7 Fascinating IoT Sensor Technology Projects in the Works

by Elizabeth Dukes on November 7, 2018

The Internet of Things has unlocked astonishing data collection capabilities, giving workplace leaders new insights they never could have imagined even a few years ago.

IoT sensors aren’t just detecting motion anymore. They’re measuring occupancy based on multiple data points. They’re measuring temperature, humidity and even carbon dioxide levels. They’re monitoring energy usage and predicting equipment failures. They’re helping workplace leaders create a more comfortable environment for employees while maximizing their resource costs.

And that’s only the beginning.

Imagine what they’ll be able to do in the near future.

As part of its SENSOR (Saving Energy Nationwide in Structures with Occupancy Recognition) program, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) recently awarded 15 organizations grants to conduct small-scale research and development projects with the goal of reducing the energy used by HVAC systems in commercial and residential buildings.

To paint a picture of what’s to come, we looked into some of the IoT sensor projects we found most interesting.

MicroCam: A Low Power and Privacy Preserving Sensor Platform

Syracuse University

Syracuse University is developing a low-cost, high-accuracy occupancy sensor system called MicroCam.

Powered by typical AA or C batteries, MicroCam will combine a low-resolution camera, infrared sensor, microphone and low-power embedded processor to detect human presence. Using all the sensing tools in tandem, the MicroCam system will be able to detect audio, measure shape and texture from static images and sense motion from video.

Potential Workplace Application: The system is ideal for measuring occupancy in different areas of the workplace. Its ability to capture information from multiple data streams will help reduce error and increase data volume and accuracy. Additionally, the powerful algorithms will process data locally, meaning the system requires no internet connection or access to a cloud to function.

Battery-Free RFID Sensor Network for Sensing Human Presence

University of Colorado

Led by University of Colorado professor and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) scientist Gregor Henze, a team of researchers at CU Boulder are developing a wireless occupancy detection system composed of a network of radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensors.

The peel-and-stick sensors will use privacy-preserving microphones and low-resolution cameras to detect human presence. In addition, the system will monitor electrical noise on power lines to ascertain occupancy in different spaces.

Similar to the Syracuse University project, this IoT sensor technology will be the result of aggregating information from multiple data streams, including image, audio and electrical activity.

Potential Workplace Application: This is occupancy planning on steroids. Rather than making decisions based on “thin data”, this technology will enable workplace leaders to see a more holistic view of their workplace.

Indoor Occupant Counting Based on RF-backscattering

Cornell University

The Electrical and Computer Engineering department at Cornell University will develop an occupant monitoring system for commercial buildings.

The system will be a combination of “active” RFID readers and “passive” tags which will be affixed to the ceiling, walls and floor and will measure occupancy based on disruptions in radio waves within the space.

The tags will need no power source to operate. Thanks to efficient biomechanical models and advanced imaging algorithms, the system will be able to distinguish people from furniture and pets.

Potential Workplace Application: This IoT sensor technology will give workplace leaders real-time data on space utilization while addressing privacy concerns.

Scalable, Dual-Mode Occupancy Sensing for Commercial Venues

Boston University

College of Engineering researchers at Boston University are developing a scalable, occupancy sensing system called Computational Occupancy Sensing System (COSSY).

Designed to accommodate rooms of various sizes and shapes, COSSY will collect data from high-resolution panoramic cameras and low-resolution, off-the-shelf thermal door sensors. It will use this visual and thermal data along with advanced detection algorithms to estimate how many individuals occupy a commercial space and monitor how this number changes over time.

In situations where privacy is a concern, the system can be deployed with only the thermal door sensors, which will gather occupancy data without revealing individual identities. Additionally, all algorithms will run on local hardware in order to mitigate security risks.

Potential Workplace Application: This IoT sensor technology will help workplace leaders monitor occupancy trends, also while addressing concerns about privacy.

Reflected Light Field Sensing for Precision Occupancy and Location Detection

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The research team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are developing a system to count occupants in a commercial space using time-of-flight (TOF) sensors.

TOF sensors measure the distance from objects using the speed of light to create a 3D map of occupant positions. The IoT sensor technology will capture low-resolution images to preserve privacy and will be distributed across the space to enable more accurate mapping. The system, which can be installed in the ceiling or built into light fixtures, will also take advantage of low-power infrared LEDs and patented plenoptic detector technology.

In addition, the system software will incorporate motion and position information.

Potential Workplace Application: This technology will allow researchers to track occupants who are in sensor “blind spots”. This will help reduce the number of sensors needed to monitor the space.

Floor Sensors for Occupancy Counting in Commercial Buildings

Scanalytics, Inc.

Floor sensor analytics software provider Scanalytics, Inc. is developing pressure-sensitive flooring to enable accurate occupancy counts in commercial buildings such as stores, offices and convention centers.

The floor sensors will be made of a material that changes electrical resistance when compressed, and conductive elements above and below the sensors will measure the resistance within the material. The data will then be transferred to a local gateway and fed into a processing algorithm for analysis.

Potential Workplace Application: These sensors are not only unobtrusive; they will presumably be invisible. Intelligent algorithms will account for multiple individuals in close proximity as well as occupants using wheelchairs or crutches.

Carbon Dioxide Sensors for Demand-Controlled Ventilation

Matrix Sensors, Inc.

San Diego-based Matrix Sensors, Inc. is developing a low-cost CO2 sensor system designed to enable improved ventilation control in commercial buildings.

In order to allow real-time sensing, the devices require a material that can selectively absorb and quickly release CO2 when its concentration has decreased. Therefore, Matrix Sensors will develop and use a specialized material known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). The MOF will be applied as a thin film on top of a sensor and absorb CO2 present in the space.

As the MOF absorbs and releases the CO2, a connected resonant mass transducer detects the change in mass and uses this to calculate the concentration of gas in the air. If levels are above a certain threshold, the building’s ventilation system will be activated.

Each wireless sensor module will be self-contained and include the sensor element, microprocessor, battery and wireless interface. They will be wall-mounted and require no wired power.

Potential Workplace Application: High concentrations of carbon dioxide can be deadly, but even non-lethal levels can impact employee health and performance. Too much CO2 can cause headaches and drowsiness. In certain types of buildings, such as laboratories and hospitals and even breweries, CO2 levels can rise quickly. Using CO2 sensors helps to protect employees and the general public. It can also improve energy efficiency.

The applications of IoT sensor technology are constantly expanding. And the ability of these research teams to build solutions that collect valuable data while still maintaining privacy indicates the potential for some exciting developments on the horizon.

To learn more about how companies are using sensor technology, check out our eBook, How to Use IoT Sensors To Make Your workplace Smarter.


Elizabeth Dukes

Elizabeth Dukes' pieces highlight the valuable role of the real estate and facility managers play in their organizations. Prior to iOFFICE, Elizabeth was in sales for large facility and office service outsourcing firm.

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