First Test of a Robotic Fan for Intelligent Personalized Comfort Control from Andy Payne on Vimeo.

The Need for Intelligent Personalized Comfort Control

By Andrew Payne.

Modern architects and engineers face the challenge of creating indoor environments that fulfill the dual goals of user satisfaction and energy performance. Creating an appropriate climate is essential to personal comfort, productivity, and occupant satisfaction. Yet, the question remains – why do so many buildings consistently fail to meet these two needs?

Stewart Brand has a great quote in his book, How Buildings Learn:

“Almost no buildings adapt well. They’re designed not to adapt; also budgeted and financed not to, constructed not to, administered not to, maintained not to, regulated and taxed not to, even remodeled not to. But all buildings … adapt anyway, however poorly, because of the usage in and around them are changing constantly.”

One solution to this problem is to create more intelligent personalized devices – ones which can learn about how you use a space and adapt to your needs. This new class of devices should also be able to communicate with other devices and the larger centralized building control system.

The first step toward greater personal comfort control is the development of a new low-power robotic fan. I designed and built this patent pending device which learns when and where to focus its attention; directing cooled air toward regions of the body which most affect comfort. Results show that people tend to prefer cooler breathing zones (ie. face, neck, and head). As such, the fan has a built-in video camera and uses facial recognition software to track the position of the user’s face and directs the fans accordingly.

There are also three high-torque servo motors inside the body of the fan. One moves the fan left-to-right while the other two motors tilt the individual fans up and down. It is also extremely low power; consuming about one third the power of a traditional desk fan. Lastly, it can wirelessly send and receive messages from the central building system and other devices within its environment.
The prototype was created on an Objet Connex multi-material 3D printing system. The accuracy of the printer combined with the strength of the ABS-like Digital Material enabled precisely fitting mechanical connections, like screw threads and friction-fit fasteners, to be printed directly into the parts. The parts were then sanded, painted and assembled, resulting in a professional “production-like” finish.

The development of this robotic fan is just one part of a much larger research endeavor centered around intelligent personalized comfort control. I have big things planned – so stay tuned to see some exciting new prototypes!

The body of the fan prototype was printed out of ABS-like material on an Objet Connex 3D Printer.

(Image by Andrew Payne. All rights reserved)

Andrew Payne is a registered architect and inventor who is currently pursuing his doctoral degree at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. His doctoral research at the GSD explores how recent advancements in technology can help architects create intelligent spaces and systems that have the capacity to meet changing individual, social, and environmental demands. You can find out more about his work at:

The device has three internal motors which move the fan left-to-right and up-and-down to achieve maximum personalized comfort. The fan consumes about one third of the power of a traditional desk fan.

(Image by Andrew Payne. All rights reserved)