Alex Question: How do you plan to get soft costs down for installations in the broader home market (e.g., not new builds)? It seems like the installations for the main device (the one that spans outside and inside) would still require significant modification (drilling, electrical, plumbing). These trades cross certifications, so how do you plan to be able to drive costs down for installation? How cheap would your soft costs be relative to a split ductless system done well?
Ela: What is inside of the connection in the wall? Can you share details?
The inside of the wall is a aluminum and steel framed channel that is vibration and thermally isolated much like a engine mount for a car! That provides the space to insert the ERV core, or ERV Capsule that contains the pancake ERV/MOF/Filter slices.
Ela: This has to be drilled with a relatively advanced hole saw?
You need a large hole saw, but it is a very simple device that we can package or can be bought at a home depot. The key would be not hitting an electric line or water line, although those are not commonly intersecting with the places where an Airform would go.
Ela: Ceramic ERV Core, 3D Printed?
We are not having as much of a costing issue with 3D printing ERV cores for the field prototypes, but it's a good question at scale, we might continue to 3D print some elements, it's a devil in the details question of performance to cost to scale.
What are the details around the installation of the unit?
The main hurdle we can overcome right now is making the vapor refrigeration cycle connection reliable without an HVAC specialist, wall thickness are largely standardized but there can be differences depending on the location or the siding that is being used. Once the mounting of both symmetrical units is completed we are using some very basic robotic actuation to do and check the final engage, and also the disengage.
This is in particular why we chose co2, is that failures are particularly easy to recover from because you can recharge the system with something that is widely and cheaply available and whose discharge won’t be under strict regulation unlike every other refrigerant, we just need to get really good with the precision and the engage parts are double the costs, around $80-100 which is a lot of BOM to add to a traditional air conditioner.
Ela: What are these parts for the engage and disengage?
($100)← We essentially want our alignment robot to engage and disengage one of these parts, they can handle up to 10,000 PSI which is close to 700 Bar, we need only 50 Bar for a CO2 system, with possibly a peak of 100!
Ela: What is the current status quo on the market?
The current state of the art here is probably the gradient heat-pump that uses a hydronic(water) system to bring coolant inside the home, they did this to reduce the specialized labor and the fault risk, however as a result their system is drastically less efficient, by 30-50%, but that’s an estimate. It was a good approach but we would rather use the thermal load of water for distributing amongst many air forms, as the lag in achieving the ideal temperature is better as a supporting function instead of using it to deliver cool air to the room immediately as wanted by the end user.
Ela: What do you mean you are more robotics than HVAC?
HVAC is to some extent very well understood engineering, and has been highly optimized for costs in mass consumer distribution. We think that robotics unlocks a different range of BOM, access to more advance parts, and the miniaturization of the efficiencies that large commercial installations enjoy.
Every interface we make is about uplifting the physical space.
Ela: So to confirm, you are just using CO2 in for one Airform. No water hookup needed?
CO2 our enemy made our friend is the V1 for consumer mass deployment, the V0 field units may use propane to get them out as soon as possible, but the system will be engineered to meet the high pressure needs of CO2 as soon as possible.
Ela: What is the difference between the current status quo of low install complexity HVAC?
Harvest Thermal and Gradient use water to transfer thermal energy inside of the house, this makes there systems viable both slow to respond to user desire for comfort and in-efficient in terms of crossing the weather barrier, they've made a compromise because they cannot rely on automatic install.
However water (hydronic) has a very high thermal load, it is useful in it's ability to store and transport heat loads around a building, so while our individual Airforms can perform without out them, they really shine in being able to work in thermodynamic tandem with each other through this circulatory system.
The ERV core and the vapor refrigeration join is currently the same component, and can be installed manually, which we are doing right now for the field prototypes for California for us to learn what the robot needs to do, there is also a margin of error in volume of the refrigeration line that we get much closer too since we have a symmetric join, i.e. the compressor/evaporator is not that far away from the condenser on the inside.
Ela: Manually installed by who?
We are targeting handymen to home enthusiast for the single unit symmetric installs, but it's reasonable to eventually create a certified installer to be able to do other sku's and retrofit the hydronic systems.
In terms of installation there’s probably 4 levels in my mind:
Consumer - IKEA level furniture assembly
Handyman - Available but inconsistent
Trade Specialist - Electrical and Plumbing are easier to find than HVAC, all have high costs, but since HVAC make their money on the install, they charge more.
We think with the heavy application of design on one side, and better robotics on the other side we can start in between handyman level and move to consumer level, especially for the first install.
