Part VI: In-Seat Climate Control System
By John-Paul McGovern, Ph.D., Chief of Research and Technology, USSC Group, Inc.
This is the sixth installment in a series of articles discussing recent technology advancements in fire apparatus seat systems. Previous articles have discussed technology advancements in first responder seat systems, transition of technology from complimentary markets and seat system serviceability. The present article will discuss the integration of an occupant heating and cooling system to be available in the Valor seat family, and the improvements in occupant comfort afforded by such technology integration.
In the past several decades, automakers have offered in-seat heating systems for enhanced occupant comfort. The benefits of such systems are readily apparent in cold climates and temperate climates in winter time. However, much like a heating pad for soreness, benefit can also be realized during warm temperatures.
In just the past several years, luxury automakers have begun offering in-seat cooling systems for enhanced comfort of vehicle occupants in warm environments. While inherently more complicated system than a heat-only system (since removing heat is always more difficult than creating heat), the enhanced comfort as reported by users has been significant; perhaps even surprising to many first time users. Additionally, for applications in hybrid and electric-only vehicles, the benefit of reduced total power draw when used in conjunction or instead of the vehicle air conditioning system can be significant when compared to the traditional vehicle AC system alone.
With a driving goal of continually bringing new technology and enhanced comfort to the first responder market, USSC will begin offering cooling-only and dual cooling/heating systems in its Valor seats in 2016. With heated seats already available in 2015, these new cooling products will further increase the comfort levels in Valor seat systems.
In terms of the occupant experience of in-seat cooling, as with heated seats, the sensation of cooling will be felt within the first few moments of system activation, but maximum benefit will be experienced by longer durations in the seat. In fire and rescue equipment, the most significant cooling and fatigue reduction will be felt by first responder occupants of vehicles on longer runs to emergency situations, as well as drivers, officers, and command center occupants who are required to stay seated in the vehicle during rescue operations to monitor vehicle systems and manage communications. Much like the feeling of fatigue in one’s legs and back after a long road trip in a car, such long trips to emergency scenes or long required durations in stationary vehicles can leave a rescuer fatigued and ill-prepared to take action when the moment requires. Studies of the technology used in Valor seat systems has shown that by lowering the temperature of the occupant-seat interface to just below normal human skin temperatures, blood circulation is dramatically increased and the sensation of fatigue and stiffness dramatically decreased. This specifically-designed temperature range accomplishes this fatigue and stiffness reduction without imparting an overly-cold sensation to the occupant.
Finally, in terms of seat integration and maintenance impact, by virtue of the advanced heating and cooling technology used in Valor seat systems, there is no need for perforations in the seat system, through which cold air is blown. The method of heat extraction in Valor seats is by conduction through the seat surface, rather than by convection, or the blowing of air as in consumer automotive cooling systems. There is a two-fold benefit to this conductive cooling method in the first responder market.
First, the cooling system continues to work at full efficiency even when the occupant is in the seat. In forced-air cooling systems, when an occupant covers the perforations in the seat cushion surface, cooling efficiency is dramatically reduced. This is not the case with the Valor seat cooling system. Additionally, since there are no perforations in the seat because of the cooling system, there is no degradation to the inherent ease of maintenance and “cleanabilty” of Valor seat systems. Whether it be a Type III Cordura or a vinyl upholstery set on the seat, the ability to easily wipe-down the seat for cleaning purposes is retained. If perforations were present in the cushion surfaces, as is required with other cooling systems, this ease of cleaning would necessarily be compromised.
By integrating and developing this technology for the first responder market, USSC and its partners have introduced yet another novel technology for the purposes of enhancing the comfort and preparedness of first responder occupants using Valor seat systems.
For more information on Valor seating, visit http://www.usscgroup.com/first-responders/.