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Anyone who struggles with the standard temperature of their work environment has surely heard the theory of the “dummy thermostat.” A 2018 report in USA Today claims that it’s not uncommon for buildings to have placebo thermostats out in the open “that don’t actually do anything except give desperate workers the illusion of control.”
So if your office says it’s a nice, even 72 but you’re still wearing your down ski parka, you might want to look into that.
But the problem with heating and cooling the workplace is that individual bodies are different – and the range of ideal temperatures at which people most comfortable and productive could cover a huge range among individuals.
Engineers from the University of California San Diego think they may have the perfect solution. Study lead Renkun Chen, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and his team have designed a proof-of-concept wearable that keeps the user’s skin at a constant temperature even when the air temperature around them changes.
The armband consists of currents that can pump the heat of the wearer’s skin to the layers of elastomer sheets on the outside where they travel through a thermoelectric patch and dissipate. To warm a wearer, the current just needs to be reversed.
But the wrist-sized band isn’t the end game. The team at UC San Diego believes the technology will be most effective if it’s scaled up and they’re working on a vest-sized version of the wearable.
But the ability to customize your temperature experience isn’t even the best part. Chen says even on an extremely hot day, the vest would require about 80 watts to operate which, he says, is about the same amount of energy it takes to run a laptop. That means “keeping individuals comfortable in a large room would be more energy-efficient than cooling or heating the whole room.”