Space Monitoring – The Final Frontier

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First, with this title, I am bound to disappoint many Star Trek fans, maybe even some Iron Maiden ones.  I apologize in advance if I lured you in...

One of the biggest wastes of energy in our society is failing to monitor "your space".  I use this term in quotes as it actually means something different to just about anyone. For some of us, it refers to our home while for others, it may refer to your office, garage or even your workshop. I think everyone agrees that no one likes to live in the dark or in extreme cold/heat, so using energy to power up lights and temperature control for when you are in a "space" make sense.  However, what about when you are not there?  And, what if someone is using an excessive amount of energy to do these things when you are not there, like in the case of a rental "space”?

Enter "Space Monitoring"

I remember going over to my aunt's place when I was a kid.  It was an apartment in a big complex.  It was quite warm, as it can be in Toronto in the summer, yet her place was so cool that you could pretty much use it as a back drop for Rocky's famous scene when he was punching frozen meat.  Her reasoning: "I'm not paying for the electricity".  This was obviously a huge waste of energy and money for SOMEONE.

Along the same lines is a story about my neighbour's experience.  He has a renovation business and often does some work in the garage (which he uses as a workshop).  Being that it is cold in the winter, he keeps the garage at a nice warm temperature during business hours.  While he was off-loading some things, he had his big garage door open.  While driving away, he hit the button to close his garage and "thought" he had closed it.  However, the garage door failed to close just short of the bottom and opened wide open....without him seeing this as he drove away.  So, his natural gas powered heater began working overtime to make up for the blasts of winds coming in through a massive door.  In the end, it burned out his motor and cost him an extraordinary amount of energy before it did.

Two different examples...both with the same idea.  Monitoring your "space" can save you money, as well as extra wear and tear on your machinery.

What is involved?

In some cases, solutions are available from the manufacturer of the machinery, such as the garage door opener that will alert you of such a situation.  However for an actual "space", it may need more of a solution involving sensors.  The good thing is that the variation of what can be monitored is so vast (ranging from temperature, to presence of water to hundreds of other things) that you can monitor pretty much anything you may have.  As well, the solutions are often offered as a turn-key, monthly fee-based service for quick setup.

The Bottom line

Like the old expression goes, it is often what you cannot see that is the issue.  You can't be everywhere at all times, so it makes sense to use "space monitoring" to tell you what you don't know.  It lowers costs, protects your stuff and can often increase productivity.  Think of this as your solution until Scotty really is able to "beam you up" so that you can be everywhere...

Water cooler chat just got a lot shorter thanks to IoT

I have often told this story, so if you have heard it, I ask in advance for your patience.  When I was a data solutions specialist at a carrier, one of our customers was a large steel mill.  They had noticed over the years that their on-premise trucks (the ones that never went more than a few minutes, if at all, from the property) had seen their gas and repairs costs skyrocket.

Now, it wasn’t because of the cost of fuel itself.  While that was a factor, the volume of fuel used per truck had increased dramatically, despite the fact that they were not doing any extra work.  As well, the cost of maintenance per vehicle and the number of times that a vehicle had to be serviced annually had also gone up considerably for no apparent reason.

The company had determined that the cause was likely related to vehicles idling unnecessarily for excessive amounts of time.  However, since their employees belonged to a strong union, they had to be careful as to how they proceeded.

The company decided to work with the union to install a GPS system, one that also tracked things like hydraulic usage and engine idling.  They did this with one catch – a small part of their fleet had the units installed a week before they said they would.  They did this because they figured that it would give them a true sign of the usage, as opposed to the usage when the team knew they were being watched.

The result?  Engine idling was 30-40% higher during the week that the workers were unaware the GPS units were installed as compared to when they did know.

How IoT is changing the office

What this story hopefully signifies is that people tend to act differently when they are being watched.  Employees simply behave better – they take less unscheduled breaks, browse less personal material on the Internet and tend to be a little more focused.

One company wants to take this to a new level.  Humanyze, a company with offices in Boston and Palo Alto makes a new kind of employee badge.  While most badges are simply used for identification and/or access control, this badge is much smarter than that.

The badge combines microphones with proximity and motion detectors to see not only where employees are but to also gather information on their activities.  Now, before you make comments like, “why don’t they just put a microchip into their skin?” (I know that I did), there are some restrictions as to how the data is gathered and used.

First, information is omitted in particular areas, such as bathrooms and prayer areas.  As well, the boss isn’t able to see any one particular worker, but rather an aggregate of their entire team.  Finally, the employee themselves is able to see their own data in its entirety.

So, does it work?  In their testing and early deployments, Humanyze has claimed that it does allow both the company and the individual employees to better understand their behaviour and in many cases, it has been very well received by both.

The Bottom Line

I think to anyone that follows this space, this was inevitable.  However, I am choosing to look at it on the bright side.  If done correctly, it will improve productivity, let the true star employees stand out better and even increase the safety of workers.  Sure, there will be some bad employers who may use this data in bad ways, but I think it has the potential to allow companies to better themselves. The reality is that we are all at work to actually do work, so time will tell how much this tool improves things.