Expert Opinion Interview: Exploring the technical side of the True Occupancy solution with CTO, Tim Wheatley

6 min read
Jun 28, 2021

A few years ago, Irisys undertook a project for National Grid to help them better understand how their real estate was being used. The goal was to make savings and optimize what was already in their property portfolio. This customer-led initiative sparked a further conversation within the Irisys team about the potential benefits that accurate occupancy data can unlock. 

Tim Wheatley, Irisys CTO, explains the vision that ultimately unfolded for the company:

"We began to study the market and how others were using people counting technology. We formed the idea that we wanted to be the experts in occupancy. If you want accuracy in occupancy data, you come to Irisys." 

Smart buildings and True Occupancy

The world isn't just embracing smart building technology; it's hurtling towards a rapid infrastructural transformation –– and it's entirely necessary. Increasing energy costs and environmental concerns are prompting both the public and private sectors to review current real estate utilization and develop more effective, people-centric ways to optimize buildings, collaborative, and shared spaces. 

Governments are introducing more and more directives that will require building management teams to enhance energy performance while also ensuring the safety and wellbeing of occupants. These changes can't materialize without the technologies necessary to facilitate them, and the prerequisites for these smart building robotics are complex. Facilities managers and stakeholders looking at the long-term outcomes of smart building initiatives will look for features such as:

  • Integration with building management systems (BMS)
  • Remote operability
  • Easy maintenance
  • Demonstrable ROI
  • Accuracy and reliability

Occupancy is a fundamental part of any smart building system. The ability to understand how many people are simultaneously utilizing the various spaces throughout a building is invaluable for the direct management of the premises and the decisions leaders have to make for the real estate as a whole. This can only be achieved through accurate data, and that's where True Occupancy delivers.  

Accuracy: the fundamental parameter

Experience, knowledge, and a world-leading team are what differentiates Irisys, according to Tim.

"We've been looking at the problem for a long time and have a lot of data –– this gives us a huge advantage. Our computer vision algorithms are created by experts. Our devices use customized algorithms that we developed in-house, unlike competitors who may use third-party algorithms and libraries which do not offer the same precision or robustness that can be achieved when you engineer the technology yourself."

When you're making critical decisions about the management of a business and its assets, reliable data is crucial. A very good example is a washroom that may have a thousand users per day, but at any one time, only a small number of occupants may actually be utilizing the facility. Every time your people sensors make a mistake, the numbers are incrementally ramped up or diminished, making it very difficult to understand the flow of traffic. In turn, this can impact your cleaning and maintenance schedule, which could potentially have a negative effect on the health and safety or user experience of your occupants. 

In a meeting room setting, the True Occupancy solution will typically employ a people counter at the entrance as well as a wireless in-room occupancy sensor to deal with and prevent any error build-up. The two devices validate the information they capture, ensuring that there is always a solid foundation upon which to base building management decisions. 

Knowing how many people occupy your building daily can help you accumulate historical data that will eventually reveal certain trends. If, for example, only 30% of your workforce is on-site on a Friday, you may be able to shut several floors of your building. For Tim, the immediacy with which such decisions can be made is a critical benefit of the Irisys sensors. 

Rather than relying on hearsay or guestimations, management teams can make data-backed decisions to expand or reduce their real estate footprint. The stakes of doing this without accurate data are simply too high. Imagine purchasing or renting a new building based on the perception that you needed more space.

Your people counters can help you identify if too many individuals are gravitating towards certain rooms on certain days, creating the illusion that space is limited while other office areas remain empty. The solution here isn't to expand your real estate; it's to optimize what you already have and improve the flow of traffic with better scheduling. 

Multipurpose, multi-application occupancy data

People sensors can collect vast amounts of occupancy analytics, but the challenge, of course, is what to do with it? Who is it most helpful to? Is it presented in a meaningful format? Do the devices operate through a separate system and interface? Is it another platform to add to your ever-growing smart building management toolkit? Irisys recognize the importance of offering a single integration platform that pulls all the data into one central location. 

"There are different consumers of data when it comes to smart buildings. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work. We not only provide the occupancy data but also make it possible for that data to be consumed in a number of different ways through the True Occupancy platform. This information can then be fed to whatever systems in your building require it. For example, the information gathered can enable automated occupancy-based decisions to be made by HVAC or lighting systems, providing immediate cost-saving results," Tim explains. 

Installing and implementing True Occupancy

Setting up True Occupancy throughout your real estate requires some planning and careful consideration of your goals –– not only now but also for the future of your evolving smart buildings. 

Implementation can be reasonably quick. A first-level analysis is done to ensure that the sensors will be fitted in the correct locations. For an active building that's being retrofitted, considerations about trunking, cabling, and potential obstacles have to be factored in. Working with a new build is comparably easier since a collaborative approach can be taken to ensure the fitting of the devices aligns with other infrastructural and cosmetic aspects. 

If you're looking to understand an area with multiple entrances, devices will be installed over each entrance. They will communicate with each other and share information to the primary device that harvests the data and reports to the True Occupancy platform; from there, different departments can access the data for decision-making purposes, or other systems can utilize the information for an automated response to real-time occupancy levels. 

Roll-out timeframes will naturally depend on the scale and scope of the project, but these can be carried out within a month. The installation and implementation process will depend on what you're trying to understand about occupancy in your building and inform the selection of suitable technologies. The Irisys team will guide you through the steps of understanding your data and how to apply it in your particular setting. From the initial setup and throughout your continued use of the True Occupancy solution, the Irisys team will be there to support you as you scale. For example, you could go from monitoring one room's occupancy levels to installing desk sensors across multiple floors if your business expands.

The True Occupancy solution caters to many different types of spaces. Initially, the sensors were designed to monitor floor plates and large areas. Since then, the technology has developed to suit smaller spaces and get a greater resolution in the occupancy information – for example, we can now observe desk occupancy to help your hybrid staff plan their workday according to the availability of infrastructure and the capacity limitations you’ve set. 

Apart from the obvious factors ushering in the smart building era, Covid-19 has most certainly accelerated developments and made decision-makers more open and eager to initiate transformations. We've learned that understanding our environment plays a crucial role in how we are able to respond to crises while maintaining the functionality of our businesses, homes, recreational spaces, and buildings that facilitate essential services to the public. Through advanced engineering, years of experience, and observation, Irisys continues to provide pioneering solutions centered around accuracy and quality. 

The future will require buildings to be flexible, safe, green, and smart. Understanding how people interact with the built environment is the first step to achieving this, and the True Occupancy solution is here to provide the data. Request a demo to see this in action and have the opportunity to ask our experts any further questions you may have around the True Occupancy solution.

See our space utilization and optimization solution in action and witness how it can help your workplace adapt after COVID-19. Request a demo today.

Occupancy Business Case

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