by Rebecca Merrett

UTS Faculty of Engineering and IT to embed sensors, data visualisation

Jun 06, 20145 mins
Big DataData CenterEducation Industry

The University of Technology, Sydney is preparing for the opening of its Faculty of Engineering and IT building located near Broadway, which will have embedded sensors and a data visualisation room.

The building is expected to open mid-year and is part of the university’s $1 billion building program for the city campus.

The sensors will feed through data on the building’s water usage and power consumption to monitor the efficiency of the building. Researchers will also use this data collected from solar panels, wind turbines and hydrogen fuel cells to be analysed.

The data will also feed into the university’s digital signage displays, which will show information on the university’s green initiatives. Updated timetables and events will also be displayed.

The 5 Green Star rated building is expected to deliver an energy saving of 30 to 45 per cent, a potable water saving of 20 to 30 per cent and a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over benchmark tertiary educational buildings with similar functional spaces.

“We are looking at, as a university, how to create a smart campus, so using information from all the different sources that we have to help us manage power consumption,” said UTS CIO Chrissy Burns, who was a speaker at this year’s EduTECH event in Brisbane.

“For example, last year we installed some software that helps us manage power consumption by computers that are used on people’s desk.”

Data visualisation and BI

The 3D data visualisation room, dubbed Data Arena, will give researchers a 360 degree graphical display of large, complex data sets. Researchers in the fields of robotics, computer and human-centred design would benefit most from the virtual-reality-like environment.

The university is also using a data modelling methodology for its data warehouse called Data Vault.

“Target data models are abstracted in such a way that many elements follow a pattern. This means that once new subject areas have been modelled, no manual coding is required – the programmers configure the data warehouse to automate the generation of the code that builds and maintains this new area of analysis. We have already seen a 90 per cent reduction in the time taken to create new mappings,” said Burns.

“While we rely heavily on advanced features of the on-premise software stack in which our technical staff are already familiar, this environment is not optimised for large scale data manipulations.

“In order to leverage emerging cloud technologies that are purpose built for large-scale analytics, we intend on establishing a hybrid cloud environment, in which we continue to leverage the on-premise system for automated mapping from source systems, and then replicate the incremental changes to the highly scalable analytic database in the cloud,” she added.

Read: UTS library goes underground with robotics.

Wiring the building

Burns said the amount of cable that has gone into Faculty of Engineering and IT, as well as the new Science and Graduate School of Health and Business School that are also to open this year, would “stretch to Tweed Heads and back”.

“In determining the wireless coverage required for the new buildings, we conducted a radio signal survey in conjunction with UXC and Alcatel-Lucent. This enabled us to determine the number of wireless access points we require and optimal placement of the WAPs,” Burns said.

The university’s access points are forecast to grow to 1,627 at the end of 2014, up from 920 in 2012 and 434 in 2011.

“We allowed for three wireless devices per student. We use a range of WAPs, which can each handle between 100 and 300 simultaneous connections depending on the model deployed.

“To cater for the large number of connections, we use Network Address Translation (NAT) to put our wireless connections in a private network, which is then routed through to our main network through the firewall.”

Alcatel-Lucent, which uses Aruba equipment and technology, is supplying wireless connectivity to the university campus.

Burns said it’s difficult to predict the growth rate of wireless devices, including wearables. She is using integrated wireless and network monitoring tools and OmniVista 3600 Air Manager to help determine in future whether to increase the bandwidth and capacity of existing access points and upgrade them to higher performance access points in certain areas.

Burns added an interesting trend she is seeing at the university is that 5 GHz use has now overtaken the older 2.4 GHz spectrum and only 19 per cent of users now use the ubiquitous 802.11g connection mode.

High performance computing facility expansion

The university is also expanding the use of its high performance computing facility. Initially used in the Faculty of Engineering and IT, the facility is set to becomes more accessible to a wide range of faculties, Burns said.

The facility, called the ARC LAB and developed within the Faculty of Engineering and IT, is designed using a friendly graphical interface and doesn’t require researchers to understand the relevant command language.

“Just to give you an example of how that would make a difference: During this week a researcher from our Faculty of Science started using that facility for some work she was doing, which on her local computer had previously taken 24 hours to perform a particular function, and it only took two minutes on the high performance computing facility,” Burns said.

“One of the challenges for researchers is there’s such a broad range of tools and facilities, each one might have a different means of access. It can be quite complex to work out firstly what you need and secondly the training to use that particular tool. So that particular facility makes it very straight forward for researchers to get up and running has proven to be really valuable.”

This article was updated for the purpose of adding information.