By Itamar Roth
The impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on building automation is evident and far reaching. By introducing large scale networking and digitization to commercial buildings, IoT delivers a whole new range of solutions and services to facility managers that are too compelling to ignore.
What makes the IoT paradigm so powerful is that the richer, higher resolution data gathered by sophisticated sensors is translated into actionable information then shared by multiple applications for addressing different use cases. This ultimately reduces costs and enhances capabilities.
To better understand this matter, it is important to differentiate between two types of sensors: infrastructure sensors, used primarily for monitoring powerlines and equipment, and occupants-related sensors, used for any controls associated with the building tenants (such as climate, lighting, safety, security, etc.). From a facility management perspective the latter type seems to have a larger impact. By populating buildings with such smart sensors, operating costs are dramatically reduced, productivity is enhanced, and occupants’ comfort is improved. Specifically, detailed information about occupants’ presence, location, count, and activity can now be used to significantly optimize facility management. Hot desking, meeting rooms booking, optimized space planning, and energy savings are some of the immediate use cases.
Selecting Smart Sensors
In pursuing a smart building, a critical step is to identify and select smart sensors that are capable of generating such rich, actionable data about an occupant’s whereabouts. Three types of sensing methods are frequently considered for this purpose: wireless systems, motion detectors, and IP cameras.
Wireless micro location solutions include a variety of technologies such as WiFi, Bluetooth, RFID, GPS, VLC, iBeacon and more. The commonality in these wireless methods is that they actually track devices, not people, and require the constant carrying of mobile devices/tags by the occupants. This solution may not be practical in an office environment where employees often move free of their mobile devices, can have more than one device, or simply run out of battery. On the other hand, wireless micro location solutions are advantageous in environments such as retail stores, where two-way communications enable sending messages and coupons to shoppers.
Motion detectors, typically passive infrared (PIR), are used in office buildings for two main applications: saving lighting energy and reducing workspace via hot desking, usually by means of attaching the sensors underneath desks. In general, motion detectors are inherently limited in the data granularity that is required for tracking occupants. And, using them for hot desking turns out to be rather expensive.
IP cameras are powerful sensors that are typically used for security purposes, but can nevertheless gather highly valuable information about the facility. However, applying them for tracking occupants is very costly and has some additional shortcomings, such as network traffic overload and, even more importantly, they are perceived to compromise privacy.
An emerging sensing solution based on image sensors provides highly accurate and detailed information about occupants’ whereabouts at lower costs, while also protecting privacy. Using ceiling mounted image-based sensors with edge-analytics capabilities, such a solution delivers unprecedented data of occupants’ presence, location, count and movement.
Not only is the generated data highly accurate and detailed, these smart sensors make some of the existing sensors (e.g. photocells, motion detectors, CO2), altogether redundant. The following examples demonstrate the business value of this new type of smart sensors:
- Space Utilization: Hot desking, meeting rooms management and space planning are effective means for reducing and optimizing rented or owned space. Tracking occupants’ locations and movements provides valuable insights into how and to what extent spaces are being used.
- Energy Saving: By counting the number of occupants in a given space, demand controlled ventilation can be optimized to save energy in compliance with industry standards and regulations. Also, accurate reading of the light distribution enables effective daylight harvesting, i.e. determining how to optimally illuminate a space while taking advantage of outdoor light, thereby saving energy.
- Safety and Security: The ability to assist in evacuating occupants in emergency situations and detecting fall accidents are examples of the safety capabilities enabled by the smart sensor. Detecting events such as tailgating and loitering in pre-defined zones can further improve security in spaces that are not covered by surveillance cameras.
The digital transformation in commercial buildings has already started and is gaining momentum. Facility managers will be among the first to benefit from the IoT revolution in driving down operating costs while improving safety and security. As smart sensors are key enablers for building intelligence, the process of identifying and selecting the proper sensors is critical. New types of smart sensors, with compelling advantages, are emerging and deserve special attention.
Itamar Roth is Chief Business Officer for PointGrab. He brings over 15 years of start-up experience in business, marketing, and product development with an in-depth focus on embedded systems and imaging solutions. Prior to PointGrab, Mr. Roth led marketing and product management for the enterprise division at Anobit (acquired by Apple) and managed the professional services both at TransChip (acquired by Samsung) and at the Samsung Israel R&D Center.