Beacons and Occupancy in the Intelligent Building

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Wikipedia: In 2010, an Australian company called DKTOB pioneered Bluetooth for indoor proximity sensing in its Seeknfind location attendance solution. In 2013, the retail industry saw Beacons and their ability to approximate a customer’s location as an ideal method for drawing attention to targeted products.

While passive access control cards can alert the building to your presence, they are not the ideal solution for locating you to a few meters. And while active (internally powered) access cards have more range, for various reasons they never took off as a method of locating individuals. Then came the Bluetooth Beacon supported by both Android and Apple phones, and suddenly there was a low cost (the phone is paid for, this is just a new app) reliable method of tracking any individual with a phone in their pocket.

An Intelligent Building as compared to an automated building, is the next generation of building that is aware of individuals and knows them when they are in the building. Let’s for a moment jump ahead a couple years and let me describe how this technology will be employed; it’s early on a work day and three individuals (CEO, IT Manager and accounting clerk) are on their way into the office at Primo Corp. As they pull into the parking deck they are each logged into the office via a beacon at entrance. The parking deck will turn on addition lighting if needed, and the security desk will be alerted if they are arriving before normal hours. Each of their offices will begin to warm up from their winter setback temperatures. As each one enters the building any needed lighting will be turned on as well as digital signage in the lobby and elevators. The accounting clerk is a few minutes ahead of the other two and the elevator signage shows yoga workout tips and a reminder for the company party coming soon. The lights on the account floor turn on and also the floor common room with tea and coffee. The CEO and IT manager both arrive at the elevator at the same time and the IT manger signage preferences are over-ridden by the CEO’s Cooking Channel highlights. Same as the accounting clerk the floors for the CEO and IT manager are ready for the work day and their offices are turned on.

OK, I’m going to stop right there because you’re thinking this scenario sounds familiar. You would be correct, because we heard the same potential from RFID (the technology used in access cards) when it first hit the street. We have all heard this was coming for years and in some isolated instances it was, but with great technological challenges and substantial expense that prevented general mainstream use. A form of Beacon technology in buildings will be a game changer because it is cheap and soon to be easily integrated into automation.

The Intelligent Building needs beacon technology to fully realize its potential for catering to the individual, but it can’t do it all on its own. The good ole occupancy sensor will continue to play a vital role in large spaces and also in small unused spaces such as electrical rooms and storage. Beacons can see through walls and that is not always beneficial if you can’t tell which space is being occupied, but occupancy sensors are limited to what they can see in that room. They can also see for long distances which is perfect to filling the gaps in coverage in big spaces. Additionally you may have left your phone on the charger at your desk, so the building must still be able to respond to even an unknown presence.

When it is all in place our old friend the occupancy sensor in combination with our new child the Beacon will make everything more personal in the Intelligent building.