned HVAC system to provide additional control and additional zones not provided by the conventional zoned HVAC system. In one embodiment, the ECRV is configured have a size and form-factor that conforms to a standard manually-controlled register vent. In one embodiment, a zone thermostat is configured to provide thermostat information to the ECRV. In one embodiment, the zone thermostat communicates with a central monitoring system that coordinates operation of the heating and cooling zones.
A quick glance at the patent application reveals little difference between Google’s invention and those of current providers, other than some power-management provisions.
The elements and architecture of Google’s potential product appear similar to others in the marketplace. Claim 2 in the patent application provides the gist of the invention.
A system for facilitating control of a zone temperature in a building, comprising: a remote unit, comprising: an input element configured to receive a user-defined set point temperature; a first wireless communication interface configured to send information via wireless signals to an electronically-controllable register vent (ECRV); and the ECRV, comprising; one or more airflow elements configured to restrict or ease airflow through the ECRV; a mechanical actuator coupled to the one or more airflow elements to adjust the restriction or easement of the airflow through the ECRV; a second wireless communication interface configured to receive the information from the remote unit; and a processor configured to instruct the mechanical actuator to adjust the one or more airflow elements based on a comparison of the set point temperature to a sensed temperature.
There are additional claims concerning power management, enabling the system to extend battery life in the registers through sleep and awake modes.
Dual-band radios are described in the patent application – one to exchange rich data between the control system and the individual zones (smart registers), the other to send and receive short bursts of sleep and wake-up commands (so it seems to my under-qualified self).
When the zones (smart registers) are asleep, their radios cannot send and receive commands, thus preserving battery life. The registers can be programmed to awake periodically to check for messages from the controller.
The power-management scheme is described in these and other sections within the patent application.
5. The system of claim 2, wherein the ECRV further comprises a battery-based power source and wherein the processor is further configured to operate the ECRV in a sleep mode whereby the second wireless communication interface is inoperable to transmit or receive information and consumption of power from the battery-based power source is lower than when the ECRV operates in an awake mode.
6. The system of claim 5, wherein the processor is further configured to periodically and temporarily switch operation of the ECRV from the sleep mode to the awake mode whereby, while in the awake mode, the ECRV is configured to receive one or more messages via the second wireless communication interface.
7. The system of claim 6, wherein the processor of the ECRV is further configured to alter a period at which the ECRV switches from the sleep mode to the awake mode in response to receiving an instruction via the second wireless transceiver, the period being altered from an old period to a new period, the new period being defined by the instruction.
View more images and descriptions from the patent application.
Any smart-vent experts out there that would like to comment on the patent application?