Why is Masdar installing sensors in UAE mosques?

Sheikh-Zayed-Mosque-Abu-Dhabi

Written by Neha Bhatia 

The UAE’s Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST) revealed its has developed a research project that leverages advanced sensor technologies and customised mathematical algorithms to make mosques “smart” and significantly more energy-efficient.

MIST has been working with the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments to get the smart sensor system installed and tested at a number of local mosques.

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The smart mosque sensor system is currently installed and being tested at two Abu Dhabi mosques – Masjid Fatah and Masjid Al Haq.

Remarking on the development, Fariha AlBarqi, head of mosques service division at General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, said: “We expect that Masdar Institute’s smart mosque technology will minimise the power consumption of mosques while also helping with the overall management of the mosques.”

The challenge of reducing the energy demand of mosques is due to the nature of their daily use.

Mosques experience sudden influxes of users at five specified times throughout the day, corresponding with the five daily Islamic prayers.

Between prayer hours, mosques sit idle for several hours, either empty or nearly empty.

These multiple peak times of sudden crowding followed by hours of dormancy, coupled with mosques’ open space, differentiate mosques from other buildings, and thus require a specialised sensor system.

Dr Talal Rahwan, assistant professor of computing and information sciences at MIST, said: “Often mosques choose one of two options to deal with air-conditioning – either a mosque will leave the air-conditioner on all day, even when the mosque is empty, or the mosque will lower the air-conditioning when no one is present, and increase it again to a very high level once the mosque becomes full.

“But the problem is that at this point, the inhabitants are already hot and uncomfortable as they wait for the entire building to cool.

“Furthermore, turning the air-conditioning to a very high level is very inefficient and wasteful. Worse still, by the time the building becomes cool enough for comfort, the worshipers have left the mosque altogether.”

Dr. Rahwan is leading the smart mosque project with assistant professor of computing and information sciences, Dr Sid Chi-Kin Chau.

By using intelligent algorithms to analyse a video feed of the mosque, each smart sensor learns the times of the day when the mosque becomes full.

It then automatically begins cooling the mosque slowly prior to those times, so that once full, the mosque will be cool, allowing worshippers to pray comfortably, without requiring high-energy rapid cooling.

Then, before the worshipers even start leaving the building, the system will switch off the air-conditioner in anticipation of their departure, resulting in lower energy consumption.

This ability to forecast the future occupancy is what makes the mosques ‘smart’, according to WAM.

Dr Rahwan and Dr Chau’s sensor system is said to be self-contained, affordable, and adaptive.

By using sensor technologies equipped with advanced processing capabilities on-site, the fast processing power of the built-in computers enables the data to be processed in the mosque itself, thus avoiding the need of a huge bandwidth connection to transfer all this data back to the server.

The assistant professors are supported by UAE national MSc student in computing and information sciences, Sarah Bamatraf.

She developed a three-dimensional simulation of the mosques, which is being used to test and fine-tune the sensor system under different weather conditions and occupancy patterns.

Currently, the main focus of MIST’s smart sensors is on air-conditioning, but the researchers say the technology has a scope for further application.

Future plans include enabling the system to detect malfunctioning air-conditioners, monitor water consumption and detect leaky water pipes.

“We are certain that the smart mosque technology can be expanded upon and modified further, to include a range of sensing activities that will further help to create a truly sustainable, energy-efficient mosque,” said Dr Chau.

The data generated by the sensor system has a diverse range of applications beyond reducing carbon emissions.

For example, Bamatraf will be leveraging the data collected by the mosques’ sensors to develop a mobile application that will reveal occupancy rates in each mosque, which will help worshipers make informed decisions when selecting the mosque at which to pray.

This app will help users avoid the uncomfortable experience of praying in an over-crowded mosque, especially during Friday prayers.

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