Summertime is already in full swing in New York, and with that comes the dreaded air conditioner install, first dragging it from the depths of the closet (if you're fortunate enough to have one), then struggling to get it into your window, mounted and sealed—all without dropping it out the window and killing someone with it in the process. The struggle is real.
For anyone who has ever experienced that, there's a new, dreamy AC unit that will come like a breath of cool air (sorry). Noria is a super sleek, smart, connected air conditioner that sells itself as easy to use and beautiful to boot.
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The product is the brainchild of Kurt Swanson, an engineer with a background putting processes in place for producing aircrafts at Boeing and Carson Helicopters. He prototyped the first designs for Noria in a shared co-working space, Nextfab, back in 2012, personally building over 5 heat exchanger demonstrators, while optimizing the design and math models to determine the final form factor. For the final production, Swanson teamed up with Likuma Labs, a creative engineering and industrial design firm based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Noria doesn't just look better—it's actually less than 6 inches tall and 40% smaller than existing units, while achieving 5,000 BTU cooling capacity. "[Swanson's] previous experience as a mechanical and aeronautical engineer at Boeing helped him approach the tough optimization problems involved in taking a 5,000 BTU window air conditioner to less than half the normal size," says Devin Sidell, co-founder of Likuma Labs.
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"We've seen this with a few other products, including Nest, where a mundane object that no one ever paid much attention to finally had some light shed on it in terms of how users interact with it," Sidell says. "Window air conditioners were created out of necessity with no considerations made regarding the design, just function. There are some smaller units out there but they never addressed the real issues people had with them. We knew it couldn't just have a pretty face plate or be just another IoT product, as with Aros. It really came down to the user experience."
The design for Noria was the result of over two years spent studying the design and engineering of these units, pushing the boundaries of how small an air conditioner could get without sacrificing performance. "Everything about existing window air conditioners had to be thrown out the window and rethought," Sidell says. The design was guided, in part, by a range of mathematical modeling and optimizations performed by Sidell's team, allowing them to use the available heat exchange surface area and airflow in the unit in a more efficient way than traditional window air conditioners. "Ultimately, we were able to achieve the same amount of cooling power while utilizing smaller heat exchangers," Sidell says. "Comparable 5,000 BTU window air conditioners weigh about 40 pounds in comparison to Noria's approximately 30 pounds."
Noria's night mode setting is easy on the eyes
As for the more outward aesthetic elements, Sidell and his team were also focused on simplifying the experience for the user. "What if everything was controlled by just one knob?" Sidell says. "And, how can we make this thing easier to install without the user breaking their backs? We focused on what we would want if we could have the ultimate window air conditioner. Ultimately, behind every design decision was a very simple goal—building the first window air conditioner that users could love. Inspiration for the design came from many places including aerospace, automotive and household electronics."
Diagram of cold air flow with a standard AC model Model of cold air circulation with Noria
Creating the desired airflow proved to be one of the biggest challenges for the team, who designed Noria to blow cold air upwards to mix with the warm air below as it falls, removing warm spots in the room while preventing cold air from being recirculated. "Well over 1,000 hours have been spent optimizing the fans and their housings to arrive at the greatest efficiency possible," Sidell says.
"The next big issue was user installation, which is perhaps the largest painpoint with existing window air conditioners," Sidell says. "Noria had to be easy, safe and straightforward for a single person to install, remove and store. We solved this with Noria's form factor, front handle placement, as well as general ergonomic considerations, in conjunction with the window frame adapter which works incredibly well for single or double hung windows."
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Part of the genius of Noria is the sealed socket that is installed prior to the device. A special window frame adapter allows it to easily slot into any window frame, creating a secure, sealed space to add Noria, which also touts an easy to carry handle, making it easy to position the device into the socket. "We also knew that for this project to be successful, Noria could not look anything like what people are used to seeing," Sidell says. "It had to captivate people. We aimed for an iconic design that could be easily integrated into the home without becoming an eyesore."
Like other air conditioning units, Noria is primarily painted metal with a bit of UV-resistant plastic. The internal components such as the fans, compressor and heat exchanges are to be made out of the standard materials for those parts, and Likuma Labs will be using an ozone-friendly R410a refrigerant as the coolant. All materials will be in compliance with Underwriter Laboratories' requirements for rain, corrosion and UV resistance.
Inside, Noria utilizes a vapor-compression refrigeration system like most other refrigeration and AC systems, and accordingly includes the same basic components such as a compressor, fan, heat exchanger, refrigerant and basic electronics. "However, we have custom designed the specifications of those components to optimize performance," Sidell says.
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And, of course, like any product produced in the modern era, Noria can be connected to your smartphone, allowing users to set up weekly schedules and control the device straight from a synced application.
At the launch of their Kickstarter campaign, Sidell and his team had gone through several stages of prototyping, and were in the last phase, working with vendors and suppliers in the US and overseas to source and manufacture critical components like the heat exchangers and the compressor. "A lot of what is under the hood is the subject of our pending patent applications, and we are still in the process of developing further improvements for future iterations of Noria. We have several pending patent applications on our technology and design, and are still growing our intellectual property portfolio," Sidell says. "Our outside vendor confirmed our heat transfer performance as well with their model, and we've been working with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) through the safety certification process."
Sidell and his team have the crowdfunding game on lock. While they wrapped up their official Kickstarter campaign earlier this month, they're currently continuing to raise funds on Indiegogo, where they've hit a combined total of $1,604,684 raised to date—that's more than 5 times their original funding goal. Those interested in pre-ordering a Noria can head over to the Indiegogo and back the campaign for $299 plus shipping, saving a hundred bucks off of the estimated retail value for the device.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story misreported the total funds that Noria has raised on crowdfunding platforms, stating that the project raised $1,467,498 on Kickstarter and a separate $1,567,078 on Indiegogo. In fact, the "total funds" reported on the current Indiegogo campaign reflect a combined total of the $1,467,498 previously raised on Kickstarter along with any additional funds raised through the ongoing campaign.