Be a Control Freak: Improving User Experience with Sensor Technology

a guest post by Tim Hogan, Vice President – Education Market at Acuity Brands Lighting

Improving User Experience with Sensor Technology

Over the years, I’m constantly told by facility folks that the sensor project was one of the simplest, fastest, greatest impact and best return on investment projects they’ve done.

Occupancy Sensors

Occupancy Sensors Design Challenge

Design Challenge

  • Lights are always on even when space is unoccupied
  • Traditional sensors can’t see through obstacles
  • Traditional sensors are offer only simplistic responses

Design Solution

  • Ideal for enclosed spaces with inconsistent schedule and intermittent occupancy
  • Multiple sensing options (passive infrared [PIR], ultrasonic, Microphonics™, multi-technology) provide complete coverage
  • Options for occupancy sensing or vacancy sensing
  • Response can trigger multiple actions
  • Complies with energy codes requiring auto shut-off
  • Options: Line voltage, low voltage, wireless

But before you take on that sensor project you have to have a goal plan. How do you have a big plan that allows you to focus and act quickly? It’s about finding an application space or technology and testing, piloting and validating that it works. After testing, you scale it across your campus to gain maximum benefits and then come back and solve the next application.

So the design challenge today is determining the right amount of light to use when the space is unoccupied. Traditional sensors can’t see through obstacles or walls and only have simplistic responses. You want to look for a solution that uses multiple technologies including passive infrared, it may use ultrasonic or microphonic. It may use a combination of those technologies to see what’s happening in the space so that it can respond accordingly.

We are also looking for sensors that enable something more than a simplistic on or off. We are looking for sensors that have multiple stage output. When the sensor determines it can see, the sensor can turn the lights off. In addition, the sensor can then wait to make sure that people are really gone. Ok, they haven’t been back for 10 minutes now, so I’m going to start setting back the HVAC or close some air handlers.

How can I program the event to create an even better experience in the space? We need lots of options. One of the things you see when we look at schools, particularly bigger schools are like a small city. There are classrooms, hallways, stairwells, offices, bathrooms, gymnasiums, locker rooms, kitchens, cafeterias and storage closets that may require different kinds of sensor implementations.

So it’s not like you can go buy a truck load of one sensor and you go put them anywhere and have it turn out to be a good experience. You can turn all the lights off, but you might not have the kind of experience that you are hoping to have.

Occupancy Sensor Detection Methods

Three Types of Sensing

The first is passive infrared and it’s the oldest of the sensor technology. The way to think about this is every facet of the sensor is sending out a beam that covers its angle of the space and it’s almost like a remote point-and-shoot thermometer. It knows the temperature of things within its line of sight. And so it’s happy, it doesn’t care what the temperature is as long as it doesn’t change. As long as the temperature doesn’t change, then it is assuming that nothing is moving in its space.

Ultrasonic deals with sound airwaves and sound waves to sense when something is in the room. And Microphonic is essentially listening for sounds in the room.

Simple Sensor Solutions

Acuity WSX

Wall Mounted

Sensor Switch (Lithonia) Ceiling Mount Sensors
  • Easiest method of adding occupancy detection
  • Replaces existing toggle switch without additional wiring
  • 30 to 50% energy savings
  • Lowest cost approach for individual room control

Ceiling Mounted

  • Best choice for radial coverage with small motion
  • User adjusted time delay
  • Push-button programming, accessible without tools
  • Available in low voltage and line voltage models
  • Integrated photocell available

The great thing about controls is that they are very flexible and there are a number of tactics to maximize the control system. A simplistic and inappropriate control solution for a space will result in a bad experience for people who have to work, teach and learn in those spaces.

Ready to start a sensor project? Have a Graybar Lighting Specialist contact you.

Stay tuned for the next article: Understanding Wall, Ceiling and Photocell Sensor Solutions.

Tim Hogan

Tim Hogan works with educators, facilities directors and design professionals to improve lighting solutions for both K-12 and Higher Education campuses. His articles have been published in numerous magazines for education facility designers and managers. He is a frequent presenter at local, regional and national events. Acuity Brands is one of the world's leading providers of lighting equipment, solutions and services.


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