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Hello air-conditioner, how are you?

The air-conditioner technician of the future might need more telephones and fewer ladders if researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have their way.

Researchers have designed and built a system to remotely monitor and diagnose the performance of rooftop air-conditioners. The easy-to-install system measures air intake and temperatures from within the unit. The measurements then appear in real-time on a Web page that is automatically generated.

"Technicians can connect to the unit by phone or through the Internet to get clues about what the problem might be," said Dave Chassin in the Laboratory's energy technology development group.

Looking at the air-conditioning unit's Web page, technicians can point at particular places to obtain the same readings that they normally would take by physically putting probes into the air-conditioner. The remote readings are even more accurate because they can be taken without stopping or opening the unit.

"The diagnostic system can identify component failures, help avoid sick building syndrome, reduce energy use and help technicians schedule regular maintenance calls," Chassin said. "It also would help service companies send the right person and the right equipment to the job."

Unlike conventional monitoring systems that require complex programming and expensive installations, the new remote diagnostic and monitoring system requires the connection of just 12 wires and no software programming. Added features planned for future models would track energy consumption, provide remote control operation and compare the equipment's current operation to historical trends.

Researchers are testing the systems in southeast Washington state and at selected sites on the East Coast with hopes of commercializing the technology.



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