Using IoT connected lighting to create COVID-safe buildings

Pierlite Australia Pty Ltd

By Lydell Stokes, National Manager – Future Markets, Pierlite
Wednesday, 08 September, 2021


Using IoT connected lighting to create COVID-safe buildings

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a paradigm shift in how we as a nation understand public safety.

In the 18 months since the pandemic emerged, we have seen schools, offices, shopping centres and restaurants repeatedly closed due to transmission risks. Prior to 2020, these were environments previously considered ‘safe’ by regulators and occupants. Today, safety has a new meaning.

We are now approaching a promising breakthrough on the road to reopening. Australia’s vaccination rates — now approaching 25% — are rapidly accelerating.

While the prospect of reopening is good news for asset managers and businesses, it does not mean a return to the old ways. Even with a vaccinated population, it is evident COVID-19 is here to stay. To remain open, offices, schools, shopping centres and entertainment venues will need to prepare to operate with COVID, placing new safety procedures at the forefront of operations.

To achieve this, asset managers today are already implementing a new class of interconnected technologies set to revolutionise COVID safety, reduce transmission risk and assist with contact tracing.

Characterised by cloud technology, sensors, controls and analytics, connected ecosystems remain one of the fastest growing technology segments for built assets, forecasted to grow to $21 billion by 2023 as found by Omdia.

This article will discuss how asset managers across Australia and New Zealand are preparing to utilise the capabilities of IoT connected ecosystems to support COVID safety.

Creating building occupancy heatmaps

With a new focus on COVID-19 safety, it is critical for asset managers to have a clear understanding of how building occupants, such as office staff or retail customers, move through rooms and spaces. It also makes sense for facility managers to know how densely populated rooms are in real time and receive alerts if there are breaches to density limits.

By equipping rooms with state-of-the-art sensors serving live and historical data to cloud dashboards, asset managers can create occupancy heatmaps that show both foot traffic movement and the density of each room in real time. This enables asset managers to identify hotspots for potential transmission and receive alerts when rooms reach their limits.

Over the past year, the team at Pierlite have delivered smart ecosystems at multiple commercial, healthcare and industrial sites across Australia and New Zealand, with one of the primary goals being to heatmap building occupancy and measure how these metrics change over time. The company has also experienced the benefits first-hand in its own offices, where it has deployed light fittings with embedded sensors to monitor and track major building metrics related to occupancy, movement, ambient light and noise, and air quality, amongst other things.

COVID-19 contact tracing

IoT connected ecosystems can also be implemented to support COVID track-and-trace protocols. In office buildings, for example, sensor networks embedded in light fittings can be used to identify occupants or assets using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons that connect with an occupant’s key fob or other piece of equipment. In fact, some people counters don’t even need occupants to hold a key fob or other device to measure occupancy levels.

If a COVID-positive case is identified to that location, cloud dashboards can be used to analyse historical data and identify which occupants came in close contact to the COVID-positive case. Dashboards will show where that individual went within the building, and when. Systems can also be configured to automatically send real-time alerts to building managers, ensuring those occupants get tested and isolate quickly.

Monitoring air quality

It has long been a safety requirement that built assets provide spaces that are well ventilated, clean and ideally free of toxic, volatile or organic compounds. In future, asset managers must have a renewed focus on ensuring occupants can access air that is free of pathogens like viruses, as well as ensuring effective circulation to minimise the risk of transmission.

Today, systems allow hospitals and office buildings to implement elegant technologies that can monitor air quality in real time. As an example, by using luminaires with both embedded and standalone sensors asset managers are able to detect the presence of harmful air molecules and optimise heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) settings to control temperature, humidity and CO2 levels, and make changes to the airflow as required.

Rendering pathogens inert

Monitoring air quality and optimising air flow is important, but we see the capabilities of IoT ecosystems reaching far beyond this. There is significant potential for asset managers to utilise these IoT products to physically inactivate pathogens — including viruses — and scrubbing them from the circulating air.

One solution is a connected air-scrubbing luminaire that uses certain wavelengths of UV and filtration technology to inactivate and remove airborne microorganisms. The product does this by first irreparably damaging their molecular structure using UV and then scrubbing them from the air using filtration technology. It is entirely safe to operate and highly effective against both COVID-19 as well as other viruses like influenza. This fitting can be applied in offices, airports, health facilities and schools, with huge potential to help set new standards of safety and ultimately deliver greater health and wellbeing outcomes.

A significant task lies ahead for Australian and New Zealand asset managers as they look to implementing new COVID-safe procedures that will keep occupants safe and healthy. The potential for smart connected ecosystems to play a key role in delivering better COVID safety outcomes is significant.

These capabilities are just the beginning of a bright future for smart connected ecosystems. This is a rapidly growing market segment — and through continuous innovation, we may begin to see new capabilities emerge that will truly empower both asset managers and building occupants in the new world.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/natali_mis

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