Interfacing with HVAC products is increasingly complex. The tiny 1-inch LCD display included on systems does not lend itself to complicated functions. Keeping the HVAC user interface simple limits control options to on/off, mode change or choosing a temperature.
Thermostat controls company COTHERM has developed a smartphone app that can be used to control complex functions such as product settings during installation, programming or providing technical information about an HVAC product. Near field communication (NFC) relays information from the smartphone app to the HVAC equipment.
Conventional HVAC equipment
“NFC technology can be leveraged by heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) manufacturers so that installers can adjust the settings for radiators, as well as water or space heaters, via a mobile phone,” says Alain Maillard, Marketing Director of COTHERM. NFC is a contactless technology that enables transfer of short messages between a smartphone and an object.
The technology is widely used and is already popular for uses such as contactless payment
The technology is widely used and is already popular for uses such as contactless payment, access control and transportation. The large color screen display of a smartphone and the familiarity of app usage provides a strong tool for user interface and is much more user-friendly than conventional LED or LCD displays with keypads that commonly equip conventional HVAC equipment. This is particularly evident for advanced settings that need a lot of menu navigation like programming.
Using NFC technology
NFC provides a remote user interface using a smartphone to facilitate the configuration or setting of the product. In effect, the smartphone becomes the user interface of the product, and there is no need to use a complex display with a keyboard. The approach also does not require complex IT installation or pairing as would be required with other technologies like Bluetooth or Wifi. Because communication is based on proximity, data exchange is safe, and you do not need a password or login to connect.
The Electric Radiator is COTHERM’s first equipment to use NFC technology, and the first market introduction is in France. The first company to introduce the technology is ‘Univ’R Chauffage’ for the 2021 winter season. For an installer, simplicity is key.
Permanent communication link
The actual appliance is simplified to include only the most commonly used functions
The NFC approach provides time savings for installation as it does not require a login/password of a local network. And it is error free: An app can have a pre-defined setting package that is impossible using a native LCD+ keyboard on traditional equipment. For the user, the actual appliance is simplified to include only the most commonly used functions.
There is no pairing or setting, ensuring simplicity. And the system is hacker-free as it requires a proximity exchange and works without the cloud. Data exchange is only activated while the smartphone is close to the radiator; there is no need for a permanent communication link. As a consequence, there are no waves pollution and no energy consumption that may be due to maintaining permanent communication. For appliance manufacturers, the cost-effective solution is innovative and easy to use. Limited support is needed as there is no installation (except downloading an app from the store).
Industrial HVAC products
The approach also enables a contactless customization of the appliance at the end of the production line in the factory with no power supply on the appliance because NFC is energy harvesting. The approach can be used for industrial HVAC products as well as residential appliances. NFC provides cost advantages, eliminating the need for a high-end display on an appliance.
Some sensitive technical data or setting may be reserved for a technician only
Information is also addressable: A filter can be set with data from the appliance accessible by profile. Some sensitive technical data or setting may be reserved for a technician only or for use at the factory. In the HVAC application as implemented, the controller of the appliance is used as the NFC tag and the smartphone is used as a reader/writer terminal with color display. The controller of the appliance includes an NFC antenna and a small, dedicated NFC controller with memory.
Providing additional benefits
On the other hand, the smartphone can be iOS or Android and needs to have the COTHERM NFC App downloaded. NFC is available on iPhone from iPhone 7 and on Android; all smartphones with NFC are compatible.
NFC technology provides additional benefits, too, including:
- Traceability and storage of historical data.
- Easy setting of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth configuration when combined with NFC.
- Preset of the appliances or any equipment at the factory, including enabling or disabling.
- Functions or changing settings to enable customization based on distribution channel for brand.
- Directly points to the correct app on the store for download when using the smartphone for the first time.
- Self-launch of the app when the smartphone is close to the NFC tag.
Further expansion is planned in Europe. The combination of the technology has received an innovation reward as a European funding project Touch & Heat by DIGIFED Europe program (Horizon H2020). Partners in the DIGIFED program are IoTize, a French startup, and Lucht LHZ, a German manufacturer of Electric Radiator. Product introduction in other European countries is planned for 2022. HVAC equipment such as water heaters or heat pump water heater controllers are the next target for the technology.