What’s the current scenario?
This year’s July was the hottest month in recorded history. And just like a trend, summertime temperatures are going to keep rising. As a result, people are relying on air conditioners to keep their homes and offices cool. If we continue to rely on traditional air conditioning to keep our bodies cool, the energy bill will also escalate.
The sheer number of A/C units is already a great menace to the climate because of the amount of energy they consume. According to the Global Cooling Challenge Report 2018 the number of A/C units are almost one-sixth of the world human population! There are already 1.2 billion A/C units pumping cool air into people’s homes. The more staggering information is, that number is on track to reach 4.5 billion by 2050.
As a consequence, energy demand is expected to triple in the same amount of time. Moreover, the vicious cycle of mass cooling ourselves is actually adding to the climate change which is heating up the planet.
Any smart solution?
Our traditional air conditioners are meant to cool a room or a larger area which can be perceived as an act of wasteful practice. Cooling individuals could be a lot cheaper and less wasteful than cooling entire buildings. Costing Americans $29 billion per year, the home cooling industry occupies a large market releasing roughly 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air.
Moreover, staying cool isn’t just about saving money or energy. People suffering from cancer or other health conditions can experience hot flashes and find regulating their temperature difficult. As global temperatures rise and energy efficiency becomes ever more important, here comes the idea of using wearable technologies to keep the body cool!
A group of companies, startups, and research groups are racing to build wearable and portable devices that can act like mini A/C units, personalized for the users. Whether you want to save money, regulate your health, or lessen your carbon footprint, there is full flexibility for you!
Reon Pocket, Sony’s Portable, wearable air conditioner!
While talking about the wearable air conditioner, Sony’s Reon Pocket’s name comes first! The global electronics maker Sony is just one of the companies getting into the cooling wearable race. In late July, the company launched a successful crowdfunding campaign in Japan for its Reon Pocket device.
This device will sit right at the back of the wearer’s neck in a specially designed undershirt’s pocket and deliver instant cooling. It is said to be able to lower the wearer’s body temperature by 23 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius).
Here Sony is using the property of semi-conductors called the Peltier effect. Two years of development went into the Reon Pocket, which can also be used as a heater. Users can warm up by about 14 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius). This personal air conditioner will keep you cool whether you’re on a crowded train or watching a ball game under the scorching sun.
The project, which is part of the Sony Startup Acceleration Program, is already completely funded, and Sony plans to start selling the product in 2020, just in time for the Tokyo Olympics. Given the recent heat waves in the city, a device like this could make watching the Games outdoors more tolerable, or even help the athletes themselves which means that we’ll probably see a lot of cool, comfortable spectators and athletes taking in the sporting event.
Reon Pocket is intended to be used in tandem with a special undershirt that has a pocket at the base of the neck. The Bluetooth device, which weighs about 3 ounces (85 grams), connects to an app which allows for easy regulation of the temperature.
The personal air conditioner works with both Android and iOS and charges via a standard USB-c. With 90 minutes of battery life, the device works long enough to keep wearers fresh and comfortable in many situations. With the combined undershirt, the price will be around $130, but it will only be sold in Japan for now.
To know about Reon Pocket you can go and watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Io2tzCVU6aY
Embr Labs by MIT PhD students
Sony isn’t the only company trying to capitalize on the rising heat. Embr Labs is a startup founded by three MIT Ph.D. students who were disappointed by the fact that their lab was always freezing cold during the summer, even when there were only a few people in the building.
The energy-conscious students considered it a huge wastage of energy and thought to provide cooling devices to each individual inside the lab instead of using insane amounts of energy to chill vast spaces. Necessity is the mother of invention.
So they came up with a solution! They built a small, $299 device called the Embr Wave that the user can wear on the inside of the wrist. At the press of a button, a ceramic plate that sits next to the skin gets really cold, providing the wearer a bit of relief by targeting the sensitive thermoreceptor nerves that sit on the inside of the wrist.
The company claims that, because Embr would allow people to cool themselves rather than their entire office or home, it could translate to energy savings of between 15% and 35% of a building’s overall cooling costs.
Like Sony’s Reon Pocket, the Embr Wave is comprised of a cooling plate that sits against the wearer’s skin and a larger aluminum heat sink on top in the form of a bracelet. The Wave doesn’t stay cold for long though; the user has to set a duration for it to run, and it slowly increases and decreases the cold sensation in waves for that period of time.
A 2018 study at UC Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment found that the Embr Wave can help people feel up to five degrees more comfortable.
To watch the news of CNBC about Amber Wave go to this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eb5gTV4y-L8
Technological challenges they had to overcome
Mostly because of the laws of physics, creating a wearable tech that can cool someone down is very difficult. To make something cold, we have to make something else warm. That’s why window A/C units stick out the window.
They can blow hot air away from a building’s interiors, while they blow cold air inside.
“When as you get smaller, especially if you want to get portable, it becomes more and more difficult to dissipate that heat,” says Sam Shames, a Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Embr.
There’s another problem, too. It takes a lot more energy to cool something down than to heat something up. Consequently, cooling devices are usually large, bulky, and loud—all because of the process of cooling is inherently inefficient.
That’s why the Embr Wave, as well as Sony’s Reon Pocket, use a quirk of materials science called the Peltier effect to provide intense cooling sensations in a smaller form. In the 1830s, the French physicist Jean Charles Athanase Peltier discovered that if an electrical current is run across a junction between a metal and a semiconductor, a cooling effect can be created. Interestingly, if the current is run on the other direction, heat is produced. Devices that use this effect are called thermoelectrics.
The Embr Wave and the Reon Pocket both use the thermoelectric effect to generate cooling in a device that’s small enough to wear on your body. But thermoelectrics also requires a lot of energy. To make the Embr Wave more efficient, the startup’s team manipulated the thermoelectric device to just target the temperatures that the human body responds to the best.
Because temperature sensations are relative, the device doesn’t need to be anywhere close to freezing to feel cold—it just has to be a little cooler than the normal human body temperature.
By 2021, energy in the world will be more expensive. At that point, finding ways to avoid using traditional air conditioners may be a practical way to save a little money on energy costs.
Smaller, more efficient thermoelectric-powered wearables like Embr and Reon pocket might be able to break that vicious cycle of energy-hungry air conditioners contributing to extreme heat, which in turn convinces more people to turn on the A/C to stay comfortable.