Event: Show and Tell of Workplace Sensors

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If you managed to join us last week at Unilever’s impressive London HQ, you will have seen demonstrations from us and our partners in the practical uses for sensors within Workspaces. It was a perfect opportunity to let people see and feel in real terms, different types of sensors from environmental, occupancy and air quality sensing.

Nate Barney and John Chang from Unilever have been smart in their approach to adoption of new technology and shared their approach with attendees. Cornerstones of their strategy include cloud first adoption, choosing vendors that have open APIs to encourage interoperability and understanding all systems should integrate via their analytics layer. Our guests Alex Storey from Disruptive Technologies and Bruno Beloff from South Coast Science introduced us to the sensor innovations they are leading the industry in and both gave informative presentations.

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Disruptive Technologies’ sensors although small – the size of scrabble squares, have an impressive 15 year battery life. We are excited about how disruptive technologies’ sensors are going to change asset monitoring. If you can deploy sensors easily to know when machinery is being used, predicting its maintenance cycles and the headline dreams of industrial IoT are suddenly possible!

Bruno brought an example of one of his environmental sensors and gave a fascinating live demo measuring the CO2 in the room – especially disconcerting when it accurately measured the carbon monoxide from a smoker’s breath. South Coast Science have been a partner to OpenSensors for a number of years. Their Air Quality sensors focus on measuring gases and particulates extremely accurately, these sensors are being adopted by Landlords and Occupiers who are working to meet the Well building standard. In putting sensors not only indoors but also by HVAC vents, building managers are able to monitor the performance of HVAC systems. Questions like ‘When should fresh air be circulated?’, ‘Is the HVAC system making the air quality better or worse?’ become easier to answer.

Daniel Hummelsund and Kevin Mugadza from OpenSensors also gave insight into the way we approach workspace deployments and our ethos on interoperability of systems, unsurprisingly we strongly feel that new sensor systems deployed within a building context should ‘talk’ to existing systems and work to augment the workflows of the different people charged with managing the space. Daniel gave information around reports people like to see, such as how data is analysed in both spatial and time series view. Kevin deep dived into the practical realities of project managing sensors deployments. The team approach these deployments in a methodical way as the complexity of IoT is in getting sensors, networks, software and data layers to work seamless in usually complex environments.

After a lively Q and A and there was an opportunity for networking where guests could enjoy cold drinks on an extremely hot day and got the chance to mingle with other attendees. Thanks to everyone who came and made it such a success. We look forward to the next one in the Autumn.

The Power of APIs

APIs are reshaping how companies do business. Once solely the domain of software engineers, they have grown to affect all levels of company.

What is an API?

An API is a set of clearly defined methods of communication between various software components. A good API not only makes it easy to get at your data but also combine it with additional data.

Why are APIs important?

Screen Shot 2017-08-24 at 10.42.35APIs are essential for interpretability. Deployed sensors and sensor networks will be part of the infrastructure of buildings for the foreseeable future and beyond, a trend that has gathered pace over recent years and is expected to continue for a long time to come. If the data only goes from the sensor into a black box, there is no built-in flexibility. Not only can you now see the visualizations clearly and easily but you can also integrate the data with the existing CAFM System. The same data can also be integrated into the existing systems already in place and familiar to the client whether meeting room booking systems or building security systems ensuring maximum accessibility and control

Benefits of an API:

  • Freedom from vendor lock-in – easy independent access to data
  • Better security – the more people who can see and test a set of code, the more likely any flaws will be caught and fixed quickly.
  • Customizability
  • Flexibility
  • Interoperability – our list of current integrations is always growing. Contact us to see if your system can be linked together
  • Auditability
  • Try before you buy – why not do a pilot of 5 devices before you rollout to a large scale deployment?

A closed platform can be damaging long-term and expensive. Your data becomes locked up and customers can find themselves very much at the mercy of the vendor’s changing vision, requirements, dictates, prices, priorities, and timetable.

More about the OpenSensors APIs

cropped-os_badge_logoOpenSensors API’s enable you to extract data by a variety of means; project, location, organizational departments, types of sensors, types of messages etc. We have integrated with many CAMF systems, meeting room booking systems, and building security systems. It is a constantly reviewed and expanding list with many other integrations planned on our road map. It is not only possible to build integrations with the visualization systems you already have in place but also use our canned visualizations. The data can also be seen within our systems, but it’s really targeted at enabling flexibility and multi-purpose use of the data.

OpenSensors has an open data mission

Hardware is expensive. Implementation can often be difficult to reduce the data as much as possible. Unless the data is used by multiple systems effectively you are going to have to have a different use for the same data within the building. With closed systems, the same sensors will have to be redeployed for each specific set of data required. This does not make sense to us. Our basic mission is to make these data sets easily accessible. Whether that’s private data or open data, we want you to be able to collect the information and make it immediately reusable and interoperable with all the different systems that you are already or will be using.

Our systems are similar to the electrical voltage standards that allow you to purchase any appliance and plug it in delivering power to your device. OpenSensors allow you to plug in the different devices as needed. Our API allows your applications to connect and extract the data when and how it is needed. The data is no longer locked away in a proprietary system holding you to the ransom of one vendor and puts you back firmly in control.

