Throughout the world, there is a growing need for energy efficient housing solutions. The need is particularly strong in developing countries located in tropical climates, where the cost of energy used for temperature and humidity control is very high. As these climates are often prone to flooding, there is also a need for low-cost, energy efficient emergency housing.
The bulk of energy is spent on compensating for heat and cooling losses that occur through the building envelope � the outer shell of a building that protects the indoor environment. Most current building envelopes have separate controls for environmental flows such as humidity, cooling, and light transmission that lack precision and are difficult to calibrate. Climatic self-regulation of building envelopes that can reduce the need for artificial space conditioning is highly relevant to develop.
Through a pioneering interdisciplinary collaboration between bioengineering and architecture, researchers at UC Berkeley developed a new sensor technology for external building membranes that can actively respond to environmental changes, and provide automated control of moisture and temperature. The system for Self-Activated Building Envelope Regulation (SABER) is inspired by new understanding of moisture barrier and heat transfer in plants. SABER utilizes optomechanical and hygrothermal sensor/actuator networks build onto a thin film membrane, which can replace the expensive and large mechanical control systems.