Better Data, Smarter Programming

With the advent of the Internet of Things, the catch-all phrase for the interconnection of our devices via the internet, has come a surge of new technologies. We can now control our home temperatures remotely, link our smartwatches and our cell phones, and benefit from cloud-based healthcare platforms.

For the built environment, tapping into the IoT unlocks significant design potential—namely, through faster and more precise means of collecting occupancy metrics.


Temperature, humidity, movement/occupancy, light intensity, ultrasonic/noise, volatile organic components (VOCs)/CO2—these six data sets are critical to master planning and post-occupancy evaluations. Existing sensor technology has allowed for the collection of segments of this data, but never in a comprehensive way. For example, movement sensors have been a useful tool, but occupancy analysis becomes more accurate when it takes CO2 findings into consideration.

The mantra is simple: enhanced data enhances analysis. 



Overview of Sensor Data

  • Temperature: Based on the amount of voltage that is read across a diode; when temperature rises, voltage increases
  • Humidity: Detects the ratio of moisture in the air
  • Movement/Occupancy: Using a passive infrared motion detector (PIR), detects emitted infrared energy from humans and animals in the form of heat
  • Light Intensity: Detects the brightness of light (photocell or photoresistor) and converts it into a numerical value, a percentage of the maximum brightness it can detect
  • Ultrasonic/Noise: Uses sound waves to measure distance and noise levels
  • VOCs/CO2: Currently, in development

Arduino Micro Boards

A small, open-source board for environmental sensors, the Arduino micro board became the initial building block for collecting environmental data. Each board can connect with different sensors, making it an ideal foundation for an enhanced sensor unit. SMMA’s Design Technology Group designed proprietary units with two specific features geared toward enhancing our design strategy and better supporting our clients:

  1. All points of data are obtained by a single device, providing our clients with a cost-effective and minimally invasive means of collecting information
  2. That device is WiFi-enabled, allowing data to be collected and analyzed immediately, in real time

Having multiple sensors on one device necessitated modifying the hardware and software of each sensor: not only did we need to physically connect each sensor on one micro board, we also needed to reprogram them to run on the same language. Ultimately, we came up with two separate embedded data collectors (EDCs), each of which provides real-time data by connecting to wireless networks.

The sensors are delivering real, value-added solutions for our clients, including a biopharmaceutical innovator in the midst of a master planning effort. Rather than relying solely on questionnaires and surveys, we are able to supplement all anecdotal evidence with collected environmental data, thereby allowing for an evidence-based, forward-thinking design strategy. 

The Conference Room Dilemma

Consider one of the most common challenges in master planning: The Conference Room Dilemma. Corporate master planners often determine conference room numbers and sizes based off of questionable data; surveys are prejudiced by personal preference, and benchmarking data is often skewed because different companies establish different naming conventions. What one considers a huddle room might be a conference room for another.

Now, thanks to EDCs, these distortions can be explained by applying a layer of accurate, unbiased data, which can then be measured against the surveys, discussed at the senior-leadership level, and ultimately folded into the final program design.