An Australian company, using a wireless solution developed by UNSW, is rolling out technology across the country that allows buildings to monitor themselves and report problems autonomously – and even talk to your smartphone.

Known as EMIoT, the new wireless platform relies on LED exit signs as the backbone of a low-power meshed network that covers 99.9 percent of a building – even reaching underground carparks, pump systems and air conditioning.

And WBS Technology, which is commercialising the technology, has installed it in more than 10 apartment complexes – the latest being at Castle Hill in the northwest of Sydney. 

“All you need is to install the emergency lights, and they all automatically connect to each other, and that creates the network,” says Dr Wen Huof UNSW’s School of Computer Science and Engineering.

“The emergency lights can then be networked with other devices via various wireless technologies, including Bluetooth, which allows them to be controlled locally with a smartphone or via the Internet from anywhere in the world.”

Each exit sign or emergency light acts as a node in the network, passing information back and forth across a building. Once operating, other devices can be connected to the network – ventilation and pumping systems, security cameras and sensors, access doors to common areas and halls – allowing all of them to be controlled and monitored remotely.

EMIoT is an example of the much-vaunted Internet of Things (IoT) network, in which all manner of devices – computers, lights, cars, home appliances, etc – can connect, interact and exchange data seamlessly with each other and across the Internet.

At the retrofitted apartment building in Castle Hill, lights in the underground carpark dim when there’s no movement and brighten when there is, as do lights in hallways and common areas. If a light fitting fails, building managers know which one and how long it has been inoperative.

As the network expands, energy usage and the status of heating and cooling could be tracked, flow gauges report back on water usage and identify leaks, ventilation and pumping systems monitored remotely, and hot water systems checked for faults. Even residents trapped in an underground carpark would be able to communicate with building managers via an app.

 “We’re actually creating a smart building ecosystem,” says Luke Gibbeson of WBS Technology.

“There’s 14 buildings in this apartment complex, and we’ve installed a networked emergency lighting solution throughout them without any cabling and with no supporting network infrastructure.”

“Our communications gateway looks like a standard exit sign, which relays other emergency lights communication to the cloud and acts like a normal exit sign – so it’s a plug and play system. You can install in a new building or retrofit into an older one, like this one,” he says.

“As more IoT devices are installed, they can be added to the network, and all managed remotely via a cloud-based service, or locally through a smartphone app.”