Occupancy Monitoring with IoT Sensors

Pippa Boothman -
sensor, workplace, IoT
Illustration: © IoT For All

Facilities managers are constantly faced with the challenge of managing space most efficiently. For example, building managers are under pressure to take office space allocation decisions when:

  • Trying to accommodate new tenants.
  • Fulfilling customer requests for more space due to growth or mergers with other firms.
  • Supporting the consolidation of different enterprise departments.
  • Dealing with the completion of leasing agreements.

Once upon a time, space allocation decisions were made based on educated assumptions about how building spaces were used. With the advent of smart building technologies, facilities managers have access to powerful tools that help them access accurate information about space occupancy instead of relying on estimates and approximations. Occupancy sensors can help collect data about space usage and optimize space management decisions.

The Use Cases & Benefits of Occupancy Monitoring

The integration of occupancy detection sensors with smart building management systems provides a foundation for smarter and more efficient decisions about space allocation in the workplace. For example, occupancy detection sensors can track desk occupancy to generate an overview of how efficiently space is being used. This overview can then drive space optimization decisions, like implementing space-saving strategies when desks are underutilized.

Overall, the most common occupancy monitoring use cases in smart buildings and facilities management include:

  • Real-time space management
  • Efficient resource allocation
  • Comfort for tenants and workers

Occupancy Monitoring & Real-Time Space Management

Occupancy monitoring can enable the effective management of desks, offices, and meeting rooms. Occupancy sensors provide real-time visibility on the utilization of rooms, desks, and breakout areas to enable instant access to information about space availability. This visibility minimizes the time spent on searching for available spaces while avoiding double-bookings. It also obviates the need for checking room availability by physically accessing the space.

One of the main benefits of occupancy monitoring is that it can provide a complete picture of the usage status of multiple offices, rooms, and buildings through a single-entry point. This can enable organizational-wide optimizations that consider all rooms and buildings.

Occupancy Monitoring & Efficient Resource Allocation

Besides providing real-time information on working spaces usage, occupancy monitoring facilitates the extraction of credible statistics on the minimum, average, and peak usage of workspaces, including insights on when such peaks occur.

This information enables facilities managers to estimate the exact requirements of the various enterprises and offer them solutions that meet their needs. In this way, enterprises can significantly save on operating costs (e.g., costs spent on unused space).

Moreover, building owners can have opportunities to lease spare spaces to other tenants. These optimizations can nowadays be very challenging given changing working patterns (e.g., regular work-from-home practices), making it very difficult for enterprises to estimate the exact space they need. In the post COVID19 era, enterprises will be increasingly concerned with optimizing office space costs, as teleworking is likely to become a widespread practice.

Occupancy Monitoring & Comfort for Tenants and Workers

Real-time occupancy monitoring provides the means for improving tenants’ and workers’ comfort. For instance, it can drive the fine-tuning of HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) functions based on proper integration with the building’s management system.

Facilities managers can consider space occupancy density, as the number of people in each space impacts HVAC requirements. Likewise, it can ensure proper lighting conditions for occupied spaces. Occupancy monitoring can help optimize tenant comfort while saving on energy costs at the same time.

5 Types of Sensors that Detect Occupancy

Occupancy monitoring requires the deployment of sensors that can reliably detect tenants’ presence in desks, offices, break out areas, and other building spaces.

Some examples of sensors that detect occupancy include:

Smart Lighting Sensors

These are lights that comprise motion sensors, which can detect occupancy within certain areas of a building. In most cases, smart lighting systems complement their sensing functionalities with actuation functions like lighting control.

Cameras and People Counting

Nowadays, many cameras come with image processing functionalities such as face detection and people counting. These systems provide the means for counting the number of workers in each space to extract utilization information and relevant statistics. In some countries, the use of such systems raises privacy and data protection concerns. Nevertheless, these concerns are usually alleviated when no face recognition functionalities (i.e., person identification) are implemented.

Bluetooth Low Energy Solutions

These systems leverage Bluetooth technology to estimate and track occupancy at given spaces. They can operate based on mainstream smartphones and can provide accurate tracking of individuals. Nevertheless, Bluetooth solutions presuppose that workers carry their smartphones and have Bluetooth enabled, which is not always the case. Thus, these solutions are not the most practical.

Infrared Sensors

Infrared sensing systems process thermal signals from the working space and identify interruptions due to the human body’s heat. They can be deployed in different office parts, such as walls, ceilings, or working desks.

Ultrasonic Sensors

These systems identify disruptions in the reflected patterns of high-frequency sound waves of the workplace. When disruptions become continuous, the sensing system assumes the existence of human presence in the room.

Each of these solutions has pros and cons. Hence, the selection of a proper sensing solution may require the resolution of various trade-offs, which balance the accuracy, pervasiveness, and cost-effectiveness of the various solutions.

Wrapping Up Occupancy Monitoring

COVID-19 has added an extra layer to the occupancy discussion. With social distancing rules, building and office managers need to guarantee compliance with regulations for a safe return to normality and optimize their space for employees working from home.

Author
Pippa Boothman - VP Marketing & Communications, Disruptive Technologies

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Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All. If you're interested in contributing to IoT For All, cli...
Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All. If you're interested in contributing to IoT For All, cli...