When Smart Buildings Get Smarter, We Get Healthier

Exterior of office building lit up at night

Sam de Leve | July 19, 2021
Photo Credit: Marcus Loke/Unsplash

After a year of remote work caused by the pandemic, facilities managers and employees are attuned to building safety more than ever. A Honeywell survey in January revealed that 68% of employees felt unsafe working in their employers' buildings, and almost half that number identify air quality systems as "critical" to feeling safer at work.

Fortunately, the next generation of smart building entrepreneurs are already on the case, with startups like Lumisan Technologies, co-founded by Academy graduate student Nicholas Moser and technologist Rob Poke. Lumisan Technologies takes classic Internet of Things and smart building technologies, like smart lights, and updates them with much-needed safety and wellness features, all while gathering sensor data so that facilities managers can fine-tune buildings to protect and support the people who work there.

“What's needed is knowledge about how the environment is working in a space, and the ability to create more intricate control over that space in order to make it safer," says Moser. "It's very hard to measure human experience," he continues "But with things like circadian lighting, you can measure cognitive improvement, you can measure improved sleep."

A group of four smiling people sit at a desk together with laptops and charging cables all over the desk.

Photo Credit: Daria Shevtsova/Pexels

Together, Moser and Poke designed Lumisan’s first concept, a smart lightbulb enabled with UV-C to sanitize against airborne viruses. Because UV-C is dangerous to humans, Lumisan tailored its bulb to take advantage of the day-night cycle of office buildings. By night, after the building empties, the bulb switches to UV-C to sanitize the space. By day, the smart bulb uses normal light and optimizes its light temperature and brightness for the circadian cycles of the people in the building to keep people alert and productive. 

Circadian rhythms regulate our sleep and wakefulness. When lighting syncs up with our circadian rhythms, it improves our sleep at night and alertness during the day. Studies from the  Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute reveal that circadian stimulus not only improves our mood and behavior, but can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. The bulb has sparked interest – Lumisan recently partnered with Google in an exploratory project to test the lighting system's effect on productivity and wellness.

These smart bulbs don't do it all on their own. They need controller software to tell them when to change from UV-C to visible light, what color temperature to set, how brightly to shine. By the time the Lumisan team finished programming their lightbulb's smart software, they realized their code could be capable of much more than controlling lights. The same software that turns a light's brightness up and down in response to time of day could also be used to adjust the HVAC system's temperature.

With that discovery, Lumisan's ambitions have grown, and the team is working with corporate partners to pilot test and expand the limits of what their software can do.

Their software's next superpower? Social sharing. The team has developed a platform to make environmental data available, not only to facilities managers, but also to building occupants. With data visualization and analysis powered by the Lumisan controller, Moser hopes the app will demonstrate environmental safety and boost people’s confidence as they return to public spaces.

“If people see possibility and people have information and people are taken out of their everyday relationship with space,” says Moser. “It gives them the ability to dream into a possible better future for themselves and for all of us.”

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