​Building sensors plot 'patterns of habitation'

The Internet of Things is providing new ways for building owners and architects to validate their design assumptions.

Architects design buildings, but their inhabitants determine how they are occupied and what happens inside them.

Between the theoretical purposes of a building and how it is actually used lies a gap that is now being analysed with the aid of sensors, beacons, and mobile devices.

Daniel Davis

At the forefront of those efforts is Daniel Davis, a New Zealander working at New York-based consultancy CASE, where he is probing the intersection between building and technology.

Davis, who will address the Green Property Summit in Auckland on Thursday and present a master class on Friday, said that because there is very little feedback about how buildings are used, a lot of assumptions about usage are made by architects, owners, and tenants.

Because buildings increasingly have sensors installed, data is now becoming available to validate or invalidate those assumptions. Doors and locks are now being equipped with sensors, as are windows and temperature controls.

There is also now the technology available to layer human location data onto that.

CASE is testing ways to flesh out the data needed to track building usage. It has deployed a low-power ZigBee mesh network and beacons in its own building to track an app on the phones of around 30 people.


The research project, which will reveal how space in the building is really being used, has been under way for four weeks and has another couple of weeks to run.

In revealing where people are, Davis said, the project is also highlighting patterns of collaboration and how the company works structurally.

Such information can help companies determine whether changes are necessary or whether they will make a difference.

Davis said one company is already doing some of this within its own facilities, but is not talking openly about it: Disney. Visitors to sites such as Disneyland now wear RFID tags that can be used to open doors and make purchases.

Davis posits that will help Disney track how visitors flow through its parks and how the placement of concession stands and other features affects that and the use of rides in the vicinity.

He said such projects are akin to taking the practises of web page optimisation into the physical world.

Davis, who completed his PhD at Melbourne's RMIT, has also played a role in tackling the computational challenges of Antoni Gaudí's unfinished La Sagrada Família cathedral in Barcelona.