Fig 1 Modern Work Environment Edited

RF sensors address new challenges in commercial office management

Oct. 10, 2023
Advanced sensor technology enhances infrastructure management and employee health and safety in the era of the hybrid work environment.

Spurred by the post-pandemic hybrid work model, commercial office building owners and managers today are re-engineering their properties to more efficiently use building infrastructure to support the health, safety, and comfort of employees while they are in the office. Research has shown that office buildings that offer the best combination of efficiency, comfort and safety will command the highest rents and the greatest occupancy.

Advanced sensor technology can help realize these outcomes for facility professionals by providing them with actionable data to make informed decisions that can make the hybrid office experience a better one for occupants while optimizing efficiency and space.

Addressing changes in occupant density

Office occupation is now less dense, with a greater focus on collaboration areas where employees can gather and share ideas and insights. There is an emphasis on improved personal comfort to increase employee satisfaction when present, to create an attractive alternative to working from home. As offices have less traffic, there is a need for increased monitoring for health and safety purposes to ensure employee wellbeing. Meanwhile, offices must be managed more efficiently to keep costs in line with evolving expectations in a very competitive market for tenants.

Considering these changes, there is plenty of scope to improve existing building utility services. Lighting can be modulated to be brighter in occupied work areas and meeting spaces and less bright in unused spaces, for example. Heating and air conditioning can be optimized according to where people are located and gathered. Practices such as social distancing require an even better understanding of employee location and movement.

However, enhancing the office environment implies more fine-grained control of the infrastructure, and increased control requires greater observability. 60 GHz sensors can provide a rich set of information to satisfy the observability requirements of these smarter buildings while preserving anonymity for individuals.

Deploying advanced sensors for improved occupant experience

RF sensor systems transmit radio frequency signals and receive reflections from objects in their field of view. Solid-state radar sensors typically use a wide beam transmitter and receiver array. The radar system uses the differences in frequency and phase in the signals received in the array to determine the direction and travel of the reflections and hence the location of an object. Through this analysis, occupants can be located and counted, and their respiration and heartbeat rates can be observed without violating their expectations of privacy.

60 GHz RF sensors are small (a module is typically a couple of square inches) and consume very little power (under a watt). They can be independently mounted to monitor an existing office space, or they can be collocated with lighting units or other infrastructure in a new or retrofitted office space.

A 3D sensor mounted on the ceiling processes information in x-, y- and z-axes and is well suited to address open office spaces. A 2D sensor mounted on the ceiling processes information in x- and z-axes and is more appropriate for linear spaces such as hallways. A 2D sensor can also be mounted on a wall to provide horizontal coverage. Sensors can be installed to cover the whole office space, or to regions of interest. In either scenario, comprehensive coverage can be achieved.

Manufacturers now offer small, easy-to-use, and low-power-consumption 60 GHz 2D and 3D sensors for smart building applications. With a field of view of 120° and a typical range of nearly 20 feet, a single sensor from Socionext, for example, mounted at a ceiling height of nearly 10 feet can cover an area of approximately 275 square feet. Each sensor can simply be set to detect room entry and exit, presence or distance, or more complex processing can be performed.

Sensors enable all aspects of our lives

The number of connected IoT devices is growing exponentially and expected to grow from 16.7 billion active endpoints in 2023 to 29.7 billion globally in 2027, according to IoT Analytics. Sensors convert physical phenomena into a measurable digital signal, with information which can then be displayed, read, or processed to make our lives easier and safer. Without sensor technology, there would be no IoT at all.

By integrating RF sensors into the commercial office space, building owners and managers can be equipped with the information that they need to make the office environment more welcoming, safe and efficient for occupants.

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About the Author

Neil Bullock | Marketing Manager

Neil Bullock is a marketing manager at Socionext America Inc. Neil possesses extensive knowledge and experience in imaging systems and wireless communications and is skilled in developing complete solutions ranging from software platforms and applications to hardware devices and system components.

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