Smart Building Tech and Air Sensors Allows Workers to Breathe Easy

As buildings reopen, ensuring employee safety with better air quality is at the forefront of COVID-19 concerns. Companies are looking for advanced ventilation systems that bring in more outside air, ways to clean or disinfect the air, and environmental sensors that monitor air quality within a building. 

 

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Image credit: IAconnects

Gone are the days of the hermetically sealed office building. Once hailed as a means to conserve energy, airtight buildings with minimal airflow are now looked at, quite literally, as the kiss of death. The fear of transmitting COVID-19 in closed spaces shuttered retail stores and large office buildings earlier this year. Even as stores and restaurants reopen with customer capacity restrictions, many businesses are telling employees to stay home—some at least through the rest of 2020—as they figure out how to safely reopen workspaces.

One of the biggest concerns is air quality. On average, Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. While COVID-19 is thought to be transmitted largely from person-to-person contact, the New York Times recently reported that researchers at the University of Florida were able to collect live virus from respiratory droplets in the air, or aerosols, from as far away as 16 feet from a patient, much farther than the six feet recommended in social distancing guidelines. While it’s not certain that there is enough virus to infect a person, the team’s findings prove that COVID-19 can travel through the air.

Finding ways to limit the spread of infection has forced OT and facilities managers to reassess air quality within their buildings. Companies are looking for advanced ventilation systems that bring in more outside air, ways to clean or disinfect the air, and environmental sensors that monitor air quality within the building. Smart buildings will have the advantage, but drop-in IoT solutions have great growth potential. 

Spare the Air, Inside Edition

IAconnects, a U.K.-based sensor company, has created the market-ready IAconnects IoT Smart Building Monitoring and Control Kit to give facilities managers information about the use and status of their indoor spaces. The kit includes the company’s MobiusFlow IoT Intel gateway and software, protocol connectors, and a set of wireless sensors that track, among other things, office occupancy, air quality, power, lighting, HVAC, water leaks, and window and door status.

The heart of the system is MobiusFlow, an IoT edge platform that allows IoT devices from multiple manufacturers to connect to the cloud or local computers. The software can run on the gateway or in the cloud. It operates on closed networks, WiFi, or a 3G/4G connection if needed. The IAconnects solution combines IoT with machine learning and analytics to provide companies with data about workspaces use and environmental conditions. 

IoT Air Disinfection Solution

Knowing the air quality is critical but being able to ensure the air doesn’t contain virus particles will enable people to come back to work safely. Iowa-based Igor was able to pull together an air disinfection solution in just 45 days, says Dwight Stewart, founder and CTO.

Based on Igor’s Nexos Power Over Ethernet (PoE)-based smart building platform, Igor created the Nexos Intelligent Disinfection solution, which combines IoT sensors, access controls, people counters, and other hardware with UV-C lighting to disinfect specific spaces, such as an office or conference room. It can be deployed as part of a full smart building solution or in a standalone environment.

“It was really that one piece, the UV-C lighting, that is the disinfectant mechanism for sanitizing the air as well as the surfaces in that space and then kitting it [so] that we can have a drop-in solution,” Stewart says. The Nexos Intelligent Disinfection solution recently received the COVID-19 Innovation Award from IoT World.

Companies use a PoE node that connects to each of the “puzzle pieces” they require, such as motion sensors to ensure the room is empty and door locking sensors to ensure no one can enter while disinfection takes place. The hardware connects to the POE node, and the software runs safety checks before triggering the disinfection process. The Nexos solution also integrates with intelligent air purifiers and gas vaporizers to provide a multi-layer air cleansing solution. Cloud analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning ensure the system won’t jeopardize employee safety.