Occupancy Monitoring with IoT Sensors (+ How to Set Up a Desk Occupancy Solution)

Occupancy Monitoring with IoT Sensors (+ How to Set Up a Desk Occupancy Solution)

Disruptive Technologies
28. Oct 2020 | 11 min read

Occupancy Monitoring with IoT Sensors (+ How to Set Up a Desk Occupancy Solution)

Facilities managers are constantly faced with the challenge of managing space in the most efficient way. For example, building managers are under pressure to take office space allocation decisions when:

  • Trying to accommodate new tenants.
  • Fulfilling customer requests for more space due to growth or mergers with other firms.
  • Supporting the consolidation of different enterprise departments.
  • Dealing with the completion of leasing agreements.

Once upon a time, space allocation decisions were made based on educated assumptions about how building spaces were used. With the advent of smart building technologies, facilities managers have access to powerful tools that help them access accurate information about space occupancy, instead of relying on estimates and approximations. Occupancy sensors can help collect data about space usage and optimize space management decisions.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • the use cases & benefits of occupancy monitoring
  • 5 types of sensors that detect occupancy
  • how to build a desk occupancy solution with Disruptive Technologies sensors and tools

The Use Cases & Benefits of Occupancy Monitoring

The integration of occupancy detection sensors with smart building management systems provides a foundation for smarter and more efficient decisions about space allocation in the workplace.

For example, occupancy detection sensors can be used to track desk occupancy to generate an overview of how efficiently space is being used. This overview can then drive space optimization decisions, like the implementation of space-saving strategies when desks are underutilized.

Overall, the most common occupancy monitoring use cases in smart buildings and facilities management include:

  • Real-time space management
  • Efficient resource allocation
  • Comfort for tenants and workers


employees in office space


Occupancy Monitoring & Real-Time Space Management

Occupancy monitoring can enable the effective management of desks, offices, and meeting rooms. Occupancy sensors provide real-time visibility on the utilization of rooms, desks, and breakout areas, to enable instant access to information about space availability. This visibility minimizes the time spent searching for available spaces while avoiding double bookings. It also obviates the need for checking room availability by physically accessing the space.

One of the main benefits of occupancy monitoring is that it can provide a complete picture of the usage status of multiple offices, rooms, and buildings through a single-entry point. This can enable organizational-wide optimizations that consider all rooms and buildings.

Occupancy Monitoring & Efficient Resource Allocation

In addition to providing real-time information on working spaces usage, occupancy monitoring facilitates the extraction of credible statistics on the minimum, average, and peak usage of workspaces, including insights on when such peaks occur.

This information enables facilities managers to estimate the exact requirements of the various enterprises and to offer them solutions that meet their needs. In this way, enterprises can significantly save on operating costs (e.g., costs spent on unused space).

Moreover, building owners can have opportunities for leasing spare spaces to other tenants. These optimizations can nowadays be very challenging given changing working patterns (e.g., regular work-from-home practices), which make it very difficult for enterprises to estimate the exact space they need. In the post COVID19 era, enterprises will be increasingly concerned with the optimization of office space costs, as teleworking is likely to become a very common practice.

Occupancy Monitoring & Comfort for Tenants and Workers

Real-time occupancy monitoring provides the means for improving tenants’ and workers’ comfort. For instance, it can drive the fine-tuning of HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) functions based on proper integration with the building’s management system.

Facilities managers can consider space occupancy density, as the number of people in each space has an impact on HVAC requirements. Likewise, it can ensure proper lighting conditions for occupied spaces. Occupancy monitoring can help optimize tenant comfort while saving on energy costs at the same time.

Suggested reading: How Mesa Drives Comfort & Sustainability In Commercial Buildings Through IoT

Learn More: The Desk Occupancy Sensor (NEW)


5 Types of Sensors That Detect Occupancy


disruptive technologies proximity sensors


Occupancy monitoring requires the deployment of sensors that can reliably detect the presence of tenants in desks, offices, break-out areas, and other building spaces.

