IoT Occupancy Sensors: How CRE Companies Can Elevate Tenant Wellbeing
An interview with Sam Yang, Managing Director, Xandar Kardian
Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, the focus on tenant comfort and wellbeing had taken the spotlight in the commercial real estate (CRE) sector in recent years. Realizing that people are the greatest asset in the built environment, companies and owners have turned to IoT and smart building technology to enable a healthy, comfortable and productive environment. Now, the pandemic is rapidly expediting this trend on a global scale. This week on the blog we interview Sam Yang, Managing Director and Cofounder of Xandar Kardian, to share how CRE companies are leveraging IoT occupancy sensors to improve health and wellness.
1. Tell us about Xandar Kardian. What is your focus and vision in the smart building space?
Michelin 3-star dishes starts with incredibly fresh and high-quality ingredients before chefs start working up their magic with spices and sauces. In the same way, Xandar Kardian believes that all smart building “solutions” must start with the most accurate, reliable, and real-time data before analytics and conclusions are derived from it. That is our focus. Making sure that true presence detection is obtained via human vital sign rather than heat sources or large motions. Occupancy (people) counting is also done by body motion index rather than complicated computer vision processing that are limited to doorways and environmental factors.
2. How do see the changing commercial real estate (CRE) landscape in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic?
In the pre-COVID-19 era, true 99.9% human presence sensing may have been considered overkill by some. However, in recent months, we have seen a rise in demand for true occupancy as false vacancy can create increased disinfection costs. For example, most room or desk occupancy sensors still uses PIR motion technology to detect presence. The problem with these sensors is that they are triggered easily. They are not able to truly detect vacancy if the occupant does not make a large motion. Due to this limitation, 15 or 30-minute timers are placed to keep the space “occupied” with the assumption that the occupant will make a large motion at least once during that time. If however, someone enters a room (or desk) for two seconds (triggering the sensor) and leaves right away, lights and HVAC will start running for 30 minutes while an alert is sent to janitorial services to come and disinfect the area. With Xandar Kardian, vacancy is detected within seconds since it is continuously scanning for human vital signs in each space. This means that true detection, vacancy and dwell time are obtained.
This is just one example of how we are seeing CRE companies take another look at the accuracy of occupancy sensing – not just in detecting occupancy but also in detecting vacancy.
3. Tell us about the different IoT occupancy sensors Xandar Kardian offers.
Room / Open Space Presence Detection: One sensor can cover up to 600 sq. ft of space. The sensor can be placed anywhere – walls, pillars, ceilings or even behind ceiling panels, making it 100% discrete. It continuously sends out safe low-RF signals to obtain vital signs (micro-vibrations) from human occupants, making it a 99.9% accurate occupancy and vacancy.
Desk Occupancy Sensor: Small USB-C or battery driven sensors are placed underneath the desks. This sensor detects presence over a short range (4-6 feet) via breathing pattern detection from the occupant. This sensor can also be used on top of individual toilet stalls to get individual stall occupancy sensing within bathrooms.
In/Out Occupancy Foot Traffic Counting: Installed over doorways, our In/Out counting solution is highly accurate (90+%) and is not affected by temperature, humidity or lighting conditions. This makes the system the most reliable system on the market and can be used in main entrance/exit doors of a building.
Zone People Counting: This is a unique, globally exclusive solution by Xandar Kardian. It scans an area (up to 600 sq.ft) continuously for body motion. Occupants can even be sitting down or standing still. This sensor can be installed anywhere – including on a side of a wall, which makes it ideal to be able to count occupancy in large shopping malls or airports where ceilings are very high. In meeting rooms or classroom settings, zone counting sensors can be combined with In/Out counting to get accurate counting but also to correct miss counts by scanning the entire zone. Miss counts can “lock up” rooms as even 1 miss count leaving the space can falsely claim the room is still occupied.
4. What role can IoT occupancy sensors play in CRE companies’ initiatives to safeguard tenant health and comfort following business reopening?
Density management and controlled disinfection protocols are extremely important to safeguard tenant’s health and comfort. At the same time, these sensors need to be affordable enough to be used building wide.
Ground floor: Building entrances require In/Out counting to get real-time total building occupancy measurements. Many camera-based systems require physical maintenance and consume more operating costs. It is also affected by changing environmental and lighting conditions throughout the day. Our solutions are not affected by these conditions at all and is ideal for main entrance counting.
Elevators & Elevator lobbies:
Many CRE operators have voiced their concern over elevator and elevator lobby density control measures. Any type of cameras, including IR based ones simply cannot be used to count occupancy inside elevators. Elevators have glasses or stainless-steel walls to help ease claustrophobic conditions. These walls however cause havoc to camera (image) based systems due to image reflections. For elevator lobbies, since all cameras or IR based systems count occupancy via “doors” only, you would need multiple sensors as each elevator represents a door. Miss-counts can also occur which can start stacking occupancy counts throughout the day. With Xandar Kardian, you would only need to place 1 sensor per elevator or elevator lobby on each floor to get the full count. Continuous counting without any counting errors.
Having a camera installed above bathroom doors will not be widely accepted by many tenants. Our sensors have no holes and is designed to look like a network hub. When combined with a zone counting solution, you will also get auto-correction for potential miss counts (in/out) and ensure vacancy status. Real-time bathroom occupancy, including bathroom stalls, can be displayed outside via a wall-mounted display.
5. Do occupancy sensors help to improve other aspects of building operations as well? If so, how?
Prior to COVID-19, our solutions were being deployed into airports and banks for security purposes while shopping malls and office buildings were using it for space utilization and energy saving benefits. In fact, on energy savings, a pilot run on a 24,000 sq. ft office space in Toronto revealed savings of $14,000 per floor per year using Xandar Kardian solutions.
6. What are the key connectivity requirements for occupancy sensors in smart buildings?
Our solutions were originally running on POE / Wi-Fi connection while conducting various pilots around the world. However, for building-wide deployments, it was imperative that we work on secure LPWAN connection. Therefore we partnered with BehrTech to embed their MYTHINGS wireless connectivity solution into our sensors.
7. With so much data being harvested, how can we make sure tenants’ privacy is not compromised?
Xandar Kardian exclusively uses radar sensors only. With radar sensor, it is not possible to individually identify anyone. Many competitors use some sort of images – either 3D vision, mono-vision or IR thermal vision. To ensure tenant’s privacy, expensive base servers are required to conduct on-premise image processing before sending data to the cloud. We do not require this step as it does all processing on the edge using an MCU on board. This also means that Xandar Kardian solutions can be complete off-grid and only feed occupancy data via a closed loop network on premise. “Presence detection via vital sign” have raised questions about privacy concerns in the past. However, unless specifically requested by the tenant, we do not collect or record any vital sign data. It just gets “0” or “1” for occupancy and vacancy.
8. Beyond the current pandemic, what should companies consider in their smart building strategy moving forward?
“Health & Wellness” has become extremely important for everyone around the world. In fact, stress & fatigue monitoring of occupants can help automate fresh air intake, HVAC temperature control and lighting controls to promote a better, more efficient work environment. Xandar Kardian is currently pending FDA 510(k) clearance for its non-contact, continuous and automatic vital sign monitoring solution. Although this has been developed exclusively for hospitals and senior nursing homes, it can also be used in any work environments to obtain health and wellness conditions for the occupants.
Managing Director & Cofounder, Xandar