Sensors play a key role in real estate, helping property owners and managers achieve space optimisation, tenant satisfaction, security, cost efficiency, and more.

A sensor is a detective device that uses Internet of Things (IoT) technology to connect to the Internet and send real-time data feeds of activity within a space. It converts information such as environmental changes or the measurement of physical properties into signals that can quickly be used for monitoring and controlling various processes or systems.

Different sensors can be connected to work as an ecosystem to collectively provide the information and analysis you need. In this article, we’re going to look at three types of sensors: occupancy sensors, motion sensors, and camera sensors.

Each of these vary in how they function and what exactly they detect. By providing you with the pros and cons of each solution, you can determine which type of sensor will work best for your specific use case.

What is the role of sensors?

Sensors play a crucial role in providing real-time information, enabling systems to respond to changing conditions and facilitating the integration of smart technologies into diverse fields.

These fields can include:

  • Surveillance - Motion sensors and cameras are employed for monitoring and securing spaces.
  • Environmental monitoring - Tracking changes in the environment, studying wildlife, monitoring weather conditions, and assessing pollution levels.
  • Traffic monitoring - Detecting vehicle movement, collecting real-time data on traffic flow, and providing insights that help to enhance road safety and efficiency.
  • Aerial photography - Image sensors are crucial for aerial photography, surveillance, and mapping.
  • Safety checks - Continuously monitoring environmental conditions, equipment status, or human presence, providing early hazard detection, and prompt response protocols.
  • Automated climate control - Measuring temperature, humidity, and other environmental parameters, enabling precise adjustments to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.
  • Predictive maintenance - Collecting real-time data on performance metrics, and facilitating the early detection of potential issues.
  • Real-time occupancy data - Detecting and monitoring the presence of individuals in spaces.
  • Medical imaging - Sensors are used in devices such as X-ray machines, endoscopes, and diagnostic cameras.

Understanding occupancy sensors

In their simplest form, occupancy sensors detect the presence and absence of a person within a space. Stepping up the complexity, occupancy sensors can be used in tandem with building automation systems. For example, a 24-hour coworking space might use occupancy smart sensors to turn the lights on when the first person enters in the morning.

Additionally, if only a few people are sitting in the hotdesking area and no one has booked a meeting room, then no energy needs to be used to light the meeting rooms. The sensors can integrate with the booking system and ensure the meeting room is the perfect temperature for when it is next in use.

How do they work?

Occupancy sensors work by detecting the presence or absence of individuals in a given space through various technologies such as passive infrared (PIR), ultrasonic, or more sophisticated technologies like computer vision.

PIR sensors detect heat emitted by humans, while ultrasonic sensors send out sound waves and analyse the reflected waves to identify motion, collectively enabling the sensors to trigger actions.

Computer vision is much more advanced, however, because it can detect more than the typical present/not present state a simple occupancy sensor can handle.

The pros of occupancy sensors

Introducing occupancy sensors to your indoor space can result in cost savings. You don’t have to be on-site to ensure all lights are switched off and the door is locked, instead as soon as a space is unoccupied, utilities can be switched off or access control can be managed.

Another key benefit is tenant satisfaction which directly influences productivity levels and employee retention when used in an office environment. There are so many factors that impact how much we can get done in a day and occupancy sensors can help to create the optimum conditions that workers need to tick off tasks.

For example, research has shown that our reading and typing speed and response time are all affected by temperature.

Finally, in a working world where COVID-19 transformed how we view the future of the office, occupancy sensors offer vital analytics into how we can best use our workplaces. More advanced occupancy sensors don’t need motion to identify who is in a space, making them highly accurate.

Moving away from traditional office cubicles, we can use occupancy data to identify and prevent overcrowding and the distracting noise that comes with this, and deeply understand how our space is utilised.

Do people tend to work from the same desk all day? Do they make full use of the designated break-out spaces? What can underutilised space be used for a few hours a day? Human behaviour is always shifting so using sensor technology empowers us to keep up with the needs of the people who are using the office right now, not providing what the preferences were two years ago.

The drawbacks

Occupancy sensors have drawbacks, including initial installation costs, potential false triggers from factors like animals or vehicles, and concerns about perceived invasion of privacy in certain settings.

Some sensors may face limitations in coverage area and adaptability to specific environments, and maintenance requirements may impact long-term reliability.

However, more advanced sensors are able to counter these drawbacks with smarter, faster object recognition, which we will get into shortly.

Understanding motion sensors

A motion sensor detects movement within its designated area and triggers a response, such as activating lights or alarms, based on the detected motion.

What makes a motion sensor different from an occupancy sensor is that it has the purpose of responding to any motion whereas an occupancy sensor specifically identifies the presence or absence of people in a space to control various systems.

