Detecting Human Movement by Differential Air Pressure Sensing in HVAC System Ductwork: An Exploration in Infrastructure Mediated Sensing

Shwetak Patel, Matthew S. Reynolds, Gregory D. Abowd


We have developed an approach for whole-house gross movement and room transition detection through sensing at only one point in the home. We consider this system to be one member of an important new class of human activity monitoring approaches based on what we call infrastructure mediated sensing, or "home bus snooping." Our solution leverages the existing ductwork infrastructure of central heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems found in many homes. Disruptions in airflow, caused by human inter-room movement, result in static pressure changes in the HVAC air handler unit. This is particularly apparent for room-to-room transitions and door open/close events involving full or partial blockage of doorways and thresholds. We detect and record this pressure variation from sensors mounted on the air filter and classify where certain movement events are occurring in the house, such as an adult walking through a particular doorway or the opening and closing of a particular door. In contrast to more complex distributed sensing approaches for motion detection in the home, our method requires the installation of only a single sensing unit (i.e., an instrumented air filter) connected to an embedded or personal computer that performs the classification function. Preliminary results show we can classify unique transition events with up to 75-80% accuracy.