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High-Tech Commercial Occupancy Sensors for Agile Space Planning

Agile space planning requires a real-time
in-depth understanding

Itamar Roth

By Itamar Roth

The following is a guest blog written by Itamar Roth, Chief Business Officer at PointGrab.

Agile workplaces are a smart strategy for solving a number of pressing corporate problems: reining in mounting property costs by optimizing space, supporting workforce mobility, and attracting and retaining talent.

However, planning and managing these flexible environments is challenging because of the nature of agile spaces: people are constantly moving around and occupancy shifts from day to day, even hour to hour. Agile space planning requires a real-time in-depth understanding of how your workforce uses space, including the floor, room and desk level. If you attempt to implement agile workplaces without reliable business intelligence about space utilization, chances are you’ll fail to gain the benefits you’re looking to achieve.

Innovative occupants’ activity sensors can provide up-to-the-minute intelligence about space utilization that’s needed to plan and manage modern workplaces. In the past, commercial occupancy sensors most commonly were used for automating lighting or HVAC control. Today, intelligent Internet of Things (IoT) sensor technology can be used to help lower expenses and design workplaces that provide the optimal employee experience.

Here are some of the latest advancements in commercial occupancy sensors and how they overcome some of these challenges.

Horizontal sensing vs. traditional commercial occupancy sensors

Counting the number of people occupying a space is useful for a number of facilities operations, including managing lighting, controlling HVAC, managing meeting space usage and room booking systems, and even for building security. However, in the past, separate sensors managed each of these functions without crossover. Today, with the IoT transformation, computer vision and AI advancements, “horizontal” sensing devices can share data across many building systems, meaning facility managers can implement one sensor platform to communicate with and manage various building automation requirements.

TIP: Deploying a unified sensing platform also makes it easier to monitor and analyze data using Serraview’s space analytics tools and heat-maps.

Image sensing and AI improves ability to count people for space management

Many traditional commercial occupancy sensors use motion-detection to infer the presence or absence of people within a defined space. Therefore, such sensors cannot determine the number of occupants in the given space.

Other people-counting technologies, such as beacons, can provide location details, but they require employees to install a smartphone app, keep it switched on and carry the device wherever they go inside the building. Without participation, the accuracy of these systems is questionable. In addition, they might “count” nearby employees who are just outside the designated count area (e.g. a meeting room).

More advanced occupants’ activity sensors use imaging technology to “see” people (as opposed to objects) within a defined space to provide an accurate headcount and occupants’ tracking information. These sensors are surprisingly smart, as they not only “see” but also analyze the scenery. Using deep-learning neural network technology, such sensor devices can accurately detect the presence, location, count and movement of occupants across countless scenarios and environments. As a result, these devices can provide more detailed and accurate information about occupants, well beyond merely reporting the absence or presence of people within a space.

Edge analytics technology protects occupants’ privacy

Corporate space planners need accurate space utilization data to provide better work spaces that support mobility and collaboration. However, they must collect that intelligence without compromising the privacy of employees. Occupants’ activity sensors that employ edge analytics provide intelligence and the required level of privacy, since all the data processing happens within the sensor itself. That means no sensitive or identifiable information (such as occupant’s image) is stored or transmitted, therefore there is no privacy compromise.

Extending range and reducing maintenance

In a flexible office environment, it’s essential to track seat availability in real time to power wayfinding and desk booking systems that help employees find spaces to work. Even in traditional spaces, meeting room seating must be monitored for availability and occupancy tracked to better optimize meeting space. However, putting traditional and single-purpose desk sensors under every seat can become expensive. Even beyond the cost of the sensors, there is the cost of installation and the cost of replacing batteries regularly.

Occupants’ activity sensor technology is hard-wired to eliminate battery changes. And, instead of being installed under every seat, ceiling installations increase the range, allowing a single sensor to track up to 15 seats simultaneously.

Demand-controlled ventilation reduces energy use

Intelligent sensor technology is becoming useful for increased control of building systems like HVAC, which not only reduces costs but provides a more comfortable environment for the workforce. Demand-controlled ventilation is a great example. Ventilation brings air into the space from the outside, which must be heated or cooled to a set temperature. Traditional ventilation is designed to vent space according to its maximum capacity, which today is rarely 100%. Venting at 100% capacity wastes a great deal of energy, especially in very hot or cold climates.

Demand-controlled ventilation reduces HVAC energy consumption by 20% by using actual space utilization data from sensors to adjust ventilation according to real-time demand. Monitoring CO2 levels is one way to measure the need for ventilation within a space. However, occupants’ activity sensors can respond faster to changing numbers of people without waiting for CO2 levels to rise and fall, and reports these numbers to the HVAC system. The result is better indoor air quality, which can impact both workforce wellness and productivity.

Daylight harvesting provides smarter lighting control

The same occupants’ activity sensors that count people in a space can also be used to provide the optimal lighting conditions and further reduce energy consumption. In modern workplaces with lots of windows and natural light, photo cells are used to precisely monitor the lighting conditions within a space. The sensors take advantage of natural light, when and where it’s available, and reduce your building’s lighting accordingly. This process is called “daylight harvesting.”

While using a few photo cells for daylight harvesting has been shown effective, it is still limited in analyzing the complete light distribution in a defined space. By contrast, the same image sensor that is used for occupants’ detection applications contains thousands of photo cells, allowing it to “see” the varying lighting conditions within a region of interest. That data can be used to understand which lights can be dimmed and which powered up within a given area. The result is optimized lighting distribution, reduced energy consumption, and a better workplace experience for employees.

The workplace tools used by facilities and corporate real estate teams need to keep up with the smart technology the workforce is implementing. Smart building technology, especially intelligent sensor technology, has advanced rapidly in recent years, contributing to significant cost reductions and a more productive environment that supports the modern workforce.

*PointGrab is a computer vision company that provides an innovative sensing platform to the smart building industry. The company applies its superior deep-learning technology to accurately track and understand human activity and space utilization. This enables building operation efficiency optimization, higher real-estate and space utilization, and energy savings.

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