April 2018

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Sensing Solutions for the Flexible Workspace

A mandatory requirement for implementing an effective, flexible office is the ability to use occupancy analytics.

David Rottelman

David Rottelman,
Global VP of Sales,

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With the increase of workforce mobility and the growing trend of de-centralized and team-based work, companies realize that the traditional workplace needs to evolve to support these changes. The dynamic nature of contemporary work often requires ad hoc collaborative teams that need greater workspace flexibility. Furthermore, about 40% to 50% of current office space is underutilized, leading to a substantial waste of operational expenditures. Companies are therefore looking for a flexible workplace where the office space is optimized, and employees are given greater flexibility to choose where, when and how they work.

The use of sensing technologies provides facility managers with organizational insights to help optimize the workspace. There are a variety of sensing technologies to choose from, but the technology choice largely depends on the primary use cases to be supported.

Flexible Workspace Use Cases

The use cases for the flexible office are many. Primary examples include:

Occupancy Analytics

A mandatory requirement for implementing an effective, flexible office is the ability to use occupancy analytics. Captured by sensors across the building space, occupancy analytics data provides facility managers with accurate, real-time and reliable information about workplace occupants’ locations to understand and address usage needs.

Key Requirements

There are several types of sensors in the market that are currently used for attempting occupancy analytics, and each employs different technologies. From a systemic point of view, all types must address the stringent requirements of cybersecurity and should easily integrate with various ecosystems. From the aspect of pure sensing functionality, the following are the key requirements for sensing in the flexible workspace:

Enriched and Highly Accurate Occupant Data – Precise and reliable information on the presence, location, count and movement of occupants must be captured and collected.

Privacy-based, Non-intrusive and Anonymous – Highly accurate and rich occupant tracking data can potentially infringe on occupants’ privacy. A sensing solution that provides anonymous data is therefore imperative.

Extendable and Future-proof – A sensor network installed across the building space should be reliable and operate for several years. Updating the sensors over the air (OTA) with improvements, critical fixes, and enhanced feature-sets is mandatory for an enduring life cycle.

Scalability – Networked sensors must have the ability to incorporate into modular solutions so that a customer’s deployment can easily scale up from rooms to floors to buildings.

Current Sensing Solutions

Office SpaceCompanies that are planning to adopt the flexible workplace model should first make a decision about the occupancy sensing solution that will be used in their facility management system. This is a critical decision since it determines the type of data provided by the sensor and hence which use cases can be supported. Three types of sensing methods are frequently considered for this purpose: motion detectors, wireless micro-location solutions, and IP cameras.

Motion detectors, typically passive infrared (PIR) devices, are used in office buildings for two main applications: saving lighting energy and reducing workspace via hot desking, usually by attaching the sensors underneath desks. In general, motion detectors are basically presence detectors and are inherently limited in providing the data granularity that is required for locating, counting and tracking occupants. Motion detector functionality is therefore restricted to a handful of specific use cases. While this sensing solution can easily scale up, it is not future proof as the individual sensor’s processing power is extremely limited. Finally, using PIR sensors for hot desking turns out to be rather expensive.

Wireless micro-location solutions include a variety of technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, RFID, GPS, VLC, iBeacon and more. These wireless methods actually track devices, not people, and require the constant carrying of mobile devices/tags by the occupants. They also frequently require occupants to opt-in to the system. The accuracy of this solution is limited, and it may not be practical for occupancy analytics in an office environment where employees often move around without their mobile devices, have more than one device, or simply run out of battery. More importantly, tracking occupants through personal devices may infringe on individual privacy. On the other hand, wireless micro-location solutions are advantageous for special use cases such as indoor navigation.

IP cameras are powerful sensors that are typically used for security purposes but can nevertheless gather highly valuable information about space usage in the facility. However, applying them for tracking occupants is very costly and has some additional shortcomings, such as network traffic overload and difficulty to scale up. Even more importantly, they are perceived as compromising privacy.

Image-Based Smart Sensors

An emerging sensing solution, based on image sensors, provides highly accurate and detailed information about occupants’ whereabouts at a lower cost while protecting privacy. Using ceiling mounted image-based sensors with edge-analytics processing capability, these sensors deliver unprecedented data on occupants’ presence, location, count, and movement. As edge analytics devices, all processing is performed at the sensor level and images for analytics are processed, not stored or transmitted, ensuring occupants’ privacy is protected. Having sufficient on-sensor processing power and connectivity, they can support remote upgrades. Finally, these sensors’ underlying computer vision capability allows for object detection beyond occupant location (e.g., desks, computers, doors, chairs, and the like), making room for substantial future growth and support for additional important use cases.

The following comparative table illustrates the advantages and disadvantages of the various sensor types:

Comparative Table

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Summary

As the flexible workplace is becoming a global trend, it is clear that adapting to this new working environment largely depends on advanced technologies to capture information on how the workspace is being used. Traditional sensing solutions are abundant but only partially address the needs of the flexible workplace. Image-based smart sensors that perform onboard occupancy analytics and provide highly accurate but anonymous data are emerging as key enablers for the flexible workplace. Forward-looking facility managers should pay attention to this new type of smart sensors.

About The Author

David Rottelman has over 20 years of managerial experience in the high-tech industry and is currently the Global VP of Sales for PointGrab, a leader in facility management sensing solutions.

Prior to joining PointGrab, David was VP of Sales, EMEA, at Cloudify, where he grew the region’s revenues into a significant and sustainable percentage of company sales. Prior to Cloudify, David spent 16 years at Starhome Mach, a provider of global roaming and IoT connectivity solutions, in a number of positions, including project manager for the company’s first customer deployments. As VP of Sales, Europe, in his final role at Starhome Mach, David consistently demonstrated strong sales leadership, while doubling the revenue in this territory.  David holds a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from Tel-Aviv University and M.Sc. in Industrial Engineering from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.


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