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NREL develops more intelligent occupancy sensor

Posted: 10 Jun 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:occupancy detection? motion sensors? NREL? IPOS?

Occupancy sensors, which are installed in offices to save electricity, can be frustrating at times. While working quietly on your office desk it may automatically turn the lights off because it has determined that no one is in the room.

For 30 years, occupancy sensors have relied primarily on motion detection, which can backfire if you are just sitting on your desk while trying to get work done. However, a more advanced technology can solve this dilemma.

The U.S. Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has developed and made available for licence the Image Processing Occupancy Sensor (IPOS), which combines an inexpensive camera and computer vision algorithms that can recognise the presence of human occupants.

IPOS can detect with almost 100 per cent accuracy the number of people in an area, spots where there are no people, the level of illuminance, and other variables.

IPOS classifies additional information

Figure 1: Inside view of the computer in the Image Processing Occupancy Sensor. Photo credit: Dennis Schroeder

"People have been playing with using image processing for occupancy detection for quite a while," said NREL Senior Engineer Larry Brackney, who developed IPOS with NREL colleague Luigi Gentile Polese. "What's novel about IPOS is that it's not just an occupancy sensor. It combines a lot of capabilitiesoccupancy detection and classification; how many people are in the space; are they sitting still or moving around? Where are they in the room? It offers the potential of putting light or ventilation only where it's needed. All functions are combined in a single sensor, and it's done in a way that is more robust than current sensor technology."

Its combined powers can, for example, detect that there are five people walking down Aisle 5 at a retail store, but none in Aisles 4 or 6. It can signal the lights to stay on in Aisle 5, but dim somewhat in the other two aisles. Big-box retail stores, reluctant to even dim the lights if customers are anywhere in the store, currently miss out on big energy savings because their existing motion sensors aren't accurate enough to detect vacancies by aisle or section.

What's more, an IPOS system set up in a big-box store could not only help save energy, but could also be used to play videos or commercials when occupants approach a screen or an exhibit, or to control animations for promoting products or services.

IPOS microprocessor and camera

Figure 2: Developers Polese and Brackney showing the small size of the essential parts of the IPOS-the microprocessor and the camera. Photo credit: Dennis Schroeder


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