October 11, 2022

Powered Or Battery-Based Occupancy Sensors?

An insight into the reasons behind our choice of technology, to help you make your decision. In today’s world of building management, sustainability is getting more and more attention.

Rightly so of course, as each smart building, whether it’s an office, school, or government building, is a step towards a better planet.

But the environment is by no means the only reason that more and more organizations choose to implement technology that will help them reduce their energy use. Cost is a main motivator, even more so in the current climate of gas shortages and sky-high energy prices. Using less simply makes business sense.


“The fact is that office use is unpredictable, so reliable insights are needed to make smarter decisions.”


Another reason is to ensure the effective use of office space. In some buildings, people have difficulty finding an available desk, while meeting rooms remain unoccupied. In other buildings, it’s the other way around. It may vary from week to week, or even from day to day. The fact is that office use is unpredictable, so reliable insights are needed to make smarter decisions.


In addition, employees are increasingly demanding when it comes to their place of work. No longer will they put up with old-fashioned offices and inefficiencies. They live in a digital world and expect their employer to keep up with modern technology. Especially in a time when recruiting new talent is harder than ever before, this is a call for action that cannot be ignored.


For all the above reasons, an increasing number of buildings are being equipped with smart sensors to manage occupancy, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and lighting. But when it comes to choosing a sensor to achieve your goals, do you know what to look for and which questions to ask? 


One of the decisions you will need to make is whether to go for a powered or a battery-based sensor. A decision we also had to make when we first started developing our sensors. Although this blog outlines the logic and considerations that led us towards developing powered occupancy sensors, the pros of battery-based sensors may of course lead you in a different direction. It all depends on your needs!


Presence vs. occupancy

One of the first and fundamental questions to ask is what you are looking to achieve by implementing sensors in your building. Is your main objective for them to detect presence, for example to automatically control the lights, or is it to understand how your office is truly being used?


Or are you looking for even more in-depth data that contributes to running a smart or active building that not only preserves energy, but also improves operational efficiency and results in greater workplace satisfaction?


Although motion detectors register movement in common spaces and meeting rooms, we found them to be unsuitable for measuring things like desk usage or meeting room occupancy, exactly because they only detect movement. When there is no detectable movement, such as when people are working at their desk or talking in a meeting room, the sensor doesn’t detect it.


“The best powered occupancy sensors leverage computer vision technology, so they can detect people even when they’re inactive.”


Powered occupancy sensors on the other hand do not need any movement to work. The best of them leverage computer vision technology, so they can detect people even when they’re inactive. Also, they know how many people are in a room, even down to the individual desk. From that point of view, occupancy sensors can provide much more useful data than motion sensors.


Frequency and granularity

Another consideration is the level of detail you are looking for, both in terms of the frequency at which presence or occupancy is being detected and the detail of what is being detected, i.e. the granularity. Based on today’s technology, the decision of whether to opt for battery-based sensors or powered ones has a significant impact on their performance and the useability of the data they provide.


Battery-based sensors are easy to install, but to us, their downside is that they use, well… batteries. Of course one could argue about aspects such as the impact of battery-based devices on sustainability goals, and the cost (and hassle!) of frequently having to replace batteries in potentially hundreds of sensors. But one thing is fact: When frequency is increased, battery life decreases.


“Fact: When frequency is increased, battery life decreases."


That is why this type of sensor tends to be fitted with PIR sensors that measure presence rather than occupancy, and only capture data every 15-30 minutes at best. That works just fine if all you need is a rough idea of utilization. However, we found that powered sensors are a better fit if you are looking for live occupancy data that not only tells you if a space is being used, but also how it’s being used. To run a smart or active building, that’s the type of detail you’ll need! And that was one of our main priorities when we designed our sensors.


Long(er)-term considerations

Another very important factor in your decision-making process is to consider your short-term as well as long(er)-term goals. If turning your building into a smart or active space is not on your immediate radar just yet, you may be inclined to go for a solution that is relatively cheap and easy to install, such as a battery-based sensor.


Although that may satisfy your near-term needs, the question is whether that will still be the case in the longer term. The risk is that it doesn’t, resulting in having to replace it with a smarter, more sophisticated system in the not-too-distant future.


When the decision was ours, we figured that it made more sense to develop a future-proof solution that would truly make a difference. That’s why we built a powered sensor that some of our customers start off using as an occupancy sensor to understand behavior and to control the HVAC system only, but can easily be applied for many different value cases throughout the building as and when the need arises.


“We decided to develop a future-proof solution that would truly make a difference.”

The Ubiqisense sensor integrates with your building’s existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, which not only makes it power and cost efficient, but also means that it’s super easy to add intelligence along the way. That way, you’ll always be ahead of the game, whether you’re measuring occupancy for energy management, space optimization and utilization, cleaning schedules, room bookings, or any other clever application you can think of. It’s this type of powered occupancy sensor that will always provide you with real-time actionable data, now and into the future.


In short

If you are considering a smart sensor solution for your building, it’s important to be clear on your goals, both for the near term and for the long(er) term. Each type of sensor serves a purpose. The question is what you are trying to achieve. What aspects are important to you? If you only need high-level data to give you an idea of space usage and behavioral patterns over time, and are looking for a solution that’s easy to deploy, a battery-based sensor may well meet those needs.


However, if you’re ready to take the next step towards running an active building that will help you to meet your goals for sustainability, operational efficiency and cost, we found that a powered sensor is the best option. The truth is that today’s employees demand better workspaces, tenants demand better buildings, and regulations on energy efficiency are becoming increasingly strict. All the more reason to invest in the future!


Powered sensors provide real-time actionable data, which makes them fundamental in telling you how the building is being used. It’s exactly that type of insight that will make the difference in the efficient use of space and energy. A truly sustainable solution that will result in lower cost and increased productivity.


If you’d like to find out more, let us know! We’ll be happy to answer your questions, provide you with the information you need, and help you distinguish fact from fiction.


About Ubiqisense

Ubiqisense is an end-to-end solution of highly intelligent workspace occupancy sensors and a cloud-based analytics dashboard, providing you with real-time and historical insights. Truly actionable data thanks to an astonishing granularity.


Because our sensors use the latest in AI and deep learning, they are continuously updated with the newest features, without any hassle or the need for human assistance.


Our sensors track usage patterns throughout office floors, meeting rooms, open spaces, and at shared desks. The anonymized data is then transmitted in real time to help understand how spaces are being used.


The Ubiqisense sensors can be integrated with any room booking system, building management system, workspace platform, and existing camera infrastructure.

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