Smart Sensors in Buildings in fight
against COVID-19 pandemic

The OSRAM Podcast: Episode #10 with Jan-Philipp Kittler and Dr. Markus Jung about networked applications for buildings


The Photonstudio - The OSRAM Podcast. Welcome to the Photonstudio, the OSRAM Podcast. My name is Dieter Schierer and I am an OSRAM employee in the digital communications department. I am very pleased to host the new episode on Connected Building Applications.

It’s 6 am, a bus stops in front of the OSRAM plant in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Employees on the early shift get off and a small queue has already formed in the entrance area. Since the start of the Corona pandemic, employees have been taking a little longer to get into the plant in the morning. A display next to the entrance door signals when they can enter. It's one of many preventive measures in the fight against COVID-19, and in this case, one directly related to the products manufactured at the plant: intelligent building technology with lighting. It is just one example of many possible applications for sensor technology integrated into existing lighting infrastructure. Today, my OSRAM colleagues Jan-Philipp Kittler (Business Development Expert at our subsidiary Digital Lumens), as well as Markus Jung (Team Leader of Software Development at OSRAM Connected Building Applications) tell us what else can be achieved with this technology. I invited the two colleagues to the Photonstudio today so that they could explain to me and to you how our intelligent solutions for buildings help to make everyday working life more efficient for employees. Jan-Philipp and Markus, great that you have time to join our talk today and welcome to Photonstudio!

Dieter: Could you tell us briefly what you do at OSRAM? Are you from the same department?

Jan-Philipp: I'm in business development for our Connected Building Applications segment for Europe and Asia. I am very much responsible for the commercial development of our business. I try to develop and build new channels, but also to discover new values and potentials to make them useful for our business.

Dieter: Thank you Jan-Philipp! Markus, what about you? What do you do?

Markus: I am the team leader for software development at Connected Building Applications in Garching. We take care of all technical development to implement customer requirements. In my role, I make sure that the team can work well. All external communication with other departments at OSRAM or even with customers is also up to me.

Dieter: I read an article in our innovation magazine ON this week about our plant in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. In this plant you have installed something that is to be understood as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 pandemic. Could you briefly explain what kind of project that was? Jan-Philipp, maybe you?

Jan-Philipp:Exactly, I can give a brief overview. That was a joint project together with our colleagues from Plovdiv. The Corona pandemic was spreading there as well, and our plant approached us in March and asked if we could use technology to support the Corona measures. We then got together and were able to develop a solution for the plant that allows people to be counted using a smart infrastructure via infrared sensors. This is a solution that we have in development at our Connected Building Applications segment, where we have also had good experience with pilot projects. This product is very suitable for detecting and counting people. Since there are distance rules everywhere through Corona and it should be avoided that many people gather in a small space, we have equipped the entrance area and the changing rooms in Plovdiv with these sensors. You can think of it as a kind of traffic light system via tablets, which are placed in front of the entrances. This mechanism tells the employee whether he is allowed to enter, depending on whether the room has reached its maximum capacity of people or not. By doing this, we have developed a technical solution that helps on-site to comply with Corona measures and increase the protection of the employees.

Dieter: Jan-Phillip, thank you very much for this explanation! There are probably some questions now among our listeners. You explained something that doesn't fit with the traditional image of OSRAM that many people still have. Markus, can you maybe explain from a technical point of view how the whole thing is related to light and how the project works?

Markus: I think we can build on OSRAM's entire wealth of experience here. As a lighting technology company, we already have a number of components that are typically installed in the ceiling. These include sensors such as classic presence sensors or sensors for measuring light intensity. In this case, we simply use an extension of the sensor, a so-called Infrared Grid Array Sensor, which can not only detect pure motion, but can also detect heat. In other words, we are building on our experience at OSRAM here, extending the functionality and being able to bring additional value that goes beyond light. Our advantage is that we use the lighting infrastructure for such Internet of Things solutions. So on the one hand, we can use the existing power source, as well as the connectivity. And that's the big advantage that we can fully exploit here as OSRAM.

Dieter: Markus, thank you very much! I still have to ask something again now. What is an infrared grid array sensor?

Markus: The sensor captures an image from the top of the ceiling. Grid Array means here, that it is a strongly rasterized image. You can think of it like the very pixelated images of the first digital cameras. And in this case no camera image is used, but a thermal image. You get light-dark differences, depending on whether there is heat in the room or not. This means that you can't identify people directly, but you can tell whether the thermal image can be assigned to a person or not.

Dieter: This means that the person is then anonymized, so that we also ensure data protection conformity with this technology, right?

Markus: Exactly! You can think of it as a highly pixelated black-and-white image. That means you can already see where people are in the room, how far apart they are, or how many people there are. But you can't see who they are exactly.

Dieter: Jan-Philipp, I can imagine that we can also realize other projects apart from the COVID-19 fight with this technology or with a similar technology. Can you maybe explain to us what other application examples would be?

Jan-Philipp: We have already implemented various pilot projects with this infrared solution that Markus just described, even with customers outside OSRAM. The idea of anonymous people detection using the infrared sensor comes from the office sector. The technology was originally used to analyze the utilization of office space. There are various studies that say that especially in the office area 30-40% of the space is not used, but you have no visibility over it. This is of course a great potential for cost savings, which can be uncovered with an anonymous person registration and then optimized in a second step. Likewise, this solution can also be used to implement a smart booking system for rooms and workstations, which can be a great advantage, especially in a post-Corona era with increased home office use. On the one hand, for employers to reduce costs, but also for employees to enable a smooth integration between home office and presence work in the office.

