When I think about integrated building systems, I jump to commercial buildings. But it occurred to me that healthcare facilities could be a very important application. To look into that, I interviewed Dwight Stewart, Founder and CTO, Igor, Inc. (West Des Moines, IA). Igor’s flagship product, Nexos, is a PoE-based IoT smart building platform that incorporates the hardware, software, and cloud analytics components to form a digital building 'backbone'.

Tech Briefs: What types of facilities are good candidates for integrated building systems?

Dwight Stewart: Although we’re seeing office buildings moving forward, we’re definitely seeing an increase in healthcare business.

Tech Briefs: Could you describe your system?

Figure 1. The Nexos system architecture. (Image courtesy of Igor, Inc.)

Dwight Stewart: Figure 1 illustrates our system architecture. Nexos is our centralized IoT platform, which can interconnect and control disparate technologies and systems within a smart building, including lighting, safety, sensory, and security. It uses the security and reliability of the Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) structured cable technology as its backbone, while retaining support and compatibility with other leading market protocols. As you can see in the figure, our node is the basic building block of the system. You can connect any number of sensors, actuators, and other devices to a single node, limited only by the PoE power capacity of 90 watts. If one node uses less than the full power, it can be daisy chained to another.

Once you connect a node to the network, it shows up in our on-site software platform by means of the Nexos gateway. The gateway integrates all of the devices on each node with a system of standard or custom APIs and plugins, as well as the cloud. The automation functions are all performed through the gateway, as well.

Tech Briefs: How could this be utilized in a healthcare setting?

Dwight Stewart: It depends on the context; let’s talk about senior care, and first look at a resident room. There are different kinds of facilities: hospitals, long-term care, independent care, nursing homes, and memory care. In those different types, you’ll have different levels of engagement from the staff.

In the patient rooms, falls are a major issue. So, one of the things we can do is have a bed sensor connected to our PoE node. Then, if someone gets out of the bed in the middle of the night, our application can turn on the lights, to say 30% brightness, so a person can could see without being blinded by full brightness — that would make it less likely for them to trip. There are motion sensors in the bathroom that are typically just used for turning lights on and off. However, if you’re not in bed in the middle of the night and the motion sensor in the bathroom has not been activated after a few minutes has gone by, that’s probably a sign you fell. That, in turn could send an alarm to a nursing station. This could be implemented by creating a plug-in and loading it into the local software through an API.

Figure 2. Sensors in a senior care room. (Image courtesy of Igor, Inc.)

You can also have a bracelet or some sort of Bluetooth wearable that can allow a person to press a button, which would send a signal wirelessly through our system to a nearby PoE node to notify someone to go check on that person.

That same wearable can be used for real-time location services, which can be used for a number of things. One is, the patient doesn’t have to carry a key, which is especially important for memory-care patients. The system could automatically lock the door behind them when they leave their room. In a memory-care facility, there are likely to be other memory impaired patients who might wander into your room when you are not there. So when you leave, if you keep your wearable with you, it will allow you go about your day and when you come back, the system will know who you are, that you’re near your door, and will unlock it so you can enter.

A third thing with the wearable is to be able to know what kinds of activities a person is doing. Changes in patterns of behavior are a very significant sign of a change in health — mental health, physical health. So, if someone typically goes to the dining room at a certain time each day for half an hour and then watches TV with their friends, that profile is something their children or a healthcare advocate, even halfway across the country, can monitor for an abrupt change. You could also see that caretakers and nurses are spending time with them and you can be assured that they’re getting attention. For example, who has given her a bath today because they were both together in the bathroom — things that matter.

Tech Briefs: Could you say a bit more about your system architecture?

Dwight Stewart: What we try to do as much as possible is to link up to inexpensive off-the-shelf devices/sensors, which are usually USB. Most building control systems do not generally use USB — they are typically very proprietary. However, our PoE node can be hooked up to any sensors that are non-IP devices.

Tech Briefs: Could you describe your PoE node?

Dwight Stewart: It’s a small box that accepts PoE. With the Ethernet cable, you get 90 watts of power as well as data and network connectivity. The nodes are cyber-secure and can connect to USB devices, lights, and a host of different sensors.

Interconnected PoE nodes can be the digital fabric for a building. They can also be used to create a DC microgrid. As people are looking to re-electrify buildings with more sustainable technology, you’re going to hear more and more about DC microgrids. Since a solar panel supplies DC power, it would be much simpler and more efficient if there were DC power distribution throughout the building — PoE could be a means for implementing that.

Once you connect devices to the node, they show up in our software, which is included in our Nexos platform. On-site software connects to anything that’s already on the network as well as the things that are connected to our node. The node can also act as a wireless bridge to IP wireless devices. The software unifies all the devices in a building into one platform.

Figure 3. Dashboard for a mobile device. (Image courtesy of Igor, Inc.)

The third component in Nexos is cloud services, which allow you to share access with an individual device that’s in a building, a room, a space, an entire floor. You can give different permissions to people for sharing.

Our cloud also enables doing deep analytics that require a ton of processor power. It can enable you to see multiple buildings all in one place, by connecting to the internet.

APIs in the cloud could be used by a mobile app developer to enable you to control the lights in your room from a mobile device through the internet. If you’re doing some interesting analytics, for example, how many times someone went to the bathroom, that could be done with a cloud-based analytics package. The data in the cloud is owned by our customer, we just store it. But they can also connect that data to analytics that reside in a package they are already using, such as Microsoft Power BI, or other business operations software.

Tech Briefs: How would you sum up the benefits of your system for healthcare?

Dwight Stewart: Hospitals and other healthcare providers are facing a massive challenge to reduce costs, increase patient satisfaction and outcomes, and improve staff productivity. They need to do this all while demonstrating a higher level of environmental sustainability and improved patient care. The unique environments within hospitals must support the needs of patients that may have limited mobility and vision. Patient rooms require specialized lighting and controls, while other spaces, like operating rooms, include large equipment that can make it difficult to display light evenly and efficiently throughout the entire space.

Igor’s IoT platform provides control, visual acuity, and integration with building automation systems. This empowers the institution to improve the quality of care by carefully managing the patient’s circadian rhythms, managing noise levels with low lighting, maintaining comfortable temperatures depending on space and light, and ensuring that patients feel safe.

It enables hospital management to analyze and adjust lighting according to occupancy and locations. It also provides better space utilization by identifying occupied and unoccupied spaces for energy savings and determining what spaces are underutilized.

In summary, I would say it improves living and healthcare outcomes for patients, helps optimize staff productivity, and reduces energy costs.

This article was written by Ed Brown, Editor of Sensor Technology. For more information, visit here .


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This article first appeared in the March, 2021 issue of Sensor Technology Magazine.

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