Across the Middle East, smart cities and campuses are investing in the future by leveraging IoT at scale. At the University of Birmingham Dubai, the campus is undergoing a transformation that demonstrates how integrating IoT sensors, facility management software and data analysis can drive cost optimisation, create a better user experience, and introduce new business opportunities.
The roll-out of the smart campus project — which is being run in parallel with a similar initiative at the university’s Edgbaston, UK, home base — offers possibilities that go beyond the academic world. The immense amount of data collected by emerging IoT technologies offers insights with applications for businesses across the Middle East.
The smart campus project aims to address several key business problems, namely reducing carbon emissions, responding to operational challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing costs and increasing revenue, and improving user experience for the university’s staff and students.
After a competitive procurement process in 2020, the university selected Siemens to design and deliver the IT for the energy-efficiency project, supported by the University of Birmingham’s Estates Office and IT services departments.
The first phase of the project commenced in early 2022, equipping the university’s 25 most energy-intensive buildings with integrated IoT sensors, LED lighting, and thermostatic radiator valves. Siemens’ Enlightened IoT applications suite provides core lighting and space management capabilities.
“All of the 25 buildings will remain live and operational, so careful planning and an extensive communication plan to inform, consult, and engage users will be central to managing any potential disruption,” says Trevor Payne, the University of Birmingham’s director of estates. “This will save the university money, ensure compliance, and will support the first phase of the university’s transition to net zero carbon.”
Siemens also created a smart campus app, which is set to be launched in the first half of 2022. The app will be connected to Siemens’ Desigo CC building management software — which provides the central interface for the IoT system — and will allow users to invite visitors to campus, reserve work spaces, adjust lighting and cooling levels, and view points of interest nearby.
IoT sensors: a flexible solution
The IoT sensors use the Enlighted system to link buildings to provide data about the way that spaces are used and the way that traffic flows through them, so that the campus can optimise the use of space, select areas for co-working and collaboration, and identify and anticipate areas for infrastructure maintenance.
The sensors optimise the use of electricity by turning lighting and HVAC systems on and off when needed, providing reports on outages and energy savings in real time to administrators. Daylight harvesting technology automatically detects the amount of natural light available in a space and brightens or dims lights when needed to maximise productivity in work spaces and enhance comfort in recreational areas — as well as offering energy savings of 27% in offices and 29% in education centres, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found.
The implementation will also improve campus security. Geofencing and badge tagging help restrict private and sensitive areas only to authorised users; when used in conjunction with security management software and apps, the technology helps staff and students respond in emergency situations and get to safety.
Leveraging analytics for long-term growth
Beyond immediate cost and energy savings, one of the most valuable outcomes of the project is a constant stream of data, offering continuous input about energy and space usage, occupancy, traffic flow, equipment condition, and user behaviour. Creating strong data ecosystems through IoT benefits campuses, smart cities, and businesses by accelerating growth through strategic insights.
The University of Birmingham wants to transform the campus into a “living lab” where the data gathered can be used for research and development activities as well as applied learning opportunities for students. One component of the smart campus project is a Siemens PhD fellowship that will enable researchers to use the information gathered by the system to undertake projects related to data, technology, urban systems, and environmental sustainability.
Universities offer a diverse array of spaces with unique needs, including classrooms, offices, research facilities, auditoriums, and other recreational areas like athletic, leisure, and dining facilities. Implementing a large-scale project requires communication with a large number of different stakeholders in order to address the unique needs of each individual area on campus and transform the way that they operate.
“At a high level, we believe there to be many synergies between designing and delivering a smart campus and that of a smart city, not least the general aims and objectives, like improving user experience and general well-being, to reduce carbon emissions, and to create the optimum pathway to net zero carbon emissions. Many of the challenges and the opportunities are applicable to both,” Payne said.
Learning from smart cities
In line with its 2050 net-zero goal, the UAE is paving the way with some of the most advanced IoT projects in the Middle East including public transportation, electricity, water, telecoms, and smart city initiatives.
The smart campus transformation at the University of Birmingham Dubai and Edgbaston has potential applications for companies across the Middle East, which can benefit from the cost and energy savings as well as improved efficiency, security, comfort, and productivity for employees. A McKinsey report examined the economic value potential of IoT for different business settings and found IoT integration is projected to create $240 billion to $500 billion of value for office environments and up to $1.3 trillion for factories by 2030. The transition required a shift in the university’s way of working and approach to collaboration.
“From experience, there are several important facets to any organisations starting out on this journey,” Payne says. “Research, in order to support the creation of new knowledge and the transfer of knowledge, is essential for long-term collaboration across and between sectors, cities, and continents. Long-term partnerships with industry will be crucial to implementing technology at scale and managing this technology in a way that is sustainable — growing ever more important, given the speed at which modern technology is advancing. And finally, organisations will need a clear vision together with a culture of innovation. Not all smart campus initiatives will be pertinent indefinitely, however, establishing a culture where people are encouraged to share ideas, collaborate, and push boundaries will be essential to fostering the ecosystems required to support a truly smart campus.”
Investing for energy savings
The smart campus transformation yielded immediate cost and energy savings of 5%, equivalent to 2,856 tons of CO2. But the valuable data generated by the university’s integration of IoT sensors may present the greatest returns on investment in the years to come. “Anonymous data and information gathered from these new technologies help the university to identify potential building issues before they impact end-user experience. By spotting possible issues before they become a major problem, this will help to offset some of the reactive pressures on various university teams, enabling staff to better plan, prepare, and make informed decisions on how best to take corrective action,” Payne says.
“Our current and future smart campus innovations will enhance the teaching and learning experience, improve research impact and outcomes, and drive operational improvements in the day-to-day running of our estate — ensuring we deliver a campus that is both sustainable and fit for the future.”