In February, we had a workshop in London, where participants from our many offices were thinking about the future of our smart office concepts (such as Vör). Many moons have passed since, so I think it's decent to give a small update on what's going on.
In June we held a local workshop in Tampere, where we utilized our IoT Service Kit and toyed around with the specific use cases within our premises. There have been plenty of proof-of-concepts created by our people, like playing the ice cream truck theme through our Sonos audio system when freezer is stocked with delicious things, but is that really what the smart office is all about? I had my doubts...
Working with the service kit clarified quite many ideas we've been thinking about during the past months. Since having a card on a Trello board is quite far from making something real, this workshop was a necessary step for us. Playing around with said Trello cards, but utilizing office blueprints and iterating the concepts with a bunch of enthusiastic people created a concrete plan to make our ideas a reality.
Based on the feedback received through our Flowdock channels and daily observations while working in our office, primary issues that could use some kind of improvements were the use of meeting rooms, flex desks, office library, and coffee brewing in general.
It is not uncommon that meeting rooms have reservations, but there's no one actually inside having any kind of meeting. Being aware if room is in use or not should allow our virtual office assistant to cancel any unused reservations and free the room for others. It could also ask from the original meeting organizer if the meeting is just starting late, so no harm would be done by automated canceling. We can also easilly gather data about reservation history to have clear view when are the most busiest times and steer the room usage to be more balanced troughout the workday.
Heatmaps can be generated to see which areas in our office are not used to their full potential and then make changes in office layout or repurpose specific rooms to encourage more efficient use. This can be done by (for example) sniffing out the number of WiFi devices near a specific tracking station at any time. Other means to identify if flex desks or rooms are in use could be IR sensors, pressure sensors or electricity consumption in specific spots. We could also identify if some specific person is in the office or not by checking if their devices have logged in to our network.
Anyway, our primary goal was to get things done quickly instead of just talking about them (like I just did). Our approach has usually been to use as much readily available technology as possible before starting to develop things from scratch. This speeds up the development process and we can quickly validate if something works or doesn't and move on.
Conveniently we managed to get a hold of some Ruuvitags. These small beacons enabled us to quickly setup environmental monitoring of things like temperature and humidity in our meeting rooms and other areas. In the long run, the tags will be used to provide room related content utilizing their Eddystone capabilities.
Some minor tweaking was done to the beacons, like updating the firmware. After setting them up we also needed to connect them to our edge computing system (fancy buzzword for a local server). This is basically a Raspberry Pi serving as an BLE Gateway / MQTT Server.
We also have few other Raspberry Pi's around the office which provide us with WiFi tracking capability and also serve as an interface to our 3D printers for printing things over the network and monitoring the progress.
Currently we are working on collecting all the sensor data to our interactive dashboard, which visitors can use to learn about our premises. The view can be focused indoors or one can zoom out to get more information about nearby points of intrests, such as parking, bus schedules, traffic situation, etc.
During the workshop, there were moments which proved once again that discussing things with you colleagues is quite wise thing to do. When we were discussing the possibility to show available parking places (concept which was also discussed in London), our rapid prototyper Pasi exclaimed out of the blue that "Oh, I've already done such thing, take a look". When people do these hobby projects to learn new things, they might go unnoticed very easily. Luckily the topic came up and we can use the available pieces of code later.
Our work continues with very exciting things, which will be shared later in another blog post :)