Frequently Asked Questions

What do architects really want to know before installing sensors?

question-38629__480.png     question-38629__480.png     question-38629__480.png

What do Space Planners and Facilities Managers really want to know…?

Q: What type of sensors are available?

hook-1727484__480.png Office utilisation monitoring: Desks, Meeting rooms and breakout areas

hook-1727484__480.png Asset management

hook-1727484__480.png Footfall monitors

hook-1727484__480.png Air Quality

hook-1727484__480.png Environmental sensing

hook-1727484__480.png Parking sensors

Opportunities for sensors to provide reliable data inc. averages and peak demand:

  • Footfall (circulation and breakout areas)
    • What is the usage and traffic for common and breakout areas like toilet facilities and kitchens?
    • What are the trends of usage over the course the day or days of the week or weeks of the month?

    Desk utilisation

    • How many flexible desks and bookable desks do you need?
    • What are the trends of usage over the course the day, week or month?
    • When is peak usage?
  • Meeting room quantity and size
    • What is the right mix of meeting rooms for collaboration and communication?
    • How many and how big should they be?
    • What type of equipment such as projectors, large monitors, and white boards are needed and can be accommodated?
  • Environmental issues (noise, lighting, CO2, humidity and temperature)
    • What impacts employee wellness and productivity?
    • What is appropriate noise level for the tasks employees are performing?

Q: How do sensors detect desk occupancy work?

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There are different techniques that are used to detect desk occupancy, the most common and inexpensive is based on heat. The sensors look for a temperature reading at 37 degrees because in most offices unless you have an office cat like we do (hello Princess), most of the time there isn’t something warm sitting in a chair unless it’s a person. If there’s body heat registered, the desk is occupied.

Q: Do we have issues around privacy?

icon-2174737__480Well, there are always concerns about privacy. It’s very important for management to be clear with employees why they’re installing the sensors. The sensors are used to understand what the current usage of a space is and how to improve the design, or having already redesigned the space, they’re now trying to determine whether it is getting better results. The people we’re working with are primarily concerned about employee well-being and types of sensors used to  support this are air quality, temperature, noise, light, humidity and CO2.  

We recommend phased implementations vs. big upfront design i.e. encouraging an iterative model but with clear aims.  We don’t believe that ‘smart buildings’ are binary and upfront large investment both with software and especially with IoT projects usually just end up in frustration.  We’ve found that showing information and gathering feedback quickly, really helps inform the design process based around evidence and real data.

Starting from a prioritised list of problems and working backwards to the necessary data and then installing sensors is easier.  We spend a lot of time testing sensors and we are totally neutral in our recommendations. With that in mind, we also encourage a bit of consideration of what the basic infrastructure should be, for instance we use gateways, etc. that work using open protocols to enable future sensors to ‘talk’ to the same network.  

Q: What type of air quality sensors are available?  

Commercially available sensors can measure the level of potential contaminants including; O3, NO2, NO, SO2, CO, PM2.5 and lead.  Most of the devices are easy to connect and provide quality data measurements so that non-technical staff can deploy them.

Q: Is it possible to benchmark for instance comparing occupancy and other metrics between buildings?

images.pngYes. We can tell you, for a set of desks, the average occupancy by the day, week or month. Data is typically sampled every 10 minutes as it’s tagged with the date and time so the aggregate information tells you a lot about the space needs. It’s as if you had high speed, invisible survey takers running around, just making a note of whether the desk is occupied or not every 10 minutes.

Q: How do you select sensors?

We spend a lot of time testing sensors but we are absolutely neutral in our recommendations. Here are some factors to consider in assessing options for sensors.

hook-1727484__480.png cost

hook-1727484__480.png operating lifetime

hook-1727484__480.png accuracy, precision,and bias of measurement

hook-1727484__480.png  range of sensitivity

hook-1727484__480.png speed of response time

hook-1727484__480.png maintenance requirements

hook-1727484__480.png reliability

Q: What is the process of deploying sensors?

OpenSensors recommends a phased approach, from proof of concept to full-scale deployment, to ensure a successful installation of an IoT network in a business environment. Our aim is to reduce the time to go live and minimize risk.

Phase 1 Evaluate sensors:

Evaluate different sensors for quality, signal-to-noise ratio, power consumption and ease of setup by trying them out on a very small scale in a lab.  

Phase 2 Proof of concept:

Do a full end-to-end test to verify that the queries and analytics were feasible by connecting 5 to 10 sensors to a cloud infrastructure.

Phase 3 Pilot phase:

Move out of the lab into your actual environment. Typically, this requires somewhere between 30 to 100 sensors. We suggest a one to three month test to ensure that the sensors work at scale and the gateway can handle the load, similar to production usage.

Phase 4 Plan and implement full-scale deployment:

After the pilot phase, there should be enough data to verify network performance and your choices for sensors and connectivity, after which, full deployment can be planned in detail and implemented.

Contact us if you would like assistance on sensor selection, network design, or planning a proof of concept deployment.

