Thursday, 26 October 2017 00:52

Review and Video Interview: Cool new invention beats summer heat for 21st century microclimate treat

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One of the most important inventions of modern times and in all of human history has been air conditioning, letting us cool the air as required instead of just heating it.

Build a fire when it's cold, or simply put on extra layers, and you'll be warm or warmer, but on hot summer days, you can strip naked and still be boiling hot.

Air conditioning changed all that, and with a friend remarking not long ago that hot and humid Singapore was one of the coldest countries she's ever lived in – because of all the air conditioning in all the buildings she was in for work, living, shopping, eating, and only hot when temporarily outdoors!

So, it is fascinating to see technological evolution once again coming to the fore to deliver unto us new technologies with which to change and improve our lives for the better.

Two standout examples of this include Close Comfort, a revolutionary portable air-conditioning unit unlike any other, and the EvaPolar's two evaporative coolers, itself a revolution in even more portable and accessible air cooling devices (with a article on EvaPolar's new unit and a video interview here from a month ago, with a review of that product to come).

Now it's true that fans provide some relief, but let's face it: they can often feel like they're just blowing around hot air on hot days.

And, while traditional portable air conditioners and evaporative coolers have been around for years, they're usually fiddly, very large, expensive to operate, noisy and ultimately, a poor substitute for a real air conditioning unit.

This is where the 21st century has finally caught up.

The Close Comfort unit is happily blasting cool air at me as I type, and as a personal air conditioning unit, it is actual air conditioning as opposed to only evaporative cooling, and deals better with the humidity while delivering cooler temperatures that an evaporative cooler, at higher temperatures, cannot.

The article continues below, but I want to introduce my interview with Close Comfort's Australian investor and founder, Professor James Trevelyan.

In the interview, Professor Trevelyan tell us about his background, and why he decided to bring Close Comfort to life.

We spoke about the differences between Close Comfort and existing air conditioners, and evaporative cooling units.

We looked at why Close Comfort doesn't end up adding heat to a room the way a traditional upstanding air conditioner would if it didn't have the hose going out the window.

We talked about its energy efficiency, its success in Pakistan over the past two years, what future versions of the technology would look like over the next decade, the potential for smart home integration vs the simplicity of a simple, remote controlled unit.

Professor Trevelyan shared some great advice he had received in his life to help him get where he is today, and shared his final message for iTWire viewers and readers, and for his current and future customers.

The article continues!

So, where Close Comfort is different from EvaPolar devices is in its size, and method of cooling.

Close Comfort it is much larger, and has wheels for easy movement inside or out (requiring an extension cable for power), but is still only a fraction of the size of traditional portable air condition units.

It also requires no extendable tube to connect to an open window with a fiddly attachment devices, which is a godsend compared to the noisy and unwieldy portable air conditioners of old.

The company itself describes Close Comfort thus: "At 17Kg, the lightweight unit does not require pipes enabling instant use and castor wheels provide portability from room to room. It uses a refrigerant to cool not requiring water or ice providing convenient self-operation.

"Unlike split-system air conditioners, windows can remain open allowing fresh air to circulate in a room, making it a healthier alternative.

"Close Comfort is the ideal cooling solution for indoors and can also extend to recreational activities like camping, boating and picnics."

Now, I first heard about this unit on 16 October, and wrote up its announcement in an article entitled: "If summer's searing heat is too close for comfort, a new Aussie air-con sounds very cool."

On sale in Pakistan for the last two years with great success, providing cool comfort in periods of 41 degree heat at midnight when the central power grid has gone down and traditional air conditioning stops, or is too expensive in the first place, Close Comfort has proven a marvel of modern and power efficient technology.

In Pakistan, the unit is connected to an inverter powered by batteries, so citizens can still keep their AC-powered fridges, fans and computers running, and now a Close Comfort fan running too, all on battery power until the central electricity grid goes back online.

Operating on only 300 watts, or the equivalent of four light bulbs, its power usage is calculated to run at 75c per day, which is hundreds or even thousands of dollars cheaper than conventional air conditioning used to cool down an entire house.

The revolution is in being able to control your own microclimate, and to have devices portable enough to move around if desired and without the hassles of long exhaust tubes, expensive operating costs or other inconveniences, and clearly, both Close Comfort and EvaPolar devices have done just that.

