Making smart buildings even smarter with Artificial Intelligence

The world’s longest burning light bulb hangs in the fire station of Livermore, California, in the U.S. It has been switched on for more than 1 million hours since its installation in 1901. The hand-blown bulb shines 24 hours a day lighting up the station night and day in case fire fighters have to rush out for an emergency. That is no longer needed. Today buildings are smart and are becoming increasingly smarter and energy efficient. Lights go on with a gesture, a voice command or simply by just entering a room or a building.

Smart buildings are on the rise. “The building automation and controls market has seen double digit growth in the past few years and is expected to become a $50 billion industry by 2018,” research firm Orbis said in a recent report, adding that motion sensors, dimming products and access controls would be the most important areas of growth.


PointGrab, one of the companies in ABB Technology Ventures (ATV). ATV is the ABB’s corporate venture capital unit and has so far invested nearly $200 million in start-up partnerships since its formation in 2009. PointGrab has developed a ground-breaking solution, which uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and enhances commercial building automation by sensing and analyzing information about where and how people use the space, while maintaining highest standards for privacy and data security.

The start-up is aiming for a chunk of the global occupancy analytics market in commercial office spaces, which achieved systems sales of $1.54 billion in 2017 and is expected to rise to $4.6 billion by 2022, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.5 percent, according to Swedish research firm Memoori.

Investing in PointGrab is a logical step for ABB. For more than 20 years ABB has provided i-bus® Intelligent Building Control systems to residential and non-residential buildings, creating energy savings of up to 50 percent

According to Institute for Energy Research, building technology is the largest consumer of energy after transport and power generation. Heating, cooling and lighting in residential and office buildings make up about 40 percent of the energy consumed in a building. Smart buildings are key in a world where ongoing urbanization will force building owners to strive for more efficiency and sustainability.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that the world’s energy consumption could grow by 28 percent between 2015 and 2040. Most of the growth is expected to come from countries where demand is driven by strong economic growth, particularly in Asia. Non-OECD countries in Asia, including China and India, are expected to account for more than 60 percent of the world's total increase in energy consumption between 2015 through 2040.

PointGrab’s sensing platform is called CogniPoint™. It uses highly intelligent image-based sensors and connects to a cloud-based management system. It optimizes the use of workstations, meeting rooms, lighting as well as heating, ventilation and air conditioning in office spaces. On the utility side the technology enables companies and organizations to only activate for example, lighting and heating, when it is needed: when people are actually there while protecting their privacy.

CogniPoint™ sensing platform utilizes deep learning and computer vision technology to provide data about how people use office space
CogniPoint™ sensing platform utilizes deep learning and computer vision technology to provide data about how people use office space

Sensors installed on the workspace ceiling detect people’s presence, locations and numbers. Software running on the sensor sends the analyzed data over a secure, encrypted connection to the cloud-based CogniPoint Management System.

CogniPoint™ Sensing Platform- Key Product Features
CogniPoint™ Sensing Platform- Key Product Features

This cloud-based management system controls the sensor life-cycle while interfacing with third party platforms and applications. The system applies advanced computer vision and deep learning technologies to accurately and reliably detect whether people are in a room. All analytics are performed inside the sensor so no image is transmitted or stored.

“What sets CogniPoint apart from other platforms is that it provides rich and accurate data of occupants’ whereabouts without compromising their privacy” said Meir Morag, director at PointGrab.

PointGrab’s solution can save up to 30 percent of annual expenses for an office space. Industry data showed that about 40 percent of office space is not utilized all the time and that with the help of PointGrab’d technology the office space can be dramatically optimized, leading to a significant return on investment. In a representative example of a 25,000 m2 office that costs $8 million in annual rent, an investment of $200,000 yields savings of $2.4 million per year.

With 60 percent of companies planning to adopt flexible workplace strategies by 2020, the need for information about the workforce is increasing. Additional applications for medical alert systems and retail analytics can give PointGrab access to an even bigger market that could be worth $80 billion by 2021.

“PointGrab’s CogniPoint solution complements ABB’s technology as a pioneer in building automation solutions,” says Dr. Kurt Kaltenegger, Group Vice President, Head of Technology, ABB ATV. “We expect this collaboration to bolster development efforts and expedite new product introduction.”


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