 

3 years in and processing 10 million messages: a retrospective

Our company is built around and dedicated to enabling customers to access data they haven’t previously been able to using sensors.  Three years into this journey finds us now processing over 10 million sensor messages per day from more than 100 companies in Europe and North America!  

What have we learnt so far?
– Multi disciplinary teams; In IoT we believe the strength of a team is in building experitise in project management, hardware, networks, software, data and open APIs.   

– Minimising sensor installation headaches are key; Our latest sensor deployment in London last week saw us reduce installation time to only 20 seconds per sensor.  We believe sensors should be easy to place and simple to move which is why we also have training schemes available to our clients so that they can manage the physical repositioning of their own sensors post deployment should they choose to. Flexibility and control are as important to us as they are to you.

We are always investigating and building partnerships to find the best solution for our clients and this has focused us on standardising around open network protocols such as LoRa.  We now have a large number of happy customers using the following types of LoRa sensors.

  • Office utilisation monitoring: desks, meeting rooms and breakout areas
  • Air quality
  • Environmental sensing
  • Parking sensors
  • Footfall monitors
  • Asset management sensors such as vibration, temperature monitoring

Recent clients include; Zaha Hadid Architects, 360 Workgroup, Fourfront group, TripAdvisor and many others.

As much as possible we have tried to share tangible learnings and experience reports with the wider community. Some examples of our publications and webcasts that have proven hugely popular include:

  • An IoT university – with over 1,500 registered students

https://university.opensensors.io/university/

  • Webcasts with Multi Tech about LoRa and the pros and cons

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1jMheYnRq4&t=326s

Thank you to all our customers, partners, advisors and the wider IoT community.  We look forward to the next 3 years of learning, growing and being part of this incredible ecosystem.

Event: Show and Tell of Workplace Sensors

A perfect opportunity to let people see and feel environmental, occupancy and air quality 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.

OS (1 of 2)

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 it’s 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 gasses 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 interoperapility 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, 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

What is an API and why are they so important?

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

“What sensors shall I use to understand my space usage?”

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

Space planner or architect? We have broken down the steps to get you to your desired end goal maximising efficiency and cost within 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.

Lessons Learned From First Generation IoT Installations

The significant drawbacks of Wi-Fi

At first glance, Wi-Fi-based sensors seems like a good choice for a non consumer facing sensor network, however, we have discovered that Wi-Fi has some significant drawbacks.

Access

One of the biggest drawbacks to Wi-Fi enabled sensors in a corporate environment at many of the companies is gaining access. Corporate IT often has valid security concerns of hundreds if not thousands of sensors joining the network and have deployed corporate firewalls that block any access. Often this means that we are not allowed to spin up our own Wi-Fi network in order to have a gateway for a customer’s IoT sensor network. If IT has already deployed a Wi-Fi network they are rarely willing to provide the passwords to allow the IoT network devices and gateways to take advantage of it. Relying on corporate Wi-Fi can make on-site installations and maintenance extremely complex and painful. The whole project becomes dependent on the goodwill of a network administrator for access every time maintenance needs to be performed.

Power

Wi-Fi has good transmission range but that comes with a cost of high power usage. With a short battery life, maintenance costs for Wi-Fi sensors are higher than low-power alternatives. One wireless protocol that is we see in many successful deployments is LoRa because it offers long transmission range at a much lower battery usage than Wi-Fi.

Moving to LoRa and other long range protocols

If you follow our blog and publications, you will notice we have been talking a lot about network technologies, this isn’t a coincidence. We have spent a long time evaluating and piloting these stacks with our community.

Network access and battery constraints are driving the move to long range networks and off WiFi for many IoT installations. LoRa is working well for us so far for a number of use cases most of our customer spin up a private network. The ecosystem of providers is maturing and we are finding a lot of companies who are adopting existing sensors for their networks Gateway providers such as Multi Tech provide good support for the long tail of small scale (> 250 sensor installs) hardware providers to thrive.

LoRa is a wireless protocol that promises between two and five kilometers transmission range between sensors and gateway, if you haven’t already done so please read our introduction to what it is. With a separate LoRa network, facilities and/or operations can install and manage the whole operation without the access and security issues of using the corporate Wi-Fi network. A typical network will have hundreds of sensor devices sending messages to a gateway. The LoRa gateway is a self contained system, we can have the LoRa network sit completely outside of the corporate firewall (GSM) and minimize IT security concerns.

One LoRA gateway can normally cover an entire real estate. This can significantly reduce infrastructure, deployment, and administration costs compared to other shorter range wireless options like Zigbee or Bluetooth that requires complex installs. Our aim is to have a system that non technical engineers can roll out and support, more on how to do this on later blog posts, but in most cases the OpenSensors team is the equivalent of ‘2nd line support’ to the onsite team who have intergrated our apis to their helpdesk ticketing systems etc.

LoRa networks can be public or private. An example of a public network is The Things Network, we continue to work with and support that community. Most current commercial projects are running private networks at this time but will be interesting to see how that evolves over time.

To conclude, LoRa is working well for us at the moment but we will keep researching other networks to enable us to understand the pros and cons of all the network providers. Sigfox is a very interesting offering that we will properly test over the next few months, for example.