We don’t require the electrical trade because we use the 120V line on the inside of the house, you could make it cleaner by tapping into the line box and replastering, but this is also something that can be done by a handyman. We will provide a very nice cord for consumer level installations. Our current prototype engages the compressor at a much lower wattage, although we will need to test this in much hotter conditions to determine the maximum actual BTUs we can deliver, or a party scenario when you just need maximum cooling, that being said most space is unoccupied and being conditioned most time unnecessarily.
Ela: Numbers of the wattage?
We were running a 12V compressor at 100-200watts of power, typical acs run at 1000-1200watts of power. This was a bit of a mistake in our first prototype because we did not yet calculate the mechanical leverage to amps, but it was an interesting discovery of our ability to deliver comfort in the prototype and led to our new goal which is to establish an effective BTU.
You could install an Airform per room and never have to draw a coolant tube across the home for the entire lifecycle of the product, although if you wanted to hit the theoretical limit of the Airform system it doesn’t require specialized labor because the hydronic system is closed loop, it is going to be a good amount of work to draw coolant loops through a home, but if you have existing ducting even better.
Ela: Could you add more clarity behind this?
the idea here is that going to market will require a toe dipping level of install to really accelerate the scale, while most people are deciding between 15-20K installs to 30-60K installs, getting started with an Airform is in the 5K range, which put it closer to an Affirm level of financing, I think the goal from the design here is to make it as modular and expandable as possible, so even if you maybe for some reason undersized the unit for a very large space (i.e. my massive living room and kitchen) you can add another one in an array right beside it.
Ela: The robot will need to be operated/engaged by a trained human, no? Share a Photo?
It will be guided by a laser. There are two tasks that a self-installing system must complete, the first of alignment on the x and y axis, and then the along the z-axis to precisely determine the amount of volume that directly affects the ability for the refrigerant's ability to achieve it's phase change. There is also the front panel itself which can use the same linear motors to push out and drive a higher volume of air through the external and internal coils, instead of it's default position of directing air specifically to a person in the room of which the form maximizes static pressure.
3-Axis with pitch and yaw, pitch and yaw may not be necessary.
3-Axis Robotic Actuation with High Pressure Vapor Refrigeration Join
Performance & Defensibility
Alex Question: On an kWh per BTU of cooling, what's the comparable performance benefit of using your system? What prevents your competitors from using similar cooling technology in a comparable product?
We believe the intelligent spatial cooling will achieve about 20-30% efficiency gain.
The novel combined installation of ERVs into mini-splits and the management of moisture through the ceramic core will give us an additional 20%. This comes from two factors, the ERV in its passive state, and our ability to dry it out with additional radiators.
) They just haven't been integrated into split units, more common at the commercial and in central systems, so if you wanted to install them into your home it would be a separate $1000 for the unit and additional labor and another hole in your house that will need to be weather sealed to install them. They are very new!
If combined with the hydronic system and properly managing the trans critical state of co2, we can add another 40% of efficiency, this is what we want to invest in to see if we can make our system pencil out in cooling scenarios only for Asian summers or forever summers in Southeast Asia.
Ela: How many systems would it require to achieve this?
The Synchronous aspect of the hydronic system is theoretical based off of the early research we did on the Normal homes (
) an overview, but we think it's a big opportunity for higher density developments.
An example of this is simply taking advantage of and mitigating the force of solar gain, because current HVAC systems are one to many systems and are always hidden from view, they often end up in problematic solar gain situations, take the 50years office, which has two massive Trane units on top of the roof, these are made out of pure metal, but receive the same solar gain that a solar hot water would receive essentially reversing the capital investment of something that meaningfully drops the energy draw of a building.
This is dependent on conditions and region, our bet here is that we can utilize the hydronic system and extra water mass to enable thermal arbitrage, I.e., using air forms exposed to solar gain in certain scenarios, use the water reservoir as a thermal battery, and optimize the input temperature to the Compressor to maximize its optimum phase change, it’s the profile of portable units buy the economies of scale of a large central or ground source heat pump. Harvest thermal uses a more rudimentary version of this https://www.harvest-thermal.com/
We think in effective BTUs as opposed to actual BTUs because we don’t want to cool rooms, we want to cool people. Also our secret is that our BOM is much higher so our parts are better and smaller so we can hit the same actual BTUs as traditional units, although we just choose not to because we don’t have to.
The cooling technology itself is not particularly defensible if we were to get these on the market outside the fact that competitors will likely have a hard time fitting it into their BOM, if a future large or small competitor takes one of our units apart and sees how we optimized the system it’s possible they could replicate it. However this is a complex system to orchestrate, and the thermodynamics of the system are interlinked with what we want to deliver on the end user experience. I think this gets to the core of what makes this a deep design company, is that we develop a technology pipeline that is connected to the desirability of the end product, and just stay one version ahead of everyone else.
