Occupant Behavior Driven Smart Building Controls

In the US, people spend 87% of their time in buildings. Understanding dynamic occupant presence and thermal comfort needs is crucial to ensuring that building design and operations provide healthy and productive living and working environments. Occupant behavior is becoming a leading factor for building energy use, but there are challenges to studying occupant behaviors, as they are complex and ever changing. Privacy issues and the high cost of sensors can make data collection difficult. The constant changes in the built environment caused by occupant behavior also result in both physiological and psychological effects on the occupants.

Professor Bing Dong’s presentation covered various research projects related to behavior driven controls and optimization of smart and connected buildings, from behavior-driven individual building energy optimization to urban scale energy management, from equipment level optimal controls to large scale buildings-to-grid integration. Professor Dong concluded with a research vision on behavior-driven urban energy infrastructure planning and management within a smart and connected community. 

Steven VonDeak presented the people count sensor platform, Density, Inc. To put it simply — Density counts people. Understanding how many people are in a space helps organizations improve building performance by making them safer, more efficient and more productive. Density’s people counting system places a premium on three key functionalities: anonymity, accuracy, and real-time data availability. This real-time room occupancy provides insight for a variety of use cases including intelligent demand-controlled HVAC operation. Organized in 2014, Density has grown to a 50-person startup and their proprietary hardware/software system is all assembled, tested and packaged right in Syracuse, NY.


Laura J. Steinberg
Interim Executive Director, SyracuseCoEExecutive Director, Syracuse University Infrastructure InstituteProfessor, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Syracuse University

Dr. Steinberg’s research focuses on environmental phenomena’s effect on infrastructure, including how climate change is impacting infrastructure and environmental disasters. Her areas of expertise include environmental modeling and policy, diffusion of innovation, and critical infrastructure protection.


Bing Dong
Associate Professor, Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering and Computer Science, Syracuse UniversitySyracuseCoE Faculty Fellow

Dr. Dong has more than 15 years experiences in building energy performance simulation, building controls and HVAC FDD. He is also actively involved in the projects related with occupancy behavior modeling in buildings, machine learning for sustainability, wireless sensor network in buildings and building information modeling. He has published more than 50 peer reviewed papers. His papers are cited more than 400 times by other researchers around the world. He specializes in Occupancy Behavior Modeling, Energy Performance M&V, Model-based Building HVAC Controls; Energy Performance Simulation, HVAC FDD and BIM. 

Steven VonDeak
Co-founder and Chief of Staff, Density, Inc.

Steven VonDeak is a co-founder and Chief of Staff at Density Inc, a 50-person venture-backed enterprise IoT company. Incorporated in 2014, Density helps organizations improve the performance of their space by making it safer, more efficient, and more productive. From 2014 to 2019, VonDeak has been responsible for supporting the varied operational needs of Density, including: finance, legal, and human resources. He is also the general manager of Density’s Syracuse office, where the company was founded and continues to run significant operations today. From 2008 to 2014, VonDeak founded and operated a digital consultancy specializing in web and mobile application development. He holds a JD from Syracuse University College of Law ’08 and a BA from the University of Rochester ’05.

Lessons Learned from Monitoring and Re-Commissioning New York State’s Portfolio of CHP Systems

Combined heat and power (CHP) systems, or cogeneration, provide on-site electric power and thermal energy from a single system, eliminating waste and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Conventional power plants use fuel to generate electricity but reject waste heat into the atmosphere. In contrast, CHP systems recover that waste heat and use it for industrial processes, to heat domestic hot water, and provide space heating and cooling.
This Research & Technology Forum featured fleet-level results for several CHP systems that have been installed under NYSERDA‘s CHP program. Specifically, Hugh Henderson, Principal Consultant at Frontier Energy, outlined the types of performance issues that have been found at specific sites, and shows how performance-monitoring and re-commissioning efforts have helped these CHP installations achieve their expected potential.


Hugh Henderson
Principal Consultant, Frontier Energy
Mr. Henderson is a Principal Consultant at Frontier Energy with more than 30 years of experience evaluating energy technologies through on-site evaluation, field monitoring, and energy simulations. His areas of expertise include innovative HVAC systems, CHP, industrial processes, and heat recovery. Mr. Henderson holds both Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Agricultural (Mechanical) Engineering from Cornell University. He is a professional engineer in Florida and New York State. He is an active member in several ASHRAE society-level committees.

Faculty Fellows Research: Using Virtual Reality for Data Simulation

Syracuse University Professors Melissa Green and Amber Bartosh are collaborating on a project that attempts to use virtual reality software to create immersive data visualizations for architecture and engineering purposes.

Project Developing a platform to communicate quantified data using a virtual reality (VR)-enabled immersive and interactive environment.

Amber Bartosh

Assistant Professor, Syracuse Architecture, Syracuse University

See a list of Professor Amber Bartosh’s published research


Melissa Green

Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering and Computer Science, Syracuse University

See a list of Professor Melissa Green’s published research

We see alignments between what we’re trying to do in terms of data visualization. It’s not that crazy a pairing when you think about it from that standpoint.AMBER BARTOSH

Intellectual Collision Bartosh is an architect who uses virtual reality to visualize things like energy flows around people in a building. Green, a mechanical and aerospace engineer, seeks to use the same technology to visualize fluid flows, such as around fins in water. “We see alignments between what we’re trying to do in terms of data visualization,” says Bartosh. “It’s not that crazy a pairing when you think about it from that standpoint.”

Nuts and Bolts Advancements in digital modeling tools have dramatically increased the amount of spatial data relating to fluid dynamics flow visualization, and building energy systems. However, the two-dimensional systems typically used to represent this data usually oversimplify complex three-dimensional conditions. With initial funding from SyracuseCoE as part of the Faculty Fellows Program, followed by a CUSE Innovation Grant from Syracuse University, Bartosh and Green are working to make links among traditional architecture, engineering software, and virtual reality software to create immersive data visualizations.

Challenges It’s a difficult process. While it’s easy to represent a building visually, it’s more challenging to show how a building is going to perform in terms of thermal control or daylighting. “Those things are more difficult to convey because we’re not used to seeing that data in 3-D,” says Bartosh. “We can measure it and record it in charts or spreadsheets, but what we’re trying to do is bring that into this virtual environment, feeling like you’re walking through the real space with the temporal qualities specifically related to energy and flow that we are trying to visualize.”

Real-World Collaboration Bartosh is using projects from SyracuseCoE Partner firm Ashley McGraw Architects as test cases for data visualization methods to see if they help with communication. In turn, Ashley McGraw has integrated VR into its practice after seeing how the technology was being used by architecture faculty working at the SyracuseCoE Interactive Design and Visualization Lab (IDVL).

SyracuseCoE Impact Bartosh and Green are both SyracuseCoE Faculty Fellows working out of labs at SyracuseCoE headquarters. Green directs the Flow Visualization Lab, while Bartosh works out of the IDVL. SyracuseCoE funding allowed for the purchase of VR equipment used for their current project. “The space and resources we have here are fundamental to what we do,” Bartosh says.

Bottom Line The collaboration is an attempt to make data visualization a more streamlined process for each of their own labs and, ultimately, a feasible product transferable to other STEM and design disciplines.