The technology behind motion sensors

Motion sensors typically use passive infrared (PIR) technology, which detects changes in infrared radiation caused by movement, or ultrasonic technology, emitting and analysing high-frequency sound waves to detect motion; when motion is detected, these sensors trigger a response such as turning on lights or activating an alarm.

The benefits of motion sensors

1. Energy efficiency

Motion sensors significantly contribute to energy efficiency by activating devices only when motion is detected, reducing unnecessary energy consumption.

2. Quick response

Rapid response times make motion sensors suitable for applications where timely activation or response is critical, ensuring prompt action upon detecting movement. For example, it can trigger machinery to switch off automatically when objects are detected too close to the machine.

3. Enhanced security

Motion sensors play a key role in security systems, triggering alarms or surveillance cameras upon detecting motion.

4. User-friendly automation

Motion sensors contribute to user-friendly automation by seamlessly integrating into smart home and building systems, allowing for hands-free control of various devices and functions. We use them most days in public toilets hovering our hands near the sensor to turn on a tap and dispense soap without needing to touch anything.

The disadvantages of motion sensors

One disadvantage is that motion sensors don’t provide the full picture. A motion sensor will allow you to determine when there is movement but you won’t know who caused the motion, or where this person goes next. It is up to you to extract insights from it.

There is the potential for false alarms triggered by factors such as anomalies, changing weather conditions, or inanimate objects, which means it is not always accurate.

Understanding camera sensors

Integrating sensor technology with CCTV is maximising the potential of video analytics. In simple terms, adding a sensor allows cameras to achieve much more than just recording CCTV footage.

Unlike motion sensors and occupancy sensors, which focus on detecting movement or presence, image sensors specifically capture visual data, enabling tasks such as image recording, recognition, and analysis, which can then be analysed for deeper insights.

What do camera sensors offer businesses?

High-quality visual data

Image sensors excel at capturing high-quality visual data with details, shape, colour and textures, making them ideal for applications that require accurate and nuanced visual information.

Advanced object recognition

You can achieve advanced object recognition and analysis, enabling tasks like facial recognition, object tracking, and scene interpretation. This helps you truly understand what is happening in a space - it’s more than just occupancy.

Visual documentation

Image sensors provide a detailed and accurate representation of scenes, making them suitable for surveillance, security, research, and much more besides.

The drawbacks of camera sensors

High-quality camera sensors, boasting advanced features, can sometimes come with a higher cost. This isn’t always true though, especially in the case of computer vision models that use existing cameras, such as CCTV.

The complexity of image sensor technology can add challenges, necessitating meticulous calibration and integration with other components during design and manufacturing. However, the smartest camera sensors out there are trained to understand these very fine details, and they can be tuned to specific needs or use cases.

Additionally, the continuous operation of image sensors, particularly in devices like surveillance cameras, can result in increased power consumption, potentially affecting battery life.

With Fyma, you don't need to invest in costly hardware to take advantage of camera sensors. Instead, your existing CCTV cameras can become agents to collect a range of data points, whether that’s dwell time, occupancy, demographics, movement patterns, and much more.

Camera sensor use cases

Camera sensors

Office spaces to control lighting, heating, and air conditioning systems based on the presence of occupants, optimising energy efficiency and providing a comfortable workspace.

Home security to detect unauthorised movement, triggering alarms or surveillance camera recording, enhancing the safety of residential properties.

Surveillance and security for comprehensive monitoring and surveillance, allowing for visual verification of events.

Restrooms & public facilities to automatically control lighting and ventilation, ensuring resources are utilised only when needed, and enhancing user experience.

Retail settings to activate lighting and displays in response to customer movement, creating an interactive and energy-efficient shopping environment.

Deployed in traffic management systems to capture and analyse vehicle movement, enabling real-time traffic monitoring, congestion detection, and efficient signal control.

Educational institutions to automate lighting and climate control, responding to the occupancy activity and creating an environment optimised for learning.

Outdoor lighting to illuminate pathways, driveways, or gardens upon detecting motion, providing both security and energy savings.

Applied in retail analytics, using cameras to track foot traffic, customer demographics, and product interactions, providing valuable insights for marketing and store layout optimisation.

In conclusion, sensors play a vital role in optimising various aspects of real estate, from space utilisation and tenant satisfaction to security and cost efficiency.

Whether it's occupancy sensors, motion sensors, or camera sensors, each type serves distinct purposes in monitoring and controlling processes or systems. On the least sophisticated end, occupancy sensors serve one simple purpose, while motion sensors are great at detecting in certain scenarios. For a comprehensive, nuanced understanding of a scene, camera sensors and computer vision is undoubtedly the way to go.

At Fyma, we help businesses turn existing camera infrastructure into a valuable stream of data that can reveal powerful insights. Book a demo today to learn more.