The SAMBA unit

Unique technology that tracks indoor environment quality, developed by the University of Sydney’s IEQ Lab, is about to be rolled out across numerous Australian commercial offices.

The SAMBA (Sentient Ambient Monitoring of Buildings in Australia) units are the result of substantial research, testing and prototyping, and will be installed in properties under a research partnership subscription arrangement, according to IEQ Lab director Professor Richard de Dear.

The prototype for the technology was developed by University of Sydney PhD student Tom Parkinson and his brother and research assistant Alex Parkinson, under the leadership of Professor de Dear early last year.

One of the first property sector companies to adopt the technology now it has reached market stage will be Investa Property Group, which partnered with the lab in the development of the technology and invested capital into its final design and manufacture.

Investa’s general manager of environment and safety Shaun Condon said the new technology offered “an effective and user-friendly method of collecting accurate IEQ metrics and data that doesn’t require any major modifications to our building systems”.

“It will give us the evidence to pinpoint what IEQ data is important and how to best capture, analyse and effectively report this information back to our tenants to improve their workplace environments,” he said.

Industry is on board

Professor de Dear said there were more firms across property, banking and building committed to obtaining SAMBA units for their office spaces.

Hundreds of units are currently in production and it is expected they will be installed in around 50 offices across Australian capital cities over the next three months.

“We have really caught the attention of the property sector,” Professor de Dear said.

He said there were likely to be hundreds of Australian buildings using it within the near future, giving the lab data no one else in the world has about IEQ across a sizeable percentage of an entire nation’s property sector.

“It opens up a whole new research vista no one in the world has seen before,” Professor de Dear said.

“The IEQ metrics will, for the first time, provide rich intelligence about the indoor climate of Australian workplaces and the impact of high rises on a city’s carbon footprint.

“It will quickly become the world’s largest instrumental database on the climate of the indoor work environment. The intelligence SAMBA will give us and our partner organisations provides the perfect opportunity to reset the barometer for healthy and productive workplaces inside buildings.”

The importance of good design

The lab contracted industrial design firm Tiller to design the units, and a global collaboration has been developed between software developers, circuit board manufacturers and an Australian-based manufacturer for the housings to produce the finished product.

Professor de Dear said aesthetics were part of the brief, as the units will be deployed in premium office spaces.

Another design challenge was separating the heat generating components from heat sensing components, so the unit has two parts, with the heat-generating data relay part a satellite device connected to the sensor unit via a thin Ethernet cable.

The SAMBA devices are placed on work stations a few metres apart across an office floor, and track IEQ factors including air temperature, radiant heat, air movement, humidity, light, sound, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, along with various pollutants emitted from building materials.

Data captured by SAMBA is wirelessly relayed in real-time to the University of Sydney’s IEQ Lab. The data is immediately analysed and interpreted by the lab’s IEQ analytics software against IEQ performance standards set by Green Star and NABERS rating systems.

Operating expense structure attractive for business

Companies using the units will do so under an annual subscription that includes both the units and the data analysis, which the lab will relay back to them in a usable form.

Professor de Dear said the subscription arrangement was decided on after substantial consultation with those in the sector. The advantage for them is it is not a capital expense, nor do they have to operate and maintain the equipment or analyse the data, he said. Instead, SAMBA comes in as an operating expense.

“Today we spend more than 90 per cent of our lives indoors, so monitoring our indoor climate is possibly more important than monitoring the outdoor climate,” Professor de Dear said.

“Many of us now spend our working lives almost exclusively inside office buildings. We therefore need to be better managing indoor environmental factors for the sake of human health and wellbeing long term.

“Research shows the considerable impact that IEQ factors can have on productivity in the work place and building sustainability. However, one of the biggest challenges for organisations is understanding the complex science of IEQ,”

International attention

Professor de Dear said the technology was already garnering international attention, with researchers at the University of California, Berkeley expressing interest.

He said the researchers also have industry partners across the US property sector that could result in a “good cross section” of buildings there becoming engaged.

There are also possibilities of SAMBA being taken up in China, he said.

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