The Return To Campus.

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SMART SPACES AT THE SERVICE OF THE “NEW NORMAL”

INTRODUCTION

This year, going back to class will be different. An uncertain beginning and a mandatory adaptation to a new reality. In this context the campus´ managers and their maintenance teams face a huge challenge, where technology is going to help find solutions. But it can also cause a many headache to figure out what the best decisions are, taking into account both the initial situation (the “actual” users, services and facilities), as well as new public health requirements, legal regulations and economic constraints.

The creation of a more intelligent campus (a “smart campus”) is going to give us the means to face this “new normality”. We will be looking for:

  • The optimization of the flows of people, to facilitate the movements inside of campus, ensuring at the same time, the compliance of the regulations of social distance.
  • The creation of safe and comfortable spaces
  • To facilitate to the users the access to the information needed
  • New services that facilitate returning to activity in the new conditions.

SMART SCENARIOS IN THE “NEW NORMAL”

To achieve the previous objectives, some of the “smart” uses cases that we could deploy in a campus are the following:

1- Maximum capacity and social distance.

In this “new normality” it is especially important to be able to count how many people are in a certain area or to be able to measure the social distance between them. We are talking about: 

  • Measuring how many people have accessed the different buildings on campus.
  • Carry out a crowd control in common areas.
  • Attempt to understand and regulate the flow of people through campus to anticipate potential problems and prevent overcrowding situations
  • Controlling the social distance between people, for what reducing the flow would be essential. But also, trying as far as possible, to remain able to accommodate a significant number of people at certain times.

From a technological point of view, the starting point will be the sensors or cameras installation for counting people purposes, taking in account three previous tasks: 

  • The analysis of the appropriate location for these sensors or cameras that we need to install to control the entrances and exits of each area
  • The precise description of the actions to be triggered when the maximum capacity has been reached or when people are who do not follow social distancing are detected. 
  • To be aware and consistent with the limits set by the General Data Protection Regulation.

The big barriers to count people won’t be related to the technology, but to take in account the process and the regulation constraints. A campus is used by young people having some social behavior and some specific communication patterns. In addition, privacy is a key point. We must therefore achieve the perfect fit between technology, which allows us to deploy many use cases, the procedures that have to be followed at college and the regulatory framework that sets the limits to what is or is not allowed.

Taking in account all the previous constraints, what could be more convenient to control the maximum capacity in some specific campus areas, will be to implement technological solutions that respect privacy (added and presented data without individual identification, acquiring necessary authorizations, ensuring protection of sensitive data that we might be managing/handling), and that are also proportional to the benefits obtained.

This last point is very important, since obtaining the user´s consent or correctly protect this data, is necessary, but not enough, and the Data Protection Agency could end up penalizing the fact that the real impact of the use of this data had not been well communicated or that the users (the students, for example) were in a situation of dependency towards the direction of the university, which could have conditioned their consent.  Or even that the technology being used could be disproportionate to achieve the pursued objectives, there may be other methods that violate less the student´s privacy. 

We can then conclude that technology is always going to offer options, and that the use made of it must be defined by the business processes whose efficiency is to be increased and by the legal and social rules that must be followed. 

2- Measurement of environmental conditions.

We are talking about the starting point of any comfortable environment. About the ability to ensure that temperature, heat, or air quality in the physical environment in which the academic and administrative activity is taking place are the optimal ones. We seek on the one hand to improve the user´s perception and to contribute to take care of their health and on the other hand contribute to the energy efficiency of campus.

The starting point must be to know what is happening. Therefore, we need to install a set of sensors to be able to capture these data.  

Joined to the sensor’s installation throughout the Campus, we need to define what will be the procedure to be followed in function of the collected data. Namely, what conditions should trigger an environmental alarm and what to do when this alarm appears.  

3- Reinforcement of hygiene measures.

Key also in this “new normality” will be the strengthening of measures that contribute to keep the campus clean. Basic goal in any time to increase the user´s comfort, increased this year due to the need to decrease the risk of spreading the virus. Enhancing activities such:

  • Disinfection of common spaces. For which is very important to have reliable data on the use of each space (associated with the reservation of any space within on campus we can automate the sending of alarms, so as soon as end of use, the cleaning team carries out the consequent disinfection).
  • Hand sanitizer dispensers and emptying trash cans and containers. Installing distance sensors in them so that the cleaning services receive an alarm once dispensers are about to emptied and trash cans about to be filled.
  • Use and occupation of restrooms. On the one hand, counting how many people are inside at every moment, seeking to trigger alerts (an illuminated sign on a clearly visible place) as soon the maximum capacity has been exceeded. And on the other hand, optimizing the cleaning of the restrooms so that after a certain number of people have used it, an alarm is triggered to the cleaning team so that they can proceed to clean it.

4- Implementation of new services that help with/ease the management of the “new normality”

With the help of technology, we can offer our services to the student or teacher in order to better organize the flow of people and the use of the spaces on campus. The objective is to avoid waiting times and crowds of people looking for the same services. Using a mobile app (a “smart campus mobile app”) we can facilitate both the booking of campus services (sports courts, laboratories, work areas, audiovisual media, parking spots for bicycles and vehicles,…) as well as access to previously reserved services, using the same app on our smartphone to, e.g. open the door to a sport court or unlock the reserved bike parking spot.

PREDICTABILITY

In every case described so far, we have highlighted the importance of measuring what is happening on campus, set off alarms and act on them consequently. Additionally, what will add a lot of value to our “smart campus” will not only be to report what has happened or what is happening, but to be able to predict what is going to happen, to be able to take appropriate preventive measures. That is, to use the data collected to identify behavior patterns using machine learning algorithms. 

We are talking about patterns related to both, user and assets behavior. To be able to predict what areas, what moments or in which conditions there will be a higher risk to exceed  capacity, to have an air more polluted, to have a worst temperature, to consume more soap, or to receive more people in a toilet or in any other campus space. This prediction will be key to keep offering good services to the campus users, distributing activities and optimizing the cleaning and maintenance team organization.