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Robust non-intrusive interpretation of occupant thermal comfort in built environments with low-cost networked thermal cameras

Li, Da, Menassa, Carol C., Kamat, Vineet R.
Applied energy 2019 v.251 pp. 113336
ambient temperature, buildings, cameras, data collection, energy, humans, infrastructure, skin temperature
About 40% of the energy produced globally is consumed within buildings, primarily for providing occupants with comfortable work and living spaces. However, despite the significant impacts of such energy consumption on the environment, the lack of thermal comfort among occupants is a common problem that can lead to health complications and reduced productivity. To address this problem, it is particularly important to understand occupants’ thermal comfort in real-time to dynamically control the environment. This study investigates an infrared thermal camera network to extract skin temperature features and predict occupants’ thermal preferences at flexible distances and angles. This study distinguishes from existing methods in two ways: (1) the proposed method is a non-intrusive data collection approach which does not require human participation or personal devices; (2) it uses low-cost thermal cameras and RGB-D sensors which can be rapidly reconfigured to adapt to various settings and has little or no hardware infrastructure dependency. The proposed camera network is verified using the facial skin temperature collected from 16 subjects in a multi-occupancy experiment. The results show that all 16 subjects observed a statistically higher skin temperature as the room temperature increases. The variations in skin temperature also correspond to the distinct comfort states reported by the subjects. The post-experiment evaluation suggests that the networked thermal cameras have a minimal interruption of building occupants. The proposed approach demonstrates the potential to transition the human physiological data collection from an intrusive and wearable device-based approach to a truly non-intrusive and scalable approach.