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Testing & Validation of Occupancy Recognition Technologies

Iowa State University (ISU)
ARPA-E Award: 
Ames, IA
Project Term: 
09/01/2018 to 08/31/2021
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) consumes a significant portion of the energy used in buildings. Much of this is wasted energy, used when buildings are either not occupied at all, or occupied well under their maximum design conditions. Traditional motion sensors are often used in buildings to adjust lighting levels, but they cannot provide advanced quantitative information about the environment. New classes of sensor systems used to enable advanced control of HVAC levels can include human presence sensors, people counting sensors, and low-cost CO2 sensors. Their improved accuracy and reliability can reduce energy consumption for homes and commercial environments.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

Iowa State University (ISU) will develop a comprehensive testing protocol and simulation tools to evaluate the energy savings and reliability of occupancy recognition sensor technologies for commercial and residential buildings. A barrier to wide adoption of new occupancy sensors is the lack of rigorous and widely accepted methodologies for evaluating the energy savings and reliability of occupancy recognition of these systems. To address this need, ISU's protocols will allow them to determine occupancy recognition, sensor effectiveness, and reliability in both laboratory and real-world conditions for residential and commercial applications. Using their protocol and simulation tools, sensor technologies will be tested, including occupancy presence technologies for residential buildings, occupant counting solutions for commercial buildings, and CO2 sensing technologies for commercial buildings. For commercial buildings, the office, and academic submarkets will be the focus of these efforts, two of the highest energy-consuming building sectors. For residential buildings, a diversity of building types and interior layouts located in Ames, Iowa will be used to conduct real-world field testing. Results from the proposed work will be used to develop the framework for two nationwide test standards.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, SENSOR projects will dramatically reduce the amount of energy needed to effectively heat, cool, and ventilate buildings without sacrificing occupant comfort.


Lower electricity consumption by buildings eases strain on the grid, helping to improve resilience and reduce demand during peak hours, when the threat of blackouts is greatest.


Using significantly less energy could help reduce emissions attributed to power generation. In addition, improved interior air quality could help prevent negative effects on human health.


Buildings will require less energy to operate, reducing heating, cooling, and ventilation costs for businesses and families. In addition, better controlled ventilation may lead to improved indoor air quality (ensured by an accurate occupant count, and validated via widespread CO2 detection) may lead to improved worker productivity and academic performance.

ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Marina Sofos
Project Contact: 
Mr. Paul Kremer
Release Date: