Emergency lights create smart building network

Wednesday, 09 January, 2019

Emergency lights create smart building network

Buildings may soon be able to monitor themselves, report problems autonomously and even talk to smartphones with the rollout of an IoT solution known as EMIoT. The wireless platform, developed by UNSW, relies on LED exit signs as the backbone of a low-power meshed network that covers 99.9% of a building.

Each exit sign or emergency light acts as a node in the network, passing information back and forth across a building. Other devices can be connected to the network, and all of them can be controlled and monitored remotely.

“All you need is to install the emergency lights, and they all automatically connect to each other, and that creates the network,” explained Dr Wen Hu of UNSW’s School of Computer Science and Engineering. “The emergency lights can then be networked with other devices via various wireless technologies, including Bluetooth, which allows them to be controlled locally with a smartphone or via the internet from anywhere in the world.”

Sydney-based emergency lighting manufacturer WBS Technology originally approached UNSW about creating a network of emergency lights using Zigbee, a low power, low data rate, close proximity wireless network. However, emergency lights can often be located in places where communications are unreliable.

Hu, working with Assistant Professor Salil Kanhere, Professor Sanjay Jha and PhD students at UNSW’s School of Computer Science and Engineering, including Jun Young Kim, developed a more reliable alternative. They found a meshed combination of LoRa used by wireless sensors for healthcare monitoring; 6LoWPAN, a new internet protocol for small devices; and RPL, an experimental network protocol for point-to-point communications where stability and low data rates are an issue. They then created a gateway that bridges the different technologies with cellular telecommunications networks, allowing it all to connect to computer servers in the cloud. Bluetooth was added to provide localised control via smartphones.

The collaboration began under UNSW’s TechConnect incubator program, funded the NSW Government’s Boosting Business Innovation Program for SMEs. This led to an Australian Research Council Linkage project between the two, culminating in an Innovation Connections Grant funding the commercialisation of the technology.

WBS has commercialised the smart building solution within two years, and now offers ‘sensors as a service’. The company has installed the wireless solution in more than 10 apartment complexes, most recently at Castle Hill, where lights in the underground carpark, hallways and common areas dim and brighten according to whether there is any movement. If a light fitting fails, building managers know which one and how long it has been inoperative.

UNSW said as the network expands, energy usage and the status of heating and cooling could be tracked, flow gauges report back on water usage and identify leaks, ventilation and pumping systems monitored remotely and hot water systems checked for faults.

Luke Gibbeson (left) of WBS Technology and UNSW's Dr Wen Hu checking two of the lights that drive the smart building network. Credit: Quentin Jones/UNSW.

Luke Gibbeson of WBS Technology said it is creating a smart building ecosystem.

“There’s 14 buildings in this apartment complex, and we’ve installed a networked emergency lighting solution throughout them without any cabling and with no supporting network infrastructure,” he said. “Our communications gateway looks like a standard exit sign, which relays other emergency lights communication to the cloud and acts like a normal exit sign — so it’s a plug-and-play system. You can install in a new building or retrofit into an older one, like this one.”

Image credit: ©iStockphoto.com/anssiruuska

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