Welcome to ‘Tech Talks’ with Ana Andrade, a Q&A focused on how Tech is making the Built Environment SMARTER.
This bulletin series features key industry players from the land technology and built environment space in conversation with consultant Ana Andrade, drawing insights around the topics of AI, IoT, GDPR and ESG compliance, and much more!
Terabee is a leader in People Counting devices that help maximize your building and real estate assets. From room occupancy, to dwell time, and HVAC integration, Terabee sensors provide accurate data for informed decision-making and energy and cost savings.
Could you tell us a bit about the story behind Terabee – how did you come up with it?
I have more than 20 years’ experience in the fields of aerospace, advanced manufacturing, 3D printing, R&D, business/process optimization and strategy consulting. Being at the forefront of innovation and hi-tech has always interested me. In the past I was at Boeing as an R&D department leader, and I was also influential in 3D printing when it was in its infancy. Then in 2012, I founded Terabee as a drone services company for complex inspection projects, and this took us into the new area of Time-of-Flight sensor technology.
In the early days, we were creators of Time-of-Flight distance sensors. We kept pushing the boundaries of what was possible with Time-of-Flight, always balancing size, weight, performance and price to create competitive products. In parallel we had been looking at IoT markets and we identified people counting and smart buildings as an area where the emergence of 3D Time-of-Flight sensing could bring some distinct advantages. After developing 3D Time-of-Flight modules for many years, we created advanced People Counting devices to overcome the limitations of existing technologies.
Today Terabee is a leader in this advanced technology, digitizing movement for Smart Building and Protech applications.
How did you find yourself working in the Built Environment sector? What unique opportunities and challenges have you faced so far?
We master our foundation technologies from physics to the final devices. Our goal is to bridge the physical world with the digital (and web), by adding the layer of understanding of what happens in a specific scene. We add context to scenes, which is paramount in IoT. To accomplish this, we need to capture shapes and movement, and we always focus on acquiring the least in terms of quantity but most significant data possible. We called this “lean sensing” in the past when developing robotics perception solutions. Today we continue to respect this principle, and we develop solutions based on the “lean sensing concept.” That’s why often Terabee sensors are more effective, better than others. We obtain top results primarily using the Time-of-Flight principle to perceive what is going on in the environment around us, without using traditional camera and machine vision technology, not even for setup or calibration!
We use the latest semiconductors and technologies to create the best products possible with a strong focus on top performance, at an affordable price-point. We develop algorithms and utilize true edge computing, that is fully on the edge, to meet specific needs of our target markets and customers. In this way, whilst our products create data, we go beyond that and translate data into usable intelligence for building management and space and facilities optimization.
In 2020, Terabee entered the smart building market with highly accurate people counting sensors based on established Time-of-Flight sensor modules. They provide inherent privacy protection by design, coupled with superior performance. Since then our strategic focus has been on smart buildings and facilities management. In 2021 we started development of indoor Air Quality sensors to extend the portfolio for smart buildings. We have a very clear understanding of how important the relationship between people movement and space occupation is, and how this impacts the quality of the air we breathe. These two data sets together provide valuable intelligence about the quality of workplaces and recreational environments.
Today we help smart building players implement a better strategy to save energy in all types of commercial and public buildings, by understanding how to optimize space and energy usage.
Until you go to visit the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) installation of a major conference center, or large office building, you don’t appreciate the size, complexity and energy consumption of such installations.
What typically happens is that rooms, zones or buildings run their HVAC according to how many people they think might be in the space, rather than how many are actually in attendance. Quite often, the Facilities Management team doesn’t know how many people are registered to an event or are using a space at a given time, so they run the HVAC system at the level required as if the room or facility was at full capacity. But even small reductions in HVAC output create some substantial cost savings. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to run HVAC systems according to the actual number of people in a space, rather than an estimated number, which can be a large overestimation.
In zones with low occupancy levels, HVAC and lighting can be turned down and in zones with higher usage it can be turned up to ensure the best possible air, temperature and environmental conditions for those present. In this regard, facilities managers can reduce energy expenditure, reduce wear and tear on HVAC systems and contribute to the carbon emission targets of their organization.
