All About The Desk Research Project © Daniel Imade Arup
All About The Desk Research Project © Daniel Imade Arup

How sensors are driving change in the built estate


Emma Gordon

How important are sensors in property?

Sensors allow us to monitor, control and understand our surroundings in ways we’d hardly thought possible just a few years ago.

These days, we can turn on the heating from the bus as we’re leaving the office to head home — or delay it coming on if we’re working late; and we can check who’s just rung our doorbell, even if we’re nowhere near the front door.

But how significant will sensors and connected objects, the Internet of Things, be to the wider property industry?

What are sensors?

Electronic devices that can detect such things as light, heat, motion, moisture, pressure.

Sensors really get interesting when we connect devices with built-in sensors to the Internet.

The Internet of Things is effectively a network which enables these objects to talk to each other: connecting and sharing data.

Why are they important for property?

On construction sites the emphasis is on reducing risk, minimising project delays and giving site managers important information like hazard alerts.

For buildings themselves, sensors can be used to control and anticipate environmental configurations including heating and lighting to increase efficiency and reduce spend, while making sure tenants are comfortable.

Sensors can give early warnings of equipment in need of attention or maintenance, and are also used to detect how space is being used: providing accurate data that’s miles apart from clipboard surveys and guesswork so owners can get the best use out of their buildings.

Who’s working in this area now and what are they doing?

IoT and sensor technology is a rich and fast evolving sector, here we take a look at a small selection of work underway.

Beringar | In the process of developing its latest sensors, but has — along with CENSIS, the Scottish Innovation Centre for Sensor + Imaging Systems — already worked closely with the NHS. Beringar says its sensors identify trends in the way people use health service properties and “moveable assets” such as hospital beds and crash trolleys. Data is transmitted wirelessly using long range data backhaul (LoRa) network to a live dashboard for analysis.

A trial in Essex last year detected empty space that staff thought was actually being well used: allowing estate managers to take steps to improve the building’s productivity.

This ‘sensor as a service’ could prove valuable in terms of planning health services, for example helping teams identify free space into which to expand health and social care services, without spending more on leasing or building more premises: powerful potential when you consider the NHS spends an estimated £30bn annually managing its estates and facilities.

Arup | Working on the All About the Desk research project, looking at how technology, including mobile, sensors, low voltage direct current and rapid manufacturing can lead to more productive, comfortable and customisable workspaces for tenants.

The Arup study uses low-cost mobile and sensing technology, combined with open-source software, to allow employees to control factors like lighting.

The desks themselves are manufactured using an ‘open making’ approach. They’re digitally designed; while components are prototyped using laser cutting and 3D printing technologies. The design is then sent to a local manufacturer where the parts are made before being sent back to the office for assembly.

This allows the desks to be produced in a much shorter time-frame, without the cost and emissions generated by the long-distance transportation of materials.

Pillar Technologies | Battery-powered sensors, mounted throughout a construction site, actively monitor aspects such as temperature, humidity, pressure, volatile organic compounds, noise vibration and dust, using a backend system to give both real-time alerts via smartphones or tablets that help prevent or mitigate damage, as well as long-term risk analysis. Pillar says benefits include reduced paperwork and damage on site, as well as resultant project delays.

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