Industry Insights

Measuring Occupancy With Indoor Positioning Systems

Business Explanation, Key Questions, and Example IoT Use Cases for Measuring Occupancy to Ensure Compliance and Design Better Buildings

Calum McClelland
July 7, 2020

In my article What is Indoor Positioning?, we looked at Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS) from a business perspective and identified the following four fundamental applications of indoor positioning:

  1. Finding: The ability to know where a given thing/person is in real-time, so you can go find it/them.
  2. Tracking: The ability to gain insight into how things/people move through a process, so you can identify bottlenecks and/or improve customer service.
  3. Preventing: The ability to trigger alerts when things enter/leave certain areas, so you can prevent loss and theft.
  4. Measuring: The ability to gain insight into how things/spaces are being used, so you can ensure compliance with laws and/or optimize how those things/spaces are use.

In this article, we’ll be taking a deeper dive into tracking things and people, with a business explanation, key questions you should ask, and example IoT use cases that include measuring occupancy to ensure compliance with fire codes and covid social distancing and to optimize utilization of spaces with architectural design.

This series is focused on the business perspective for indoor positioning systems. If you’re interested in the different technical approaches and how they work for indoor positioning, check out this excellent Indoor Positioning eBook.

Business Explanation: Measuring With Indoor Positioning Systems

Designing, architecting, and constructing effective buildings is a difficult challenge. Architects have to please multiple stakeholders with varying needs. The funders may be focused on the upfront cost to build, ongoing costs to power and maintain, and/or overall function of the building. Users of the building may care about navigation, spaces for their personal uses, privacy, safety, and/or security. Local residents may care about the beauty of the building and/or its environmental impact. And those are just a few of the possible needs of different stakeholders.

To improve the design of new buildings, post occupancy evaluation (POE) surveys are conducted, but they’re manual, expensive, and limited in the data that can be collected. To improve the use and safety of existing buildings manual inspections are required. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Indoor positioning can enable your business to automatically measure how your building is being used. You can get insight into real-time occupational density to enforce current safety codes and look at occupational trends over time to inform future building design. For architects, instead of wondering and guessing at whether the building design was effective, you can truly know.

Key Questions: Measuring With Indoor Positioning Systems

To help determine the right technological approach for your specific needs, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you need a discrete measurement or ongoing measurement? An architectural firm doing a post occupancy evaluation may only need a discrete measurement. If so, this would favor an approach that’s portable and easy to set up while minimizing the need to plug into existing infrastructure. Alternatively, if ongoing measurement is required then a more permanent solution would be better.
  • How granular does the measurement need to be? Put another way, what is the maximum margin for error? In some cases, it’s critical to know the difference between 15 people in a room and 16 people in a room. In other cases, being within 20% may be enough. Expect that the more granular your measurement needs to be, the more expensive the solution will be.
  • Can you make people use a dedicated tracking device? In many buildings, it would be impossible or impractical to force people to carry a dedicated tracking device. For example, in a retail context the logistics and privacy concerns around making consumers carry dedicated tracking devices just wouldn’t work. However, in a lab setting where only employees are allowed to enter, this could work.

Example IoT Use Cases: Measuring With Indoor Positioning Systems

#1 Measure Occupant Density for Social Distancing Compliance

In the current pandemic environment, occupational density within buildings becomes even more important than usual. All buildings have a maximum capacity to comply with firecodes, but now that capacity may be temporarily decreased to enforce proper social distancing as places reopen. For stores and restaurants, compliance becomes a major challenge to stay on top of and enforce.

For measuring occupant density to comply with social distancing, ongoing measurement is needed. It won’t be an option to have people use dedicated tracking devices, so you’ll need a solution that doesn’t assume that. The granularity of the measurement depends on how you need to use it, if you need logs to prove your compliance then higher granularity might be needed.

#2 Post Occupancy Evaluation for Better Architectural Design

Buildings last for decades so it’s critical that they’re well designed. To improve buildings and the overall quality of design, post occupancy evaluation (POE) is one of the most powerful tools available to architects. It’s estimated that for every dollar spent on POE, $77 can be saved in operating, maintenance, and renovation costs. However, POEs can be time consuming, expensive, and difficult to justify to clients.

For post occupancy evaluation to inform architectural design, discrete measurement is necessary. The building isn’t controlled by the architectural design firm and the client is unlikely to want an indoor positioning solution collecting data on an ongoing basis. For similar reasons, people won’t have dedicated tracking devices, so it’ll be necessary to use the signals from their smartphones as a proxy. High granularity isn’t critical because many design hypotheses can be validated or disproved even with high error margin.

Check Out the Other Indoor Positioning Applications

We just covered one of the four applications for indoor positioning systems in this article, check out the others for business explanations, key questions you should ask, and example IoT use cases for each:

  1. Finding Things & People with Indoor Positioning Systems
  2. Tracking Things & People with Indoor Positioning Systems
  3. Preventing Loss & Theft with Indoor Positioning Systems
  4. Measuring Occupancy with Indoor Positioning Systems

Calum McClelland

Chief Operating Officer

Calum graduated from Brown University with a major in Philosophy. Striving to change himself and the world for the better, Calum values active living, life-long learning, and keeping an open mind.

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