Imagine a building capable of turning up the heat, activating the air-conditioning and even sending surplus solar energy it generated to the main power grid.
A number of researchers are working on various components of these "smart" buildings, including Driss Benhaddou, an associate professor at the University of Houston's College of Technology.
Benhaddou has received a grant from the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program to continue his work on developing the algorithms that these buildings could use to transmit sensory information to a main system. His grant is for the academic year starting this fall at the University of the Al-Akhawayn in Morocco, his native country.
The Fulbright Program, the U.S. government's flagship international educational exchange program, aims to increase mutual understanding between the United States and other countries. Fulbright grant recipients are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.
Benhaddou's overall research involves optical networking, routing protocols and network optimization. Five years ago, he started working on a related area, wireless sensor networks involving small devices called motes.
A mote can fit into the palm of a hand and is powered by two AA batteries. Relatively inexpensive to make, motes can be used to interface with all sorts of sensors. They work as a group through radio frequency technology forming what is called a Wireless Sensor Network (WSN).
One of the challenges in using motes is with the routing protocols, or getting information from one point to another in a timely and efficient manner with little loss of data.
Benhaddou has been working on routing procedures and applications for motes. His work under the Fulbright grant will focus on developing algorithms that will optimize and manage the energy consumption in the building and also interact with a smart grid.
"The main thing I will be exploring thanks to the Fulbright grant is building efficiency management," Benhaddou said.
The idea is to place a series of motes throughout a building. The motes would transmit information such temperature and humidity from different parts of the building to a main system, or to a smart grid.
Once at the main system, the information would be evaluated and the system would decide what to do, such as increasing or lowering the temperature.
"My goal is to develop the algorithms so that a computer can decide what to do about with the information," he said. "It's as if the building would have its own brain."
"We also want the building to be able to communicate with the smart grid so it could decide how to consume, buy and even sell back energy to the grid," he said. "It would make the building as energy efficient as possible."
Additionally, Benhaddou will introduce the research project to students in Morocco, interact with them and perhaps even have some follow him back to UH to continue their work.
"The Fulbright organization wants students to be exposed to global issues. Energy is global and the smart grid is global," he said.