Temperature controlled chair keeps people comfortable at the office


It may look like a chair, but researchers are calling it a "personal comfort system."

"We tried to make something that looks like a regular desk chair as you can see -- but the difference is inside," UC Berkeley researcher Wilmer Pasut said.

Hidden beneath the black upholstery are three silent fans, two heating coils, and a battery.

"See I'm in heating mode here with the red light, and if I switch it over to cool, I get the blue light and I'm immediately cooled. I can feel it instantly," Dr. Ed Arens said.

Dr. Arens led the research at UC Berkeley's Center for the Built Environment. They study all sorts of ways to keep workers happy and save energy at the same time. They've found out that heating and cooling people is a lot more efficient than heating and cooling a building.

"In the library we were able to cut the energy use by 50 percent in a period where we gave people these chairs and turned off the thermostat," Pasut said.

Researchers have been testing the chair out on real people in a climate controlled test chamber. With 30 test subjects, they brought the room down to a dry 62 degrees and up to a humid 86 with hardly any complaints.

The key is giving people the power to do something about it.

"When they have control, they always perceive the environment is better," UC Berkeley researcher Hui Zhang said.

There's also this -- two people can have up to a 10-degree difference in the way they perceive temperature. Now, instead of arguing over the thermostat, they can both be comfortable.

"We hope that we are going to change the rules; we are going to change the way that people design for comfort," Pasut said.

They're already shopping for a manufacturer who'll make the chair.

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