Costs and Manufacturing
Alex Question: How cheap are you relative to other comparable heat pump systems now and in the future? On driving BOM costs down: how much of the cost savings in the future will be driven by parts with no scaled supply chain? E.g. -- the ERV solution you currently have is a ceramic 3d printed part, and so I assume has no scaled supply chain.
What is the general idea of the BOM?
We have about $2000 in off the shelf parts in various configurations around the lab right now. We've set a price at $5000 which is exactly the same per unit as the market, but this price is too low as we have found out recently.
Ela: Do you have any data to support this?
We know through public data and quotes we have received that the margin is quite high on these units (
). Sometimes we are seeing quotes of 20-30K for replacing a central system in the pacific northwest, but recently we have seen a quote starting at $60K to replace two gas furnaces.
The current DIY Systems are priced within this range of $5000, which we set at simply to not seem strange. However the amount of design investment we have placed into the system has repeatedly set a higher price expectation, we think we could possibly move up to $7,500 to $10,000 per symmetric unit if we paired it with some white glove service that didn't require HVAC certification for the higher end clients we are targeting.
How will you get costs down?
You can either increase the price you sell things at or drop the price of producing them. By taking out install costs of our heat-pumps we can recover $2,300 to $3,500 per unit as the prices range greatly across America, the BOM addition of a $120 ERV 3D printed Ceramic core is not particularly problematic, if it is in-line with improving the value and the install process of an Airform, in our case it is.
However the only true way to get costs down is to get to mass production and mass distribution as soon as possible, there is a whole conversation around DFM and how to distribute manufacturing in the post covid era, companies are dead today because they entirely relied on China, and there is a question of where final assembly will be handled.
However it’s worthwhile to consider that we are a robotics company through and through, while we will utilize existing supply chains to scale up production, we use advanced robotic manufacturing to prototype and run small batches, and over time we think that the same skill-set and expressiveness that we practice in prototyping will become the default way to also do high scale manufacturing, except now with properties that were impossible with standard practices of injection molding and mass production.
A Reminder: Why even do an ERV Built in?
As a matter of fact they have a direct impact on the quality of life of the air within the room from the level of CO2, to pathogens to VOCs that can last months after something as simple as a fire place within a house to a secondary effects from wild fires (
It’s an extra $1000 to buy and get one installed into a mini-split system per room, so making it part of the automatic join is a competitive advantage in terms of price as we have already amortized one weather barrier self-installing. invasive procedure
Being able to install one and also control the condensation that moves through it improves the end user experience, reduces the total cost of ownership and improves the overall efficiency of the system, its a big reason why looking at this problem from first principles is one of our main competitive advantages over other start-ups that are simply taking these units off the shelf from large manufacturers.
What is the scaled supply chain of the ceramic 3d printed ERV?
The ERV can be changed to a pancake design that is much easier to manufacture at scale, but currently we are building and printing the reference that is designed for performance and not for manufacturability. The pancake design is also interesting to me, considering that you could slide the system out and add filters or MOFs depending on the climate, so as we come to your local biome we may make modular modifications to your ERV or as we call it Bio Core as necessary for your region or as your region changes.
Ela: Discuss this idea.
Instead of printing one large core, we print or mass manufacture thick disks that are sandwiched together, these could also be rotated in the future programmatically in order to achieve different channels and different CFMs, we are experimenting with actually two of these in wall channels one that is in the configuration of a HRV and one that is in the configuration of an ERV to control moisture and to provide more of a membrane/desiccant to increase the performance of the system.
There's an important point here to be made about asynchronous serviceability, this core is accessible from the outside of the residence, and so is the unit such that this can be replaced by a technician at any time, replacing air filters or upgrading the technology within the core does not require any coordination with the resident, so should we create a Metal Organic Framework pancake in the future we are able to easily sell and replace that system without interrupting someone's private space.
Next Generation Multi Material Robotic Manufacturing
There are things you can simply just not do with current scaled supply chains, and multi-material procedurally generated materials is one of them, our ceiling in which to release subsequent versions of Airforms is based in our deep tech understanding of how robotic manufacturing can change the very bio-mechanical nature of the built environment.
In the grand scheme of things a CeraFab Ceramic Printer is not expensive, at 40K they can produce 4-5 ERV Cores a day at a material and energy cost of $100-$150. For a capital cost of $500K we could produce under 18K units a year with the gross margin of $700 in value that we substitute for each unit.
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