High-Tech Opportunities Grow in Green Buildings

October 19, 2007
| By Pete Daly |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Bruce Thompson is an information technology (IT) guy who sees a lot of green in West Michigan — green buildings that are good for the environment and can be equally good for the growth of a new economic base here.

“Grand Rapids has the highest square-feet-per-capita of LEED-certified buildings” in the United States, he enthusiastically pointed out at a recent Fourth Friday Technology Forum held at the CPR company in Cascade Township.

Thompson referred to the September issue of Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine of United Airlines, which ran a story about Grand Rapids headlined “The Green ‘LEEDer’ — One city trumps all others that claim to be the most sustainable.”

“If we can keep that LEED,” he said, making a pun, “a lot of technology can come out of that, which we can take to the rest of the world.”

As an example, Thompson can point to ObjectVideo of Reston, Va. Thompson, vice president of corporate development at ObjectVideo, recently opened the firm's West Michigan office at 250 Monroe NW in Grand Rapids. The company develops video analytics software that automatically extracts information from video for use in security systems, control of HVAC systems in buildings, traffic density measurements and much more, including revealing information about shoppers that can add significantly to retail marketing research.

ObjectVideo’s breakthrough software is called Intelligent Occupancy Sensor (IOS), which analyzes live video collected by a tiny video camera mounted on the ceiling and resembling a smoke detector. Thompson is quick to point out, however, that IOS only analyzes live video content: There are no permanent images that can be seen by anyone, so there is no privacy infringement.

Data extracted from the video by IOS can be sent instantly to an energy control system that turns lights on or off or adjusts the HVAC when people enter or leave a room. IOS replaces passive infrared devices that activate when a person enters the room. Sometimes, however, infrared sensors will not shut off the lights for 10-15 minutes after the occupants leave.

Thompson said Polyvision, a Steelcase company, has developed an electronic display for use near the entrance to a conference room. The display lists the schedule for that room that day, and IOS software used in a video system monitoring the interior can instantly update the display to indicate that the room is now empty or being used by a limited number of individuals, data which is useful immediately as well as after the fact, when management sets schedules for future use of that room.

The software can analyze where people are in the room and their general movements, which has made it a retail research tool. In retail stores, it can report where shoppers are stopping to look at merchandise and how long they spend at that merchandise. It can let store management know where and when to open up a checkout lane.

But it’s the green building application, especially its fit with so many LEED certification requirements, that  enthuses Thompson.

Buildings are designed based on “assumptions of how the building is going to be used, but they really don’t know” for sure how people actually use it, said Thompson. With an IOS system, building managers could know how each room in the building is actually used, how many people use it throughout the day, and for what lengths of time.

ObjectVideo is involved with the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center (MAREC) in downtown Muskegon, a Grand Valley State University demonstration facility using a variety of alternative and renewable energy technologies. MAREC participates with various companies with the goal of creating and attracting new business to the region, and has helped position West Michigan as a leader in alternative energy technologies. The MAREC facility has also achieved Gold LEED certification.

“We are using MAREC as a test bed for our IOS product,” said Thompson. IOS is installed in one classroom, with plans to expand in the building later in the year. ObjectVideo has partnered with Leviton, Texas Instruments and Steelcase Polyvision to test the integration of IOS in MAREC. Leviton makes lighting controls, and Texas Instruments makes a digital signal processor that runs IOS software. The MAREC staff is also supporting the testing with engineering support.

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