IoT Transforms an Office Building

Written By: Jerry Fireman
  • 2/19/2016

A well-known business services provider found much to be desired in their previous office space. It was not unusual to spend the first 20 minutes of a meeting getting all of the audiovisual equipment working. Sometimes screens wouldn’t turn on or devices couldn’t connect. Employees complained about being blinded by the sun or not getting enough light. It was often difficult to get a wireless connection in the office. Electric bills were high but management had no idea how the power was being used.

As the company prepared to move its 300-person staff into a new three-story, 60,000 square foot space in midtown Manhattan, management looked to address these problems and generally improve the productivity and comfort of its employees and visitors. The conference rooms were a top priority because customers and prospects frequently visit the company’s offices for meetings and presentations that have major impact on revenue generation.

“The Internet of Things [IoT] is like the Wild West right now with many different products providing point solutions,” said Dan Levine, Chief Executive Officer of CytexOne, a solution and integration provider that specializes in IoT applications in commercial buildings. “The challenge in this case was to put together an integrated solution using equipment from multiple vendors that functions together smoothly and addresses all of the client’s needs at a reasonable price point.”

CytexOne outfitted a 200-seat amphitheater and 8 conference rooms in the new space with audiovisual equipment with IoT connectivity that addresses the client’s reliability, usability and functional requests. All of the equipment is connected to power strips that use the ZigBee open wireless standard to connect to the IoT. The devices send information on usage and power consumption and receive control signals that turn them on and off. The audiovisual equipment including screens and videoconferencing systems is also connected to the IoT.

Each device is monitored in real time to determine its status. If a device generates error signals or falls offline, control software immediately begins taking steps to repair it. The most common repair action consists of remotely resetting the device to default settings or, if that doesn’t fix the problem, power-cycling the device. The control system is also configured to perform power cycling on many devices during off hours. If the control system isn’t able to fix the device, then it immediately sends an alert to CytexOne technicians who first attempt to fix the problem remotely by reconfiguring the device or making changes to the control software. Only in especially difficult cases does a technician get dispatched to fix the problem onsite. The client can also access the control system through a web browser to check statuses and make adjustments.

The amphitheater has additional devices including wireless microphones and ceiling mounted video cameras that are connected to the IoT. Video from events staged in the amphitheater can be streamed to screens in the conference room. Video screens located in the hallways and lobby by default show company information but can be changed at the web interface to show feed from the amphitheater or other sources.

The conference rooms also have ZigBee-based temperature and light sensors and power shades. The customer has a wide range of options in controlling the shades. Currently, the shades are opened during normal business hours except in the summer during the few hours when the sun is brightest when they are closed. Input from sensors in the room and weather reports can also be integrated into the shade controls and this is planned for the near future. For example, the control logic could be modified to avoid bringing down the shades during cloudy weather. Another option would be to control the shades based on the amount of light in the room. In other applications, CytexOne has integrated shade controls with building access control and surveillance systems, so for example, screens and lights automatically turn on when the first person arrives at the office in the am.

It's challenging to operate wireless networks in New York City because the city has so many networks they often interfere with each other on the limited number of Wi-Fi channels. This problem is overcome in the new office by connecting each wireless access point to an intelligent wireless coordinator that analyzes the traffic from various access points, looks for problems, and adapts the wireless network to compensate for these issues by changing channels or changing the Wi-Fi waveform.

“The customer tells us that the IoT application paid for itself in a short period by saving time for its employees who are now able to begin meetings and presentations at their scheduled time without fumbling with equipment,” Levine said. “The company has also eliminated the expense of having people on-site to manage their conference room equipment. Additional productivity gains have come from greatly reducing the time previously spent troubleshooting Wi-Fi connectivity. We are seeing increasing interest from companies that that are seeking productivity gains by connecting their offices to the Internet of Things.”

Image by L1mey on Flickr (CC by 2.0)

  • Connected Devices
  • Electronics and High-Tech
  • Industrial Internet of Things

About the Author

Jerry Fireman

I am a technology writer who specializes in writing about the Internet of Things (IoT), computer aided design (CAD), computer aided engineering (CAE), electronic engineering, pharmaceutical research and manufacturing, test and measurement, process management and a variety of other topics.