New sensor tech to revolutionise commercial real estate

Are smart buildings the next big thing? With evidence of widespread poor space usage, Ubiqisense may have a solution.
3 MIN READJune 14, 2019
According to several studies in the UK, including one from HM Treasury, English offices can have as low as a 45% occupancy rate. This can be detrimental to a company’s bottom line, especially when you consider the current inflated price of commercial real estate in London. Startup company and GRI Tech Club member Ubiqisense is looking to change this, by repurposing cameras and employing sensor technology to optimise office space. Based in Copenhagen and planning to double their ten man workforce in the next twelve months, Ubiqisense is looking to promote the rise of smart buildings.

I caught up with founder Palle Dinesen to explain the importance of the sensor product. 

What is the product and how will it evolve smart buildings?

We started the company 3 years ago and we very quickly realised that we wanted to be in the business of smart buildings. We wanted to essentially understand how people utilise a particular workspace. Since then this has evolved into a long term vision where we want to understand everything inside a commercial building today; from the workers to facility management. 
Over the past 25 years there has been statistics showing facility management cost has grown by on average 9% per year. And you have to compare that with average growth in GDP of about 2% per year in typical European countries in the same period of time. So obviously the cost of operating facilities has become a bigger and bigger burden for companies. 
Our first generation product we mount on the walls of meeting rooms and open offices and basically it has a people detector inside. Small camera inside, small computer inside which translates what it sees into a map of people and where they are at any given time. One direct application of this is meeting rooms, so in big offices with lots of meeting rooms you often find that there are none available when in reality they are often half full or only occupy 35% of the hour allocated time slot. This can be used to both optimised office space and further encourage employees to use appropriately sized rooms. 

What is the motivation behind the start up?

I come from a background in the mobile hardware industry. Working for AAC Technologies for about 6 years, I realised that all the fun and innovation was going out of the hardware part and into what you could actually do with the images in the phones. 
An early example of this was apps that could automatically remove the ‘red eye’ effect from pictures. Today there have been huge strides in things such as augmented reality and now there are apps like Ikea; where the camera is the viewfinder and the technology can project furniture into your living room so you can see what it looks like. So we saw these and thought what if we used this for sensing applications, so instead of just looking at the images we would use them for understanding what goes on in the environment. 

Naturally, any company in the business of setting up cameras and sensors is going to raise some questions about security and privacy. How would the data be stored and furthermore, what measures have you had to implement to meet GDPR regulations?

Starting last year there has been some very strict rules on collecting personal information. Simply having a camera streaming a live feed where you can recognise the people from the images would start raising issues. So we’ve designed our system to be inherently GDPR compliant, in that all images are processed directly on the sensor, and the only data that is accessible are statistics and heatmaps of rooms. We guarantee that we never retrieve any images from our sensor devices - purely just positions of people in a room. 

Is it a good time to begin a startup, given the current climate? 

Yeah, it’s a very good time. People talk a lot about coming towards the end of the current cycle, but for us we have the product ready and if it comes to a recession then there will only be even more focus on cost reductions and optimising space usage. So I don’t see that as much of a problem.

What has your experience with GRI Tech Club been like?

We’ve been a member of the tech club for about 6 months or so. I have attended a number of events and made some really good connections with real estate leaders there so that’s been very, very helpful. I think there’s definitely an appetite for learning about new technology startups amongst GRI members so I’ve been to a few of the events and made some really good contacts. I think it’s a great initiative and we’re very happy to be a part of that. 

For more in-depth discussion regarding the future of commercial real estate, Europe GRI 2019 is taking place 11-12 September in Paris.
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