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Smart Sensors For Offices That Do It All: Save Energy, Track Employees, And Create A Happier Workplace

A startup is making it simple for large companies to install wireless heat and motion tracking systems that makes the office more comfortable and even creates a heat map of movements.

A typical large office building–even if it’s fairly energy-efficient–can waste more than $100,000 worth of electricity each year. Buildings end up using more energy in the U.S. than any other single category, including industry or transportation, and about 20% of all of the energy used in the country goes to commercial buildings alone.

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For companies trying to trim carbon footprints, switching to better office lighting, heating, and cooling seems like an obvious step. But it’s challenging for most large companies to find the budget needed for a major overhaul of buildings across the country or globe. An energy-efficiency startup called Enlighted is taking an interesting approach to make things easier: Instead of paying anything up front to install a new system that can 50% to 70% of energy, customers only pay a percentage of the amount they save on energy bills each month.


Wired explains:

Before installing a system at a customer’s office, Enlighted–not the customer–will take out loans based on how much the customer is expected to save with its sensor tech . . . because Enlighted only takes a percentage of the savings, the customers still start seeing a cost improvement right away.

The financing program is set up only for the largest companies, which struggle most with rolling out this type of improvement across different regions. Smaller companies, like those with a single building, pay for the system themselves and gain the savings over time.

The company’s first product aims to modernize lighting systems by improving on old motion sensors. “Traditionally, lighting for the last 20 years has been set up so that the entire open office plan has one major sensor,” says Jonathan Buckley of Enlighted. “You’re probably used to the phenomenon of standing up to wave your arms at 6 o’clock at night.”

Instead of a single sensor, Enlighted uses a wireless network of sensors every 100 square feet–so the system can easily keep light on only where it’s needed. “Walking across the floor at 7 at night, if you need to walk to the printer, the lights simply turn on around you and in front of you, almost as if it’s magic,” Buckley says.

Because the system monitors an office in detail and tracks heat along with motion, it can also do more than turn lights on and off. The company is now working on integrating heating and cooling systems, so if a corner of an office is too hot or cold, the system can instantly adjust. By sensing body heat as employees moving around the space, the system can also help companies understand how they might better arrange their offices.

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“It’s very interesting to watch one of these heat maps to see how people move about an office,” Buckley says. He imagines executives will be interested in watching how employees interact–for example, how product management staff physically interacts with engineering.

That feature can also help companies save far more money than they might through energy savings alone, by helping highlight how they can use space more efficiently or because their employees are suddenly happier and more productive.

In a test at one large company, Enlighted found that employees ended up working an extra hour and a half after the new system was installed, because the space was more comfortable. The company is now testing out an app that lets employees tailor their space to their own needs, by dimming or brightening the ceiling lights only around their own desk.

Because the sensors are all networked and work with software, the company can easily update the system to add new features. “Having sensors with this granularity, and having them work with a fault-tolerant way allows us to do software updates over time so the functionality and the purposes that they serve can change over time,” says Buckley. “You won’t find that with a motion detector.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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