Some examples of sensors that detect occupancy are:

  • Smart Lighting Sensors: These are lights that comprise motion sensors, which can detect occupancy within certain areas of a building. In most cases, smart lighting systems complement their sensing functionalities with actuation functions like lighting control.
  • Cameras and People Counting: Nowadays, many cameras come with image processing functionalities such as face detection and people counting. These systems provide the means for counting the number of workers in each space, as a means of extracting utilization information and relevant statistics. In some countries, the use of such systems raises privacy and data protection concerns. Nevertheless, these concerns are usually alleviated in cases where no face recognition functionalities (i.e. person identification) are implemented.
  • Bluetooth Low Energy Solutions: These systems leverage Bluetooth technology to estimate and track occupancy at given spaces. They can operate based on mainstream smartphones and are able to provide accurate tracking of individuals. Nevertheless, Bluetooth solutions presuppose that workers carry their smartphones and have Bluetooth enabled, which is not always the case. Thus, these solutions are not the most practical.
  • Infrared Sensors: Infrared sensing systems process thermal signals from the working space and can identify interruptions due to the heat of the human body. They can be deployed in different parts of an office such as walls, ceilings, or working desks.
  • Ultrasonic sensors: These systems identify disruptions in the reflected patterns of high-frequency sound waves of the workplace. When disruptions become continuous, the sensing system assumes the existence of human presence in the room.

Each of these solutions has pros and cons. Hence, the selection of a proper sensing solution may require the resolution of various trade-offs, which balance the accuracy, pervasiveness, and cost-effectiveness of the various solutions.


How To Build a Desk Occupancy Solution with Disruptive Technologies Sensors and Tools


placement of disruptive technologies sensors under desk


Disruptive Technologies provides wireless temperature sensors that can be used to detect human presence in working spaces. They are typically installed underneath the office desk, which makes them ideal for desk occupancy monitoring applications.

Disruptive Technologies sensors enable the deployment of unobtrusive solutions while being very easy to install and maintain. Moreover, they have long battery life (up to 15 years in normal conditions). You can trust our solution with your development of robust and cost-effective desk occupancy monitoring projects.

Here’s a proposed example that can get you started with desk occupancy monitoring based on Disruptive Technologies sensors:

Step #1 - Sensor Deployment

As a first and prerequisite step, our wireless temperature sensors (e.g., the EN12830/330s sensor, sampling at 5.5-minute intervals) should be placed underneath the desk. The deployment should be close to where a person is sitting or standing. Sticking one sensor per desk is typically sufficient.

However, to increase the accuracy of occupancy detection, additional temperature sensors can be deployed. These should be placed around the office to provide reference measurements. As a word of caution, please avoid sticking reference sensors close to the heating or cooling sources.

Step #2 - Sensor Data Access and Pre-processing

You can visualize sensor data through DT Studio, our new & improved web-app, and access it via the REST API which allows for data pre-processing on either your local machine or a cloud service to prepare it for use by the analytics algorithms in the next step.

dt studio sensor overview


Step #3 - Development of Occupancy Changes Detection Algorithms

This is the most challenging part of the solution. This is where you’ll design and implement algorithms that continuously detect desk occupancy changes. Different algorithms leverage real-time data streams from the sensors, as well as historical data about the room occupancy and temperature reference.

There are different techniques for detecting changes. Many rely on classical approaches like calculation of the rate of change of the temperature and the setting of dynamic thresholds that indicate potential human presence. Some go a step further, implementing the likes of more complex neural networks. Effective algorithms achieve a good balance between complexity and performance while detecting changes in short windows of time.

Step #4 - Application Integration and Visualization

The occupancy monitoring information (e.g., people present at the desk) is usually integrated into some applications, like real-time space management or space allocation optimization.


Wrapping Up Occupancy Monitoring

COVID-19 has added an extra layer to the occupancy discussion. With social distancing rules put in place, building and office managers need to guarantee compliance with regulations for a safe return to normality and optimize their space for employees working from home.

We can help!

Disruptive Technologies offers reliable, accurate, and non-intrusive sensing technologies that can be used for occupancy monitoring. We also facilitate application development. Thanks to DT Studio, our powerful REST API, and easy access to sensor data, the implementation of efficient algorithms for detecting occupancy changes are only a few lines of code away.

Get started with our Sensor Starter Kit

Disruptive Technologies

Disruptive Technologies

Founded in 2013, Disruptive Technologies (DT) is the Norwegian developer of the world’s smallest wireless sensors and an award-winning innovator in the IoT market. Our small, efficient, powerful, and adaptable wireless sensors are the best in the world and designed to reach an ever greater number of operational components, making buildings intelligent and sustainable in minutes.

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