It goes without saying that the use of AI has been an increasingly relevant topic. What are your thoughts on that? Are you currently adopting (or planning to) this type of technology at Terabee?
Terabee has developed proprietary AI techniques for advanced embedded people counting. However, we are not blind AI fans, and we tend to avoid it wherever possible, since it always requires higher computing power, despite offering in some cases marginally better results. Once the head of innovation of Google said in a conference “Machine learning and AI are the same thing, just different marketing. And they’re basically math and statistics, nothing new.” We are in line with this view, and well aware of the power of its use to solve some problems, but also when we skip AI and use human made algorithms.
How do you think tech and data collection might interfere with GDPR in your business? How do you plan to tackle this issue?
Terabee people counters use a fundamentally different approach, enabling them to count people accurately and reliably without capturing any personal identifiable information. Basically, Terabee people counters are not capable of gathering RGB images and use an extremely low pixel count of depth data, so privacy is protected even in the event of hacking or misuse. Data gathered by Time-of-Flight and thermal technology-based people counters excels in respecting an individual’s privacy, by not capturing any visual information only very rough shapes, thus avoiding the risks associated with facial or body recognition.
Developers of camera-based people counting systems, including RGB and stereovision systems, claim to protect personal privacy. While it may be true that these systems only output anonymous data, they capture high resolution images of people which are then processed by software in order to identify humans. Commonly, the images captured by camera-based people counters will be post-processed to anonymize or pseudonymize them. However, this information is captured in the first place which means that if such a system was hacked, the Personal Identifiable Information (PII) could be accessed.
When choosing a people counting system, it’s important to consider whether the information is intrinsically anonymous or simply anonymized to protect people’s identities after the fact. If you had to explain to your employees that the RGB camera will not output personal data, how do you assure them that this will be the case forever? Actually, are you sure that the device will not take some images now and then, with the images being shipped over the internet for “whatever” purpose? Will you accept one of these in your work toilet?
Could you tell us more about the hardware component of your services (if applicable)? What changes have you seen in IoT over the years?
Our winning products are People Counting devices which are Lidar-based. A well-designed device which performs with higher accuracy than the competition for a similar price, while keeping personal data safe by physics and design. With embedded algorithms producing typical counting accuracy of 98% or better, Terabee people counting systems give real-time accurate data whatever the light conditions and the color pattern in the counting zone.
They combine GDPR compliance by design, easy data integration, wireless connectivity, and flexible installation (PoE or LoRa models). They are optimized for easy software and hardware integration with an optional analytics portal.
Our devices can handle large daily count numbers without technical difficulties and with reliable data. An example of this is a customer application, in Newark, New Jersey, where more than 600 people are counted hourly. This shows that Terabee people counting technology is robust and that we have mature tech knowledge and expertise.
Are there any exciting product/project launches coming out or in the making that you could share with us?
In a recent development, we are using the latest thermal technology in the new occupancy counting device, which is more for static scenes such as meeting room usage counting. Leveraging advanced thermal imaging technology, Terabee People Occupancy Counting gives precise occupancy data in all light conditions. This is ideal for fine-tuning energy management, optimizing space utilization, and automating building operations in meeting rooms and large open plan office areas.
By sensing thermal signatures, our new people occupancy counter uses non-intrusive, anonymous heat source image data. Personal identity can never be captured so this technology is also fully GDPR-compliant. And since the device doesn’t need ambient light for optimal performance, it’s suitable for applications with low-light and no light, without losing accuracy.
What does the coming year hold for Terabee? What are your expansion plans?
We are looking forward to interesting partnerships aimed at global distribution coverage. More to come on that in the future.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring players and entrepreneurs looking to enter this space?
This is certainly an exciting space to be active in. If you are a business looking to enter this space, make sure that you have a differentiator which can create an opening towards taking a leadership spot. Otherwise, you may end up being one point in the universe of the existing constellation.
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