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Emergency lights connect devices in IoT-powered buildings

Smart building ecosystems are now possible thanks to a partnership between the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney and an Australian company.

As reported, a wireless solution developed by the University is being used by an Australian company to roll out technology that would allow buildings to monitor themselves, react to their surroundings, follow instructions from afar, and even talk to smartphones.

EMIoT is a new wireless platform that relies on LED exit signs as the backbone of a low-power meshed network that covers 99.9% of a building.

It is far reaching as it covers underground carparks, pump systems and air conditioning.

WBS Technology, which is commercialising the technology, has installed it in more than 10 apartment complexes, with the latest being at Castle Hill in the north-west of Sydney.

The important step is to simply install the emergency lights. They all automatically connect to each other and that creates the network.

The emergency lights can then be networked with other devices via various wireless technologies, including Bluetooth.

This allows them to be controlled locally with a smartphone or via the internet from anywhere in the world.

Each exit sign or emergency light acts as a node in the network, passing information back and forth across a building.

Other devices can be connected to the network allowing all of them to be controlled and monitored remotely.

These devices include ventilation and pumping systems, security cameras and sensors, access doors to common areas and halls.

This technology is an example of the much talked about Internet of Things (IoT) networks.

IoT networks allow devices such as computers, lights, cars, and home appliances, among others to connect, interact and exchange data seamlessly with each other and across the internet.

What makes this technology different is how the company, an emergency lighting manufacturer in Sydney, is using the technology to transform itself into an entirely new business.

Instead of just making and selling emergency lights, it also offers ‘sensors as a service’.

For a fixed monthly fee, the company offers a network of emergency and other lights that monitor themselves, react to their surrounding and to remote commands, and can have other devices added to the same network.

As the network expands, energy usage and the status of heating and cooling could be tracked, flow gauges report back on water usage and identify leaks, ventilation and pumping systems monitored remotely, and hot water systems checked for faults.

Even residents trapped in an underground carpark would be able to communicate with building managers via an app.

The communication gateway looks like a standard exit sign, which relays other emergency lights communication to the cloud and acts like a normal exit sign. It is a plug-and-play system.

It can be installed in a new building or retrofitted into an older one.

The collaboration between the University engineers and the company began under the University’s TechConnect incubator program.

This led to an Australian Research Council Linkage project between the two.

It culminated in an Innovation Connections Grant funding the commercialisation of the technology developed by the University.

Researchers from the University’s School of Computer Science and Engineering worked on developing a meshed network of different communications technologies that could work seamlessly and provide a reliable network across a plethora of locations.

They eventually hit on a meshed combination of LoRa, which is used by wireless sensors for health care monitoring; 6LoWPAN, a new Internet protocol for small devices; and RPL, an experimental network protocol for point-to-point communications where stability and low data rates are an issue.

They then created a gateway that bridges the different technologies with cellular telecommunications networks, allowing it all to connect to computer servers in the cloud.

They then added Bluetooth to provide localised control via smartphones.

It is a great example of an enterprise with a technical challenge it needs to solve, and the University having the people with the knowledge and engineering smarts to find the solution.

Working with industry in this way was essential to get innovation out of laboratories and into the real world.

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