Greg Watts on Cutting-Edge Tech at Terabee

Greg Watts on Cutting-Edge Tech at Terabee

Interview by Anja PaspaljAnja Paspalj
Published: January 19, 2023

When drones were still a new example of cutting-edge technology in 2012, Terabee was at the forefront of the movement. Ten years later, it has developed into a diverse organization specializing in high-performance sensing solutions and paving the way for its technological development.

Now an industry leader in people-counting devices, Terabee is focusing on business maximization, employee privacy and energy usage and efficiency to ensure that occupancy monitoring solutions can be utilized for more than just the obvious.

Marketing director Greg Watts spoke to Spotlight about the future of occupancy monitoring solutions and Terabee’s technological development from 2012 to today.

Black and yellow Terabee logo on white background

Spotlight: Congratulations on your 10th year! Starting with drones in 2012, Terabee has grown into a company with cutting-edge technology for people-counting devices. How did you transition from one tech to another, and how did you foresee this technological development?

Greg Watts: We were very early creators of Time-of-Flight distance sensors. With a focus on drones, we built small, lightweight range finding sensors to act as the eyes for a drone to help it understand its environment and not to crash into obstacles. Over the years we kept pushing the boundaries of what was possible with Time-of-Flight, always balancing size, weight, performance and price to create competitive products.

Outside of Asia, the drone market was smaller than we needed and so we took the same technology and design philosophy into the mobile robotics and industrial automation markets. In parallel we had been looking at LoT markets and planning how to enter, identifying People Counting as an area where the emergence of 3D Time-of-Flight sensing could bring some distinct advantages. When good 3D Time-of-Flight modules became available, we set about creating advanced People Counting devices to overcome the limitations of existing technologies.

Considering how concerned the population is about maintaining their privacy (both online and offline), how do you ensure that employee privacy and people counting devices coexist?

Our Time-of-Flight People Counting devices do not contain a video camera and therefore the data that is captured does not need to go through pseudonymization and anonymization steps. By using active Time-of-Flight technology to sense distances, each pixel is nothing more than a distance value. The relative distances between the sensor, the floor and a person walking through the field of view of our device creates a depth map, and using that we are able to understand shapes that correspond to a person and their direction of movement. In this regard, we have a great advantage over systems based on video or stereo-vision. In addition to this, since our devices are mounted perpendicular to the ground, at no time is a person’s face visible. We tend to say that our devices are “GDPR compliant by design” but in fact it is even more fundamental than that. It is more like “GDPR compliant by physics.”

Your people counting devices boast 98% accuracy. What are the main reasons why businesses should secure such technology for their workspaces?

At a technical level, our clients appreciate the GDPR compliance inherent in our technology, the small size and discreet designs that resemble smoke detectors rather than camera-based surveillance equipment. Counting accuracy is also important. If your device is unable to count people in close proximity, or moving quickly, or filter out pets, shopping carts and static objects within the field of view, you quickly arrive at an accumulation of data that users can't trust. The other critical factor is ease - and speed - of implementation, and for this reason we offer cabled and wireless solutions and support for multiple communication protocols.

Which industries have you found occupancy monitoring solutions to be the most useful for and why?

People Counting and occupancy monitoring has been extensively used in Retail to gather deep analytics on footfall and the effects of store layouts, promotion campaigns and so on. However, as people counting technology gets better and the costs more affordable, many more user cases are emerging.

The green agenda and current geopolitical uncertainties are bringing energy usage and efficiency to the forefront of many minds. It is surprising just how much energy and cost can be saved by using real-time people density data to optimize heating, ventilation and air conditioning, reducing the consumption to what is actually needed rather than what might be expected. And of course, the global pandemic also raised awareness of air quality. Building owners are therefore eager to provide sufficient ventilation to ensure healthy and enjoyable user experiences and to encourage people back into their premises.

Within customer care and public services, our devices are used to help organizations to understand their peak periods and quieter times, enabling them to plan and staff accordingly. Meanwhile, other clients use the devices to understand usage and utilization of their real estate assets, enabling them to plan for and extract the best ROI they can. Those same clients might also use our devices to understand how busy their restroom facilities have been and when to next clean them, or when their restaurants are most frequented.

Terabee’s people counting solutions have been found to reduce energy consumption when introduced at the Centre International de Conferences Geneve. Can you please tell us more about the connection between occupancy monitoring and sustainability?

It’s an interesting topic. Until you go to visit the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) installation of a major conference center, or building, you don’t appreciate the size, complexity and energy consumption of such installations.

What typically happens is that rooms, zones or buildings run their HVAC according to how many people they think might be in attendance, rather than how many are actually in attendance. Often, the Facilities Management team does not know how many people are registered to an event, or using a space at any one time, so they run the HVAC system at the level required if the room or facility was at full capacity. But even small reductions in HVAC output can create some substantial cost savings. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to run HVAC systems according to the actual capacity rather than the estimated one. Zones with low usage can be turned down and zones with higher usage can be turned up to ensure the best possible air and temperature conditions for those present. In this regard, facilities managers can reduce energy expenditure, reduce wear and tear on HVAC systems and contribute to the carbon emission targets of their organization.

Aside from monitoring occupancy, you also offer the technology for level monitoring, industrial automation and sensor modules. Where do you see Terabee growing in the next five years?

We see lots of potential in the smart buildings space, with occupancy monitoring, people counting, air quality and other indices being used for real time decision making, real estate and resource planning and energy efficiency. As the costs reduce, more user cases become viable in sectors that might previously not have wanted to invest in this area.

Thank you for your time, Greg Watts. Best of luck to you and Terabee!

Keep up with Terabee on LinkedIn and read about other successful businesses here.

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