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Data Powering AIX in Automated Buildings

Building automation with IoT sensors  and voice will be successful only if the design communicates to the users that their data is being collected and gets their buy-in to make it a joint journey to find acceptable uses of the data.

Sudha Jamthe Sudha Jamthe

Contributing Editor

Sudha Jamthe is the CEO of IoTDisruptions and teaches AIX, designing for AI course on

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As I entered the third level of a parking garage, a green light lit up and guided me to an open slot. IoT sensors in parking garages track the movement of cars in and out of the parking slots to show us free parking slots to save us time. Some garages count up the green lights and tell us how many slots are open on which floor as we enter the garage. Yesterday I saw this same technology deployed in a bathroom in the auditorium building of a university — this time, the motion sensor tracks people as they move in and out of stalls.

IoT sensors are creating new conveniences in buildings. It is very helpful to see a red or green light on top of a stall to know if a stall is empty in a restroom. Since all sensors collect data, the provider of this sensor can collect this data on sensors turning red or green and develop insights that are beyond the comprehension of ordinary consumers. That is the double-edged sword of data.

John Rossman, author of 'The Amazon Way on IoT' inspired me on this line of thinking with his thoughts about faucets being able to track building occupancy.  And now, seeing sensors tracking occupancy in stalls got me thinking about what other building functions can benefit from additional insights from this data.

When building sensor data is stored and analyzed, it can create more uses for the building manager. For example, the bathroom sensor data can give insight about peak usage of the restroom and which stall is not being used and needs cleaning. A time series of this data can inform the building owner of patterns of usage and can be used to predict maintenance needs.

IOT sensors in restroom
Image credit: Author

Here are some insights a building manager can glean from this bathroom sensor data:

  1. When is peak capacity of the stalls can help plan for expansion or repair timings or estimate bathroom supplies purchase and refills.
  2. How many people have used a particular stall can help optimize cleaning schedules.
  3. It can provide a real-time report if any stall is being avoided and can alert maintenance of a problem.
  4. It can provide a real-time headcount of people inside restrooms during an emergency lockdown or evacuations.
  5. It can provide reports on building occupancy for compliance to fire code.

Building Platforms harness data

Buildings have begun to off engagement platforms with Kone, the elevator company creating voice engagement and customized displays to be set up by the building clients. Voice is getting acceptance as the interface for machine interfaces to humanize the AI gathering user data behind it. Alexa has announced that they are working on learning to use emotions from their voice interaction with Alexa voice assistant.

IoT data to building intelligence

Sensor data can be combined with other data sources to provide training data to build AI to develop predictive models to add intelligence to buildings. For example, the HVAC system in the building can learn about user movements in the building complex and decide to adjust the heat setting to save energy usage. Or the voice interface in an elevator can learn a user's mood to monitor the elevator safety of its building residents.

What does this mean for Building owners?

Building owners have to think responsibly about the various use of  data over time and should plan whether they want a vendor to provide this data as a service or is it something they want to own in-house.

What is the secret to the success of data in buildings?

Buildings are for people, and an unoccupied building has less value than the one with people. AIX, Designing AI experiences with data is the secret to get user adoption. So it is important to invest in creating the right user experience that will work for your customers.

Building automation with IoT sensors  and voice will be successful only if the design communicates to the users that their data is being collected and gets their buy-in to make it a joint journey to find acceptable uses of the data.

Next time the parking slot lights up I hope it will tell me if it is tracking my preference of the same corner spot closest to the train station entrance and I will tell it I would like it to give me that spot on Wednesdays when I take the 9am train to San Francisco.


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