In this interview Kevin Mugadza, Senior Project Manager at OpenSensors we deep dive into what it takes to deploy occupancy sensors and the prep work required for a seamless integration.
Based on years of experience managing inventory, supply chains and logistics, he sees the following as the top risks for deployment of sensors networks:
- Site specific risks - Gateway and sensor placement for signal quality and established connection to cloud
- Prepare risk – Staging to verify design
- Maintenance risk – Detecting sensors that are not transmitting data
- Network connectivity - From gateway to cloud during deployment – setting up staging, maintenance – keeping the data flowing
- Scoping process – Identify and ensure impact on key KPIs
How does a project begin?
“My involvement begins when the project is signed off and the client has given us the CAD drawings or every floor so that an initial site survey can be done.
At the beginning of a project the main thing we look for is mitigating risks and anticipating potential problems so a project can run smoothly. We start with a detailed site survey. The survey let’s us know where best to position the sensors and gateways for maximum signal strength to be recorded.
The next stage is to make sure the client is ready to receive the information when it's set up. Prepared with a sample kit, we double check it's powering up and that all sensors are communicating with the gateway.”
What determines where you would put the kit?
“There are a lot of different variables influencing signal strength depending on where you put the kit and these need to be identified so that the data can be gathered securely and precisely.
Successful communication between the gateway and the sensors is based on signal strength and ‘signal to noise ratio’ within its LoRa range.
We start by centrally positioning a gateway and then we place a sensor in each of the four furthest corners of the room. From there, you can tell where the maximum strength of signal lies and where it may register as dropping off.”
What affects a signal?
“It depends on the makeup of the building. Materials, such as metal in the foundations of the buildings, can be one way of influencing the sensor. One of the reasons we use LoRa technology is because it reflects off other buildings so we don’t need a clear path for a good signal.”
OpenSensors does installation in stages, why is that?
“The phased approach is to mitigate against risk. We start off with a small pilot for an early win and to adequately prepare for larger subsequent deployments within the company.
Rather than trying to tackle too many things at the same time, having a phased approach makes it easier not only to have a reliable understanding of what you can expect over a period of time, but also how best to manage it.
We want to understand what variables there may be in the life cycle of a sensor and whether these differ between each site or over different floors. If a sensor goes down, it needs to be in touch with the structure already in place so that it can be quickly picked up and then dealt with.“
How long does a pilot run for?
“The pilot phase will run from 1 to 3 months. Deployment time is kept to a minimum because we have project kits with pre-configured sensors and gateways ready to go straight from the box. This saves a lot of time and money since we are able to operate onsite with only a small focused team.”
How long does it take to install a sensor?
“This depends on the type but for desk sensors it only takes about 20 seconds per unit. They can easily be attached under a desk discreetly and are unobtrusive enough not to be noticed. They can just as easily be unattached and moved as and when needed.”
How do you support the existing structure within the company?
“We try to be as frictionless as possible throughout the whole process. That's why our systems are designed to work independently of a client’s networks so we can do a lot of our support work remotely when we are troubleshooting. It's important to establish a clearly defined route in order for this to happen.
Tickets can be raised by clients and we have a dedicated team to deal quickly with any issues that might arise.
You need a reliable set of data regularly coming in, so keeping sensors online and talking to the gateway is essential.”
What sensors are clients interested in using?
“The most popular sensors are occupancy monitoring sensors which look at the use of space whether that’s meeting rooms, desks, breakout spaces such as canteens and kitchens. We also use environmental sensors which measure factors such as heat, light, noise and air quality.
We help clients look at the trends within their spaces; how busy that space is, where it is and at what times of the day, days of the week or month is it being used most or least.
We also look at what affects where people decide to locate themselves within that space, so if you've got a lot of hot desks and find that people are gravitating to particular areas to find a quiet space to work in if they need to concentrate, we will be able to see that.
Desk monitoring comes first and then environmental sensors are phased in after to give you a full overview into what may be affecting people’s comfort and productivity.”
What happens after the initial kit deployment?
“After all sensors and gateways are consistently providing the information needed, we make sure we take time to help the client understand how to use the dashboard and support tools that we have in place to keep their network live so they're comfortable seeing data coming through and able to interpret it.”
How do you tell whether a sensor is online or not?
“All our sensors are setup to send ‘proof of life’ signals to the gateway at regular intervals wherever they are. This alerts us to any issues quickly and makes sure that everything is as it should be. We help clients manage their assets as comprehensively as they need to.
We overlay our visualisations on top of a client’s CAD drawings. Each sensor can be identified from its unique numbered tag so you can see immediately if a sensor isn’t behaving as it should be. Even if it is in a meeting room, it's quite easy to narrow down pretty quickly where in the building it is.
We get an alert which allows an exact location on the floor plan so that sensors can be managed as efficiently as possible.
Not only does it show us where the sensors are in the building but it also gives us a good overview of their general health. The other thing we can see in the dashboard is battery life.”
How long do sensor batteries last for?
“There are two different types of sensors; one is plugged directly into the mains whilst the other is battery powered. We check the frequency of messages sent to make sure each sensor is registering at a consistent rate. Most clients require sensors programmed to send a regular ‘heartbeat’ every ten minutes.
Based on that, batteries will normally last for 2 years. For greater granularity, it is possible to set the sensor to send data more frequently than every 10 minutes however the battery life will then be reduced. For most people, a very comprehensive overview is still possible with a heart beat signal every ten minutes. “
How do you know when a battery needs to be replaced?
“All the sensors have an indicator on the dashboard leading up to low battery life. Every time a sensor sends a ‘heartbeat’, it also sends a battery report making it very easy to see when one needs to be changed well before it stops working. “
When does your involvement with the client end?
“For the life cycle of the project I am there to make sure that our clients find the value in the system installed and that they are happy with the data provided. We are there to help meet their expectations and offer continued support throughout.“
We have a multi-disciplinary team to manage the risks for deployment of sensors networks. We have experience with thorough site preparation inspection, off site staging of the network, deployment, and ongoing maintenance support. Our process provides on time delivery of a fully operational sensor network.
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