“Modern air conditioning is all about controls,” Malcolm Persaud, Senior Manager of Product and Market Development at Panasonic, explained as he showed BuiltWorlds around the Panasonic AHR expo booth. “People want controllability. It has forced us to give them access. ” Following Persaud’s observation, BuiltWorlds decided to explore a sampling of HVAC controls exhibiting at the AHR expo.
Persaud believes that controllability centers around smartphones and the cloud. “In the past 5 years, the entire [Panasonic HVAC] research and development focus has been communication with smart devices and the cloud.” Bosch seems to share Persaud’s outlook on smart devices. R. Kyle Murray, the Director of Marketing at Bosch, explained that very few of the new Bosch RRC Thermostat’s controls are accessible on the wall device. The majority of controls for the thermostat are hosted on an app.
By contrast, Maria L. Meija, an Associate Product Manager at Johnson Controls, related that Johnson has taken a more conservative approach. All of the GLAS thermostat’s controls are available on both the wall unit and on an app. Meija explained that Johnson’s focused user testing showed different users wanted to control the thermostat in different ways.
Vine and Lux have also taken a conservative approach. The Vine 610 and the vast majority of LUX thermostats have turn knobs in addition to apps. These traditional features align with Persaud’s observation that “most older people don’t want HVAC apps. It’s younger people who use apps.”
Many HVAC control systems even allow users to control them without lifting a finger. Bosch’s RRC, Johnson Controls’ GLAS, and EcoBee4 are all voice activated. Furthermore, RRC and GLAS detect occupancy based on motion and adjust the temperature accordingly. Ecobee and Panasonic systems similarly detect occupancy, but utilizing thermal sensors. The Panasonic EcoNavi System can even detect an individual’s activity level and direct more airflow to individuals who give off more heat.
It’s not only individuals who are benefiting from increased user control over HVAC. EcoBee is offering increased control on a commercial scale. Graham Beauregard, EcoBee’s Commercial Product Manager, related that EcoBee has a commercial web portal, which allows facilities managers of large retail chains to regulate any number of thermostats across any number of locations. Beauregard also detailed that EcoBee is moving into the multifamily space. The company is creating a web portal that will give facilities managers of large residential properties oversight, while giving tenants control over temperature.
Even though HVAC systems are already giving users so much control, Persaud believes the systems need to give users, both individuals and enterprises, even more control. “We need to control humidity, filtration, ventilation. We need to change from just temperature to environmental control.”