Sensing growth in smart buildings

RFID integration in the wider IoT is responding to the challenges of smart building. How is this, combined with mesh technology facilitating large-scale sensor deployment and what place do beacons hold in the mix?
Smart building, expected to represent 24.7 billion dollars in the world by 2021, is a term based on the use of different sensors in order to collect a large volume of data: temperature, humidity, brightness, physical presence detection, sound level, air quality, water consumption, electricity, etc.

For building professionals, but also and above all for their users, the main challenges of the smart building are energy consumption management, space optimization, costs reduction, and safety management – and the association of Smart Building and IoT is now being coined as BioT (Building Internet of Things).

The global health crisis has reinforced these challenges like the massive development of telework and the implementation of strict health rules. Challenges in which managers of tertiary buildings see many opportunities. However, the communication protocols allowing the networking of connected objects are sometimes hard to deploy and can prove to be expensive.

ELA Innovation applications integrate wireless RFID sensors for monitoring environments in real-time with a solution entirely dedicated to smart buildings. Users can monitor the temperature or humidity level in a specific room or green area and be provided with information about staff presence, room light levels, and open/close status. Goods can be secured through motion detectors and data collected and transmitted by wireless sensors, which feature an operating lifetime of 10 years or more.

Mesh technology

There are many communication protocols on the IoT market, so it is not easy to negotiate through it and know which one to choose. A solution based on a mesh networking of sensors, developed by Wirepas, is currently used by 3 million objects worldwide. The versatile and interoperable connectivity solution is composed of four pillars to form a complete technological offer intended for hardware manufacturers, software editors, integrators, or end users. It has been specifically designed to meet the two major challenges of mesh networks which are the reliability of the network at scale and density and the low energy consumption of routers in the network.

Wirepas mesh is a decentralized radio protocol that can be used in a multitude of objects on any component or frequency band. Every object on the network is an intelligent router which simplifies the infrastructure and eliminates the need for a repeater or routing table. The intelligence is in the network with objects deciding their configuration locally and dynamically. This local decision-making guarantees the operation of the object regardless of the size of the network. The ‘local’ mesh network can also be connected to the Internet (or a Cloud) thanks to a gateway whose drivers and APIs are available on GitHub in Open Source. This makes it possible to connect business platforms to operate the network and process the data. It is particularly relevant for large-scale industrial applications such as asset tracking, lighting, logistics flow management, and facility management.

Applications

The mesh technology described can be used in many connected objects such as sensors, lights, and any other type of building object that can support technology. The whole forms a unified network making it possible to mix several applications within the same one. Network is then implemented easily in the building(s) to make their management smarter. Finally, the ‘Over-The-Air’ provisioning and update features allow it to implement and maintain the network while keeping OPEX costs under control.

While providing scalability and reliability of the network regardless of its size or density, the solution offers low consumption and low latency modes allowing to couple different applications (example: lights / sensors) and benefit from the advantages of both, as well as an infrastructure that can be mainly based on battery, allowing for several years of operation. Its easy deployment and maintenance operations also allows interoperability with the internet or the Cloud via a simple gateway allowing the use of third-party platforms with business intelligence for all various smart building applications. However, technology is dependent on its environment like any other comparable technology. In the case of a smart building this means a range which can be reduced depending on the external conditions. But this point is easily removed by adding a new object to the network which improves its coverage.

Aircon management

Today most tertiary buildings are equipped with air conditioning to cool or heat workspaces. This energy consumption item represents a large part of the expenses linked to the operation of such buildings. It is interesting to be able to manage its use in an automated and intelligent manner. Mesh technology allows for better control of this consumption, to reduce the costs as well as the ecological impact linked to this expense item. It is easy to couple within the same Wirepas Mesh network lights with temperature and humidity sensors placed in the relevant places of the building. The lighting network is used to structure the network in ‘low latency’ mode. The network of temperature/humidity sensors is on battery and uses the low consumption mode to promote the life of the battery.

The lighting and air conditioning are then managed intelligently for better control of the building’s energy consumption. The optimization of spaces is a trendy topic regarding the development of telework or the increase in the price of the square meter in big cities. Companies seek to reduce the area of their premises and it is necessary to be able to computerize the management of the occupancy rates of rooms and offices. To meet these challenges, it is possible to simply add a set of presence (based on motion), brightness and magnetic (door opening/closing detection) sensors. This makes it possible to better manage the occupation of spaces and dynamically manage the lighting of the building while strengthening the architecture of the network.

Thanks to digital technologies the life cycle of buildings is transformed into a more sustainable, autonomous, and remotely controllable mode of operation. By relying on mature and proven technologies, building stakeholders will be able to develop preventive maintenance thanks to predictive analysis of the data collected. This type of off the shelf solutions make it possible to democratize applications linked to intelligent building and thus participate in the development of this sector.

Beacons

In addition to wireless sensors, some manufacturers also provide the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) identifiers as an answer to the issues of smart building and smart cities.

According to a Report Monitor study between now and 2025, the beacons market should represent 33 700 million US dollars with a number of devices set to triple every year. The retail sector represents by itself more than a 50 percent of the market. But these last years, the Bluetooth Low Energy strongly developed in various sectors like logistics, transport and industry. A beacon is a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) emitter belonging to the big family of connected objects. Measuring few centimeters in diameter, it will emit radio waves reaching several hundreds of meters range and send information which will be received by devices with a Bluetooth connectivity (smartphones, computers, tablet, etc.). One of the biggest advantages of this wireless communication protocol BLE is its low energy consumption, offering to the beacons an autonomy reaching up to 20 years.

Access control

Often associated with passive and active RFID technologies, people access control can also be done with BLE beacons replacing the access control readers. The person willing to access the site no longer needs an entry pass: its smartphone becomes the identification support. When this application user arrives next to the secured access, its smartphone receives the beacon information and transmit to the management application access request. The advantages are the very wide detection range allowing to establish a hands-free access control and the removal of the physical entry pass.

The beacons answer various challenges, whatever the field. In fact, the interactions possibilities are infinite without turning the communication method into something invasive. The end user will need, in any case, at least the Bluetooth activated on his device and a third-party app to connect to the beacons. In the industry, this type of connected object for wireless identification can prompt a complete rethink of the internal processes within companies.

Ela Innovation