Air conditioning has played a major role in increasing intellectual productivity, such as enabling people in tropical climates to work just as efficiently as their counterparts in cooler climates. Daikin aims to create new air conditioning solutions that offer more advanced controls. This will involve using IoT and AI technologies to identify human factors (mental and physical condition of individual people) for improving the air environment.
Daikin is promoting open innovation through tie-ups mainly between its Technology and Innovation Center (TIC) and various companies, research institutes, and universities. The goal of these partnerships is to create new value for air that goes beyond the air conditioning elements of temperature, humidity, air flow and purification.
In 2016, we began joint research with NEC Corporation aimed at air and spaces that increase intellectual productivity. By combining Daikin's strengths of technology for optimizing air control and knowledge concerning the impacts of air and space on people with NEC's strength of leading IoT and AI technologies, we engaged in research with the goal of providing new solutions for optimal environmental controls in order to increase work performance (intellectual productivity) in offices.
During this joint research, we focused on arousal level (an indicator of brain activity) which is correlated to intellectual productivity. This is because studies have shown that maintaining the right level of arousal without drowsiness or nervousness is important for improving performance.
As a result, we examined what methods and timing of stimuli help to maintain arousal at the right level when feeling drowsy. During the test, 55 test subjects performed simple two-digit addition to make them feel drowsy. They were then asked to report their level of drowsiness on a five-step scale every five minutes. We also estimated their drowsiness using image processing technology to take pictures of eye lid movements. As test subjects became drowsy, we added various stimuli such as air conditioning (temperature), lighting (illuminance), and aroma (fragrance), and observed changes.
The results confirmed that temperature stimulus from air conditioning can sustain the right level of arousal for longer compared to light and aroma stimuli, since the average arousal level compared to no stimuli was two steps higher and drowsiness was prevented for more than 45 minutes. When signs of drowsiness first appeared, the right level of arousal was maintained when lowering the room temperature three degrees Celsius. At this setting, room temperature can also be returned to the original setting in a short period of time. Therefore, the balance with comfort was also confirmed.
Past studies have shown that people become drowsy if they are too comfortable and that drowsiness can be stopped with a flow of cool air. However, the mechanism was unclear and ways of preventing drowsiness while maintaining comfort were unknown. This research demonstrated that drowsiness prevention and comfort can be balanced using effective temperature stimulus, marking a major step toward air conditioning solutions that increase intellectual productivity. Looking ahead, we plan to accumulate data and create an air environment that considers various human factors by using IoT and AI.
Looking ahead, we will work with other companies and universities to increase the overall quality of indoor spaces, not just office spaces, where people are said to spend 90% of their lives. This will include providing an air environment tailored to people's needs and condition, while combining the latest technologies, data and know-how.
We developed technology for quantifying drowsiness using NEC's AI technology along with control technology for air conditioning and lighting to prevent drowsiness. After testing the effects of these technologies in a work environment, we found that performance increased without sacrificing comfort. Going forward, we will continue to support activities in the field for validating this technology in real life business settings.
Mr. Toshihiko Hiroaki
General Manager Data Science Research Laboratories, NEC
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