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Researchers want to build control systems for buildings from old smartphones

Swiss researchers want to control buildings with disused smartphones. The aim is to avoid having to manufacture new, CO2-intensive computer chips for control units, as Empa announced on Tuesday.

According to the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), automated buildings can reduce the energy requirements of these properties by around 30 percent. Such building systems automatically control the room temperature of buildings, for example.

However, the ecological footprint of the hardware required for this poses a dilemma, according to Empa in the press release. "These systems are designed to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions. But if we have to manufacture new hardware for this purpose, the production and transportation of which require valuable resources and cause large amounts of CO2, then we are simply shifting some of the emissions to other sectors," said researcher Hanmin Cai, according to the press release.

The idea is still in its infancy

Cai has investigated to what extent basic control and communication tasks can be carried out with conventional smartphones, what performance they provide and which software applications are required for this. The result: it works. In his experiment, he was able to control the room temperature in a test building using the hardware of his old smartphone. Even a smartphone with a damaged screen can therefore easily perform the same tasks as a new control unit.

However, the idea is still in its infancy, Empa admitted. Important questions, such as the security of the software chain, the scalability of the application or the lifespan of such a smartphone controller, have not yet been conclusively answered. The researchers also want to quantify exactly how much CO2 they can save by using old smartphones.

©Keystone/SDA

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