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University Receives $1 Million for Transformational Energy Technology


A technique for detecting the presence of human beings in homes has been awarded $1 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

Ya Wang
Dr. Ya Wang

Led by Professor Ya Wang of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the project entails developing a Synchronized Low-Energy Electronically-Chopped Passive-InfraRed (PIR) Sensor for Occupancy Detection (SLEEPIR), an inventive occupancy sensing solution that could that optimize heating, cooling, and ventilation (HVAC) of buildings while reducing cost and slashing energy use.

This non-mechanical oscillating technique, together with an advanced machine learning algorithm, is designed to address issues associated with high rates of false alarms in existing PIR sensors – a long-time complication in high-accuracy occupancy detection. This technology relies on the use of an “optical chopper” which temporarily interrupts the flow of heat to the sensor and allows the device to detect both stationary and moving individuals. The team will evaluate several approaches for the chopper, such as new low-power liquid crystal technology with no moving parts. They will also apply new signal processing techniques and machine learning to the infrared data, enabling differentiation between pets and people, and potentially sleep vs. active states.

Ya Wang, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering , and Director of Nanomaterial Sensing and Energy Harvesting Laboratory,  will lead an interdisciplinary team including Professor Jon Longtin in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Tom Butcher and Rebecca Trojanowaski from Brookhaven National Laboratory, and William Becchina from Stony Brook Building Science LLC, to address scientific and tech-to-market challenges to devise and commercialize SLEEPIR.

“Professor Wang’s research is critical to helping us understand how smart materials and machine learning algorithms can form intelligent systems in far-reaching applications, such as wireless sensing, advanced actuation, and energy harvesting,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, Dean, College of Engineering and Applied Sciences .  “I congratulate Professors Wang and Longtin, and thank them for their work to power a greener world with the development of highly impactful energy technologies.”

The Stony Brook team received this competitive award from ARPA-E’s Saving Energy Nationwide in Structures with Occupancy Recognition (SENSOR) program, which supports innovative and highly accurate presence sensors and occupant counters that optimize heating, cooling, and ventilation (HVAC) of buildings while reducing cost and slashing energy use. SENSOR project teams can take advantage of existing low cost wireless and electronic communication technologies and could reduce HVAC energy usage by 30% while simultaneously addressing user requirements for cost, privacy, and usability.

“Professor Wang’s represents the fifth ARPA-E award for our Department , and her second,” said Jeff Ge, Professor and Chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering. “This rapid build-up of our energy research program would not be possible without SUNY 2020 faculty hiring program that helped us recruit Professor Wang and other talented young faculty and achieve the department’s teaching and research mission.”

Stony Brook’s project is one of 15 ARPA-E projects that will develop a new class of sensor systems to enable significant energy savings via reduced demand for heating and cooling in residential and commercial buildings.  

About the Researchers:

Ya Wang’s (PI) research interests span a broad range of topics in the fields of smart materials, and intelligent systems, with integrated advanced sensing, energy harvesting and machine learning algorithms. She joined the Stony Brook faculty in 2013 and holds a PhD from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.  Visit her research lab’s webpage:   Nanomaterial Energy Harvesting and Sensing Lab .

Jon Longtin (Co-PI) is a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. His research interests include two-phase heat transfer systems, building energy systems, waste heat recovery, and sensors for harsh environments.  He joined the Stony Brook faculty in 1996 and holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.  He is a registered Professional Engineer in the state of New York. Visit his research lab’s webpage:  Thermal-Laser Laboratory .

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