Smart Buildings

The term Smart Building or Intelligent Building refers to a set of technologies that enable different sensors, actuators and smart objects within a building to communicate and interact with one other, so as to control and manage, often remotely, the building itself. The main objective is that of enhancing occupants’ comfort, quality of life, safety and security, while at the same time automating boring/repetitive actions and minimizing the costs (in particular energy-related costs) related to the building management. This encompasses not only residential buildings, but also industrial and tertiary buildings such as hospitals, airports, malls and schools.

The activities of the Net4U laboratory in this research area are mainly related to:

  • Sensor-based habits and preferences profiling: environmental and wearable sensors are used to monitor users’ activities and use of appliances. The collected data are then processed, using Machine Learning techniques, in order to build a profile with users’ habits and preferences. This profile can be used to create user-centric building management systems that are aware of user’s perceived comfort and Quality of Experience (QoE).
  • Occupants’ activity prediction: the information included into occupants’ profiles are combined with data about the context (e.g. time of the day, temperature, light) to predict the activities that are most likely to be started within the following hours. Such information can be used by building management systems to plan their processes accordingly.
  • Energy and Comfort Management: the building appliances (e.g. HVAC, water heater, lights, washing machine) are scheduled so that the energy efficiency of the building and the occupants’ comfort are improved. From an efficiency perspective, the aim is to achieve Zero- or nearly Zero-Energy Buildings (ZEB or nZEB), namely buildings that consume all or almost all the energy that is produced by their Renewable Energy Sources (RES), or those of the microgrid they belong to. On the other hand, the comfort aspect is crucial for the Smart Building system to be accepted and used by the occupants. Therefore, the occupants’ habits and preferences, and their expected activities need to be considered to ensure an efficient schedule of the appliances.
  • Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Management: the maintenance of indoor comfort parameters is essential for preventing sick building syndrome and improving occupants’ feeling of comfort, health, morale, working efficiency and productivity. Indeed, IEQ is determined by three basic factors: thermal comfort (temperature and humidity), indoor air quality and visual comfort. It is evident that the management of HVAC, lights, windows and blinds is crucial to ensure a good IEQ. Such system strongly relies on the habits and preferences profiling, as occupants are often not aware of their actual preferences (e.g. they set the HVAC temperature, but then turn it off before this temperature is reached). Furthermore, when there is more than one occupant in the same room, the system aggregates the preferences of the detected occupants so that a trade-off is reached.