Dieter: Markus, I also read in our ON Magazine that Infrared Grid Array sensor technology fits quite well in a small space. But when we are in a production hall, where both people and machines radiate heat, we use Bluetooth technology with beacons. So I was wondering, why don't we just stick with Infrared Grid Array sensor technology? Can you explain that from a technical perspective?

Markus: Infrared sensor technology is limited by ceiling height. And especially in manufacturing environments or industrial spaces, you often have higher ceilings, which makes detection more difficult. In addition, there are many heat sources and sources of interference here, which do not exist in the office environment and smaller rooms. And, of course, cost-effectiveness is also an issue in very large spaces. Here, as you mentioned, we use Bluetooth technology. That is, you can give simple signal transmitters to people and we then capture that in the intelligent lighting infrastructure in the ceiling and can use that to determine a position.

Dieter: You mentioned the word profitability. I think that's something that goes in the direction of Jan-Philipp, because he has to make sure that profitability is also well placed with customers. Jan-Philipp, how do you look at this from your business development perspective? When do you decide for Bluetooth and when for Infrared Grid Array? Are there technical reasons or is the economic efficiency really in the foreground?

Jan-Philipp: Both are interrelated! In an industrial hall, of course, another advantage of Bluetooth comes into play. You don't just want to track people, you often want to track objects, like pallets, forklifts, and so on. And that's where Bluetooth has a very big value for the customer, because they can optimize their processes by accurately locating and tracking these goods and devices. And the huge advantage about Bluetooth technology is that we can do everything with the same infrastructure. That means we can give a "tag" to a person, but we can also put a "tag" on a pallet. And everything works with the same infrastructure. So the customer only has a one-time investment in this infrastructure, and apart from maintaining distance at times of corona, they can generate a lot of other value for themselves. The infrared solution plays more of a role in office and office-like environments. This also applies to environments where it is difficult to give each person a Bluetooth "tag". Be it for privacy reasons or because of a certain environment that makes it difficult to capture the signal. That is, in a factory we think of the infrared sensors, for example, the canteen, the locker room or even the entrance area. In other words, all areas that actually have an environment and ceiling height similar to the office.

Dieter: For the processing of the Bluetooth or infrared signals you need not only the hardware, but also a software. Can we call ourselves software professionals or are we entering new territory here? Markus, can you say something about this?

Markus: The topic of software is nothing new for OSRAM. It is a topic that has accompanied the company for more than 10 years in various forms. In this case, we have also brought a lot of know-how into the company through the acquisition of Digital Lumens. We can also build on this wealth of experience here and use this as a platform to develop further software-based services and offer them to our customers.

Dieter: Thank you very much for this explanation! In the ON Magazine article, it also said "SiteWorx" as a platform of ours. Can either of you explain a bit what is meant by SiteWorx?

Jan-Philipp: SiteWorx is our cloud-based platform that runs all of our applications. As Connected Building Applications, we currently offer 3 applications that all run on SiteWorx. That is Tune, Sense and Area. Tune is lighting control, Sense is the integration of sensors, for example to monitor ambient temperature or even electricity, and Area is the third area we talked about today. That's a lot about collecting data in the area, to optimize processes and to get deeper insights into how the area is being used. And all of these applications run on our SiteWorx platform.

Dieter: I'm left with a couple of questions. Markus, this is probably more directed at you now. What if a potential customer is listening to our podcast now and actually has new space where office space is being built, but a lighting infrastructure already exists. Does the customer then have to replace the entire infrastructure with our smart luminaires if he or she wants to use these functions? How does that work from a technical perspective?

Markus: Well, the SiteWorx system typically also allows you to get smart luminaires from us. But this system is very flexible. That is, the system is composed of smart energy-efficient lighting, sensors and controls that connect over a radio-based network, a gateway component that enables communication to the cloud-based backend, and applications and services that run in the cloud. Here, you basically have three options. You can either buy the luminaires from us or you can integrate these radio-based control and sensor elements into other luminaires. Or you can be completely detached from any lighting infrastructure and just use our sensor technology, which also works completely without light. We offer a lot of possibilities here and you are not forced to purchase luminaires from us.

Dieter: Let's assume I have an office building with 20 meeting rooms and now have to hold a spontaneous meeting, but I don't know which room I can go to because I don't know how many rooms are occupied. With our technology, can I theoretically see which room is fully booked, which is only half occupied, and which is now completely free?

Jan-Philipp: The huge advantage is that you can run completely different applications on the same infrastructure. This means, on the one hand, energy-efficient luminaire control, i.e. energy savings. On the other hand, the integration of a wide variety of sensors that are important in a production hall, for example. This can be the monitoring of ambient temperatures, but it can also be electricity meters, which then sends the data by radio via the infrastructure in the luminaires to our cloud platform SiteWorx and makes everything analyzable in a platform. Or also the recording and localization of people, goods and, above all, the tracking of these. It's all possible with the same infrastructure, in the same platform. And that's what makes it so valuable, because you just have these infrastructure costs once and then you have a complete range of use cases. And that's what adds value, also for our customers.

Dieter: Perfectly summarized. Many thanks Jan-Philipp and of course many thanks to you, Markus! Thank you for your time!

Jan-Philipp: Thanks to you too!

Markus: Thanks for the good conversation!

In today's episode of Photonstudio, Jan-Philipp and Markus explained to us how smart sensor solutions and cloud-based technologies can be used to optimize operations, make space management more efficient, and as the example from our plant in Plovdiv, Bulgaria shows, also support prevention measures in the fight against COVID-19. As always, you can listen to the latest episode of Photonstudio on Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcast and many other platforms. You can find the online version of our innovation magazine ON at www.osram-group.com/innovation, where you can find this and many other exciting stories from the world of photonics. Most of all, I wish you good health at this time! Until the next episode and the next photonics story!

Photonics is THE key technology in every OSRAM solution