By harnessing the power of data aggregation across smart building ecosystem, every stakeholder wins. Over and over again, we’ve seen that enriching the experience of all parties (business – agent – customer) generates a higher degree of success and satisfaction

About OpenSensors

OpenSensors aggregates data from a variety of sensors for the next generation of smart Building Management Systems. Our dashboards help you make the most effective use of your office space. With experience in helping more than 100 companies to combine data from new workplace sensors seamlessly, interoperating it with existing and familiar mobile and desktop systems, we aim to give you a fully comprehensive overview.

The Good Sensor

On a daily basis our customers and community ask us to recommend a sensor provider to buy from, you should ping me on hello@opensensors.io if you want us to recommend your sensor. Often the requirement is vague, “I need an air quality sensor to put on my street for $100?” or “What sensors shall I use to understand my space usage?”. My process of assessment has grown more refined over time because if the sensors we recommend are unsuitable or unusable our company’s reputation is also on the line by association.

So we have come up with our own unscientific way to rate the quality of a sensor that should be applied simply. Most large scale sensor rollout projects of 1K or more often have these requirements as well. It’s possible that sensor providers that don’t rate highly using our criteria produce good sensors but getting the below right takes iteration and discipline in design and the likelihood is that the provider will a higher chance of being able to deliver.

Battery life If a sensor is battery powered, the typical expected life of battery should be clearly stated. Buyers will often want some explanation of what typical means for your sensor i.e. if it’s a PIR sensor have you calculated battery life based on being triggered once a day? The last thing your customers wants to do is invest in a lot of sensors, plus the cost of installation in order to find out that the battery life is only % of what they expected as it will still cost them a lot of money to rip them out and return them.

Bonus point for sensors that publish their battery status as standard so that the sensor owners can have some warning before changing.

Heartbeats

Sensors should tell people whether they are still alive or not periodically. Depending on your battery and connectivity constraints, this can vary, the important thing is that the buyer should not find out a bunch of devices are not working because they haven’t been heard from in days or weeks. Top tip; Heartbeats every 10-60 minutes when possible is sufficient, anymore and it ceases to be informative.

Installation and maintenance procedure

In non consumer environments, the people installing and maintaining sensors are often not the technical design firms or manufacturers. Does your device clearly tell people how to install it, do you have helper applications so that they don’t have to configure firmware? We are working on some solutions for this but more on this later; hint it’s all about enabling people to install sensors efficiently and a non technical installer being able to walk away knowing that the device has joined the network correctly. Does your sensor come with mounting and fittings?

Do people have to unscrew the casing to change batteries? Have you tested this with people and verified it?

 Data Quality

Quality in my definition means, is the data from your sensor easily understandable for someone that doesn’t know your domain. The reality is that often manufacturers pass on the analogue value of the particular sensor and that is too low of an abstraction for most people trying to read it. Battery voltage is a good example, during its life an AA battery will go from 1.5v to about 0.8v, but it follows a curve specific to the device and the battery. Understanding how this maps to a percentage or days of life is often complex. If it’s not possible to do much conversions or processing on your sensor or gateway, perhaps a handy explainer when people buy your device making them understand what the data means.

Support

Please state clear terms for warranties and return procedures to protect your consumers. Consumer protection should naturally apply.

Finally developing high quality hardware is hard, I am always amazed at the skill and dedication it takes when hardware designers and engineers take an idea and get it to manufacturing stage. We try to manage the community’s expectations on sensors they should buy vs the attitude of ‘just throw around cheap sensors’. It would be better in terms of environmental sustainability and user experience to get into the habit of doing more with less sensor density. For more on this, see Dr Boris Adryan’s excellent blog post

I have purposefully not mentioned security in this post as security assessments come with a lot of complexity, will aim to write up on this sometime soon.

Many Thanks to Toby Jaffey for editing.

Path to Smart Buildings

Whether you are a building manager planning efficient space usage or an architect looking to design state-of-the-art buildings, we have broken down the steps to get you to your desired end goal. IoT planning should start with the business needs, of course, and quickly moves from the component layer all the way up to the application layer. We need to figure out what core data should be gathered and ways to effectively leverage that data. These IoT solutions require an end-to-end or device-to-cloud view.

A Phased implementation approach works best.

We have found that the most successful IoT projects follow a phased implementation approach: Design Phase, Proof of Concept, Pilot, and Deployment. The design phase asks questions such as which sensors, who will be installing and maintaining the sensors. For Proof of Concept, a lab evaluation should include hooking up 5-8 sensors all the way through a gateway to data collection in the cloud. This will give enough real data to verify that the queries and the analytics are feasible. The Pilot Phase ensures that the sensors work at scale and that the gateway configuration has been made easy for the deployment specialists. A pilot phase should be about 40 sensors depending on the density of the sensors. At this point, you can scale up to the number of sensors and the bandwidth required for full deployment.

OpenSensors’ Deployments

We have built hardware, installation and network provider partnerships and relationships to help customers get rollouts live efficiently. Either roll out your own network or we will put you in touch with your local sensor installation specialist to take care of the install and maintenance. We are working with customers and the community to understand what is required at each level for your IoT solution and can ease development and integration issues.