Smart Buildings

Leading Building Automation Players Invest in Occupancy Analytics

In this Research Note, we examine two strategic investments in workplace occupancy sensing and analytics platforms by leading building automation incumbent players, Carrier Global Corporation and Johnson Controls. Sensors and sensing platforms in the commercial office space are technology solutions being adopted for occupancy analytics, people counting and location services. As a result of the adoption of revised working styles such as flexible working and hybrid working for office employees during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, workspace management tools and real-time occupancy data are needed more than ever, to ensure that decision-making around future commercial real estate strategies is grounded in reality. Founded in 2019, Butlr, a Burlingame, California-based MIT Media Lab spinout developing sensors that use body heat to estimate office occupancy, raised $20 million in a Series A round with participation from Carrier Global Corporation through its newly established corporate venture capital unit, Carrier Ventures.  “Butlr’s technology, when integrated with the Abound cloud-based digital platform, will present building owners and […]

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In this Research Note, we examine two strategic investments in workplace occupancy sensing and analytics platforms by leading building automation incumbent players, Carrier Global Corporation and Johnson Controls.

Sensors and sensing platforms in the commercial office space are technology solutions being adopted for occupancy analytics, people counting and location services. As a result of the adoption of revised working styles such as flexible working and hybrid working for office employees during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, workspace management tools and real-time occupancy data are needed more than ever, to ensure that decision-making around future commercial real estate strategies is grounded in reality.

Founded in 2019, Butlr, a Burlingame, California-based MIT Media Lab spinout developing sensors that use body heat to estimate office occupancy, raised $20 million in a Series A round with participation from Carrier Global Corporation through its newly established corporate venture capital unit, Carrier Ventures. 

“Butlr’s technology, when integrated with the Abound cloud-based digital platform, will present building owners and operators with additional real-time insights to make confident decisions to improve energy efficiency while ensuring occupant wellness,” said Jennifer Anderson, senior vice president of strategy at Carrier.

Butlr’s proprietary low-cost thermal imaging system pairs with advanced AI to gain insight into people’s movements in physical space, providing actionable intelligence in the workplace and in homes, all while safeguarding privacy. The Butlr sensors recognize an individual’s heat signature which is unique, but cannot be used to trace one’s identity, unlike cameras that track and record faces. To date, Butlr has raised $29.1 million in capital.

Carrier’s building automation businesses are aiming to grow through digitally-enabled services and aftermarket revenues. Their Abound suite of connected solutions, launched in April 2021, is based on an open technology IoT platform that aggregates data from different systems and sensors and provides building owners, operators, and occupants transparency into relevant and contextual insights about air quality, thermal comfort, and other performance data. 

Via its corporate venture capital arm, JCI Ventures, Johnson Controls participated in an $8M Pre-Series A funding round of XY Sense, an Australian headquartered workplace software and hardware provider.

“XY Sense’s anonymous occupancy sensor technology can be integrated into our OpenBlue digital offering, a complete suite of connected solutions that delivers impactful sustainability, healthy occupant experiences and respectful safe and secure environments for our global customer base.” said Rain Cui, Senior Director of JCI Ventures.

Co-founded in 2016 by Serraview co-founders, Alex Birch and Luke Murray, XY Sense has designed and engineered a smart sensor platform to help businesses access and act on office space utilization data in real-time. The platform consists of proprietary computer vision sensor hardware and an AI powered analytics platform, where property teams can monitor workspace utilization in real-time as well as customize dashboards including meeting room occupancy, desk utilization, on a given floor, with teams physically interacting with the office environment.

Since launching in Australia in 2020, XY Sense has experienced rapid growth and customer adoption, now powering workplaces in 14 countries for clients such as CBRE, Xero, Mirvac, Fidelity International and leading financial and pharmaceutical firms. Demand for the technology has significantly increased post-COVID-19 with leading global employers reviewing their real estate strategies. In 2021, XY Sense experienced a 300% increase in revenue following global rollouts of its sensor technology, and as of June 30, 2022 had already doubled its annual revenue.

Johnson Controls launched a comprehensive suite of different platforms and AI-powered analytics designed to manage various elements of BIoT functionality in August 2020, including: 

  • OpenBlue Healthy Buildings module, which seeks to provide support the return to work with contact tracing, social distancing monitoring, space utilization and mapping, and indoor air quality monitoring.
  • OpenBlue Companion, which supports room or desk booking, streamlined building access and wayfinding as well as occupant control over light and heat settings.

Memoori's 2022 Global Digital Workplace Report analyses the heightened levels of external investment in occupancy analytics solutions in 2021. Two standout rival companies, Density and VergeSense have received unprecedented funding rounds in the last two years, as our November 2021 article highlighted.

Both funding rounds announced this week are an indication of the rapidly growing market demand for digital workplace solutions. And the desire of leading building automation vendors to incorporate such technology into their own Building Internet-of-Things (BIoT) platforms

Memoori forecasts that the Digital Workplace market will grow rapidly at 20% per year between 2021 and 2026. 

This article was written by Daphne Tomlinson, Senior Research Associate at Memoori.

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