Close Comfort can be operated with the windows open to let in fresh air, if desired, or operate with the windows closed. There's even an optional tent you can buy to put over your bed, giving you the ultimate in a cool sleeping space even in the face of heatwaves, while also eliminating the threat of mosquitoes nibbling on your nose in the middle of the night.

So, with the announcement of Close Comfort coming to Australia for the first time arriving only 9 days ago, I was excited not only to test the product for myself, but also to interview its Australian creator, Professor James Trevelyan, and founder of Close Comfort.

There was a 33 degree day in Sydney about a month ago, and today was 30 degrees, with tomorrow due to be 28, and while the outside temperature has dropped to below 20 degrees, it is still a little warm inside.

Indeed, setting the Close Comfort to 17 degrees produces air that is too cold. I had it set to 23 degrees and it was nice. I changed it back to 19 and again it grew too cold. It's now at 21 degrees as I play with its settings, and that too feels too cold, so I've now set it to 24 degrees.

It really does work to pump out a nice and cold temperature, and as I have it for a few more days of review time to try it out further.

I'm going to have to buy one, and use it alongside my EvaSmart unit for the ultimate in microclimate perfection this summer.

Professor Trevelyan is clearly the real deal, and was even awarded for his pioneering work in robotics!

His story follows, as provided, and it reads like an inspirational short story.

He spends a a lot of time visiting India and Pakistan. He used to have to put up with disturbed sleep caused by the inevitable power interruptions associated with power grids overloaded with too many power-hungry air conditioners.

Professor Trevelyan knew that sleep could be much more refreshing with continuous air conditioning.

After a series of experiments between 2007 and 2009, he realised that it is possible to create a sensation of cool comfort with minimal power, less than 400 Watts.

Working with the help of his students, he steadily developed a compact portable air conditioning prototype that could run on a battery backup power supply common in tropical countries.

With the support of his family, he directed the company from its inception, developing ever more affordable prototype designs that could be manufactured on a mass scale.

His vision is that everyone living in hot and uncomfortable climates can enjoy personal air conditioning without having to expand electricity production and power networks.

In the long-term, we can store enough solar energy to provide all the cooling we need at night and transform the lives of billions of people.

Professor Trevelyan began his career as a professor in the School of Mechanical and Chemical Engineering at The University of Western Australia: he retired from UWA after serving there since 1975.

He is a now an active member of Engineers Australia, and practices as a mechanical and mechatronics engineer developing new air conditioning technology.

His main area of research is on engineering practice and he has recently published a major book: “The Making of an Expert Engineer”.

He teaches mechanical design, sustainability, engineering practice and project management, and is well known internationally for pioneering research that resulted in sheep shearing robots (1975-1993).

Professor Trevelyan and his students produced the first industrial robot that could be remotely operated via the internet in 1994.

He was presented with the 1993 Engelberger Science and Technology Award in Tokyo in recognition of his work: this is the leading international award for robotics research.

He has twice been presented with the Japan Industrial Robot Association award for best papers at robotics conferences.

He has also received university, national and international awards for his teaching and papers on engineering education.

From 1996 till 2002 he researched landmine clearance methods and his website is an internationally respected reference point for information on landmines. He was awarded with honorary membership of the Society of Counter Ordnance Technology in 2002 for his efforts.

The air conditioning segment is saturated by overseas brands. This Australian-owned invention by the engineering professor is set to compete internationally and with planned expansion to additional markets.

Between 2007 and 2009, the West Australian engineer, trialled the idea of a compact localised cooling solution. Through continued research, development of prototypes and subsequent modifications, Close Comfort PC9+Plus was to provide quality and convenient air conditioning affordable to all.

As a testament to robust performance, Close Comfort was successfully piloted in one of the hottest climates internationally, Pakistan and has experienced its highest temperature of 53.3°C in 2010.

Besides being able to pump out really cold air, it has low running costs, is portable at 17kg, delivers localised cooling, needs no installation, is environmentally friendly, and is a healthier alternative.

It retails for $649 via the Close Comfort website.

I'm yet to test it on really hot days as we haven't had any yet where I've had the Close Comfort with me, and I'll be updating this article or writing a new one, but thus far, this is a device I want with me this summer, and with the EvaPolar also to be by my side this summer, this summer is going to be the coolest yet!

Here's the company's video:

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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