The emergence of smart buildings, incorporating sensors, big data and Artificial Intelligence (AI), promises to usher in a new age of understanding. Salman Chaudhary, CEO at EmpiricAI, discusses how it will be Computer Vision AI that will make the biggest impact.

A growing number of businesses preparing for employees to return to work are finding that they need smart systems based on real-time technology to help them manage the transition. Specifically, they will need intelligent ways to protect employees, visitors and residents if they plan to return to pre-pandemic levels of operation, quickly. Those that act now and prepare for the next global pandemic, as predicted by WHO, will find themselves better placed to weather the storm.

In its recent report, Deliotte highlighted the need for workers returning to office buildings, corporate tenants and building owners’ needing to plan and prepare. ‘Technology, especially smart building technology, can help’. It points out that as people return to the office, there will be a need to practice social distancing and track employee office interactions.

Of course, the scope extends far beyond the current pandemic with common colds and flu resulting in a striking number of sick days each year. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey2 states that ‘Minor illness is the main reason for sickness absence in 2020’ The UK sickness absence rate was 1.8% in 2020, a sizeable cost for any organisation.

The ability of Computer Vision AI to create heatmaps showing footfall traffic and occupancy density and monitor social distancing as well as wearing of face masks are a crucial part of rethinking the workplace and minimising the opportunity for spread of all infections. Any violations can trigger an alarm so intervention can take place.

We recently deployed our WorkSafe Analytics CV AI solution in a large business to monitor social distancing and, following a 6-week trial, it has now been rolled out across the company. The customer experienced a 50% decrease in non-compliance (social distance guidelines) within first month of installation, effectively reducing the risk of infection by half.

Widening scope of CV AI

Beyond minimising the spread of all airborne infections, the scope and benefits of Computer Vision (CV) AI for facility managers are vast. They range from smart cleaning, for example, identifying when areas of the building haven’t been used and so less cleaning is required, through to anything that requires monitoring (occupant density, utility meters, security doors, fire alarms). The same benefits apply to office managers, with inventory management, building security, fire and other hazards monitoring, lighting and heating monitoring, all being well within the remit of CV AI.

Data gathered through monitoring can also be used to create actionable insights on safety, energy conservation and area/floor/site layout improvements. In addition, a historical log keeps a record of alerts relating to safety hazards and breaches to comply with regulatory requirements.

Computer Vision AI is used to detect or recognise objects using images captured from existing CCTV systems, which in the vast majority of buildings are already in place. This provides FM’s with a cost-effective route to embrace CV AI and transform buildings into smart facilities, with minimal infrastructural modifications.

The future

Computer Vision AI has taken great leaps forward in recent years and now surpasses humans in being able to monitor at scale on a 24/7 basis. This is significant because CV AI solutions such as WorkSafe can capture and analyse enormous quantities of historical data and convert it into insightful management information. This makes CV AI applications even more powerful as well as the data ‘training’ the system to be even more effective. All this means that it has now advanced to a level where it can replace any task that requires round the clock monitoring, or frequent manual, repetitive inspections.

The ability of CV AI to store and analyse historical data and then use it to create what is effectively a neural network (a collection of software and hardware that mimic the human eye and mind), will continue to improve all aspects of building management.

As a result, Computer Vision AI is transforming built assets, resulting in better space management and keeping buildings productive. Businesses and facility managers that aren’t proactively changing their practices and embracing new technology will be left behind.

The most exciting aspect of CV AI is that the capabilities and applications for helping facility managers are virtually limitless. That is a tantalizing prospect for those looking to maximise returns from their asset.