ConnectM, a Boston based technology company focused on making climate assets intelligent, provides an intelligent data analytics/science platform to power climate assets in homes and buildings in America, where most homes have a ducted heating or cooling system. A central furnace or air conditioner with a control unit regulates the temperature of the air which is then spread throughout the home via a system of ducts. Wherever there’s a vent in one of the rooms of the house, the air comes out to either heat up or cool down the room’s temperature – according to the setting of the thermostat.
Ecovent - powered by the ConnectM platform - provides room by room climate control, allowing for comfort and savings. It deploys a centralized sensor network, measuring pressure, temperature and humidity throughout the home or office. The data is ingested and provides a thermal map of the building. Ecovent then governs the distribution of airflow on a room by room basis, based on the temperature set points on the mobile application, as shown in the video below. This happens through smart vents and dampers based on the governing decisions of the algorithm relative to the set points in each room. The vents or dampers can be opened or closed to allow for respectively more or less air enter the room via the ducts.
Existing systems without the IoT solution do not divide homes into different zones, such as individual rooms. Instead, closing the registers in one room means that more air is forced out of the registers in the other rooms. Furthermore, with the thermostat being the only sensor in the entire house, the system only heats/cools based on the temperature immediately around the thermostat, no matter what the temperature is in the other rooms without a thermostat. This means it’s difficult to comfortably set the temperature throughout the entire home – making it a cumbersome task to enjoy your own home in comfort.
This is where Ecovent comes in. By replacing the traditional vents with intelligent vents or dampers and a few room sensors measuring the room temperature, pressure, and humidity, homeowners can divide their home up into zones corresponding to the individual rooms. This small IoT system then relays the information back to a central hub connected to the internet router that collects the data of each room and makes it accessible via an app on the homeowner’s smartphone. Moreover, the app allows the homeowner to regulate the airflow in each room independently. And as everything’s wireless, it can easily be installed in every house without the need for a completely new duct system.
Smart stepper motor ICs from Trinamic are at the center of the intelligent vents that use 4 AA-batteries, keeping the system wireless while ensuring 3 to 5 years battery life. Of the numerous options considered by ConnectM for their Internet of Things climate control system, the TMC5130 was the only solution to fit all criteria according to Nick Lancaster, Chief Science Advisor of ConnectM:
Energy-efficiency, the first criterium for a possible solution, is important for numerous reasons. First of all, one of the system’s goals is to reduce energy waste by not heating up or cooling down rooms where it’s not necessary. Second, to stay in line with the wireless monitoring system and hub, the smart registers themselves should also be wireless. This allows for easy implementation and means it won’t draw any more attention in a room than a traditional register would. Third, wireless means battery operated. And with several vents per room, you can easily have twenty vents throughout the entire house. Keeping in mind that the solution should enhance the comfort of living in a home, you don’t want to have a solution that requires the user to get up and replace batteries throughout their home. Trinamic’s TMC5130 sports coolStep™, saving up to 75% energy by adjusting the motor current to the minimum amount required in the actual load situation.
The solution of course also needed to be silent. Nobody wants to have those mechanical whining noises in the background. The TMC5130 chip controls the small motors in the vent using stealthChop™. This ensures a smooth, clean current sine wave is being fed to the stepper motors. The result is absolutely quiet motors in standstill and when operating at low speeds – which are typical conditions for operating the intelligent vents. Combined with the additional spreadCycle™ mode, the driver offers smooth operation and good power efficiency over a wide range of speed and load. This means not only the motors opening and closing the vents will be silent, but the smoothness of operation ensures that the entire mechanism is silent as well by reducing vibrations.
The final criterium was that the solution should use as few components as possible. Trinamic’s smart solution ticks this box with stallGuard2, which means that the system doesn’t need any external limit switch. Instead, it uses the back EMF of the motor by measuring the difference between electrical energy flowing in and out of the motor, and how much energy returns to the power supply. When there’s no energy left, the motor is likely to stall. By measuring the back EMF, stallGuard2 can detect hard stops and thereby know that it reached the limit.
Another feature of stallGuard2 is that it ensures the position of the vents. If a motor stalls, it can skip steps and the position information of the stepper motor is lost. In other words, Ecovent won’t know how far a register is opened or closed. Crucial information when you want to regulate the airflow in a room. To prevent this from happening, the safety feature stallGuard2 stops the motor so it won’t spin out of position. In short, all types of switches, encoders or detectors to determine the vent’s position was no longer needed.
Besides these smart stepper motor ICs and a wireless receiver, the intelligent vents also each have a sensor that closely monitors the pressure and airflow. Derived from aeronautical engineering principles, this feature optimizes airflow and preserves the system’s integrity. It prevents pressure buildup in the home’s duct system, which otherwise can lead to costly and potentially dangerous situations – situations varying from air pressure forcing its way out by creating leaks in the system to the central furnace or air conditioner overheating and breaking down. And when that happens, the duct system can distribute carbon monoxide into your home in the case of a broken furnace. To prevent this from happening, the smart vents will open to reduce the pressure inside the ducts if needed.
The system’s limits will never be put to the test with Ecovent, adding to the comfort of a well-climatized home.