Investa has paired up with the University of Sydney to develop SAMBA - Sentient Ambient Monitoring of Buildings in Australia, a world-first new device measuring and providing instant data on features of an office such as its light, air, sound and temperature.
The coffee cup-sized device that sits on desks is a key to more efficient use of lighting and heating, as well as the measurement of other factors affecting the ability of occupants to work in office situations, such a carbon dioxide, sound and air circulation.
For corporate landlords, whose business is evolving from merely selling space to competing with workplace environments that keep staff happier and working more productively, the ability to measure their indoor environment quality is crucial, said Shaun Condon, Investa's general manager of environment and safety.
"If we can manage the buildings more efficiently and demonstrably prove that to tenants, [we can] be better landlords and attract more tenants to our space," Mr. Condon told The Australian Financial Review.
There's a race on by landlords to carve out competitive advantages in the fast-evolving world of office leasing. Investa rival Mirvac has already said it plans to use the SAMBA at its new 200 George Street head office. But Investa's partnership with the university's Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Lab gives a two-year period of exclusivity to research office environments using the data the device provides. Investa has funded development of the device.
SAMBA's ability to track parameters such as air temperature, humidity, light, carbon monoxide and pollutants emitted from building materials such as formaldehyde, do not quantify the link between indoor environment quality and work productivity, but permit further research into it.
"That is the holy grail for landlords and tenants alike," Mr. Condon said. "I don't think anyone's really in a position yet to qualify that link between all these variables and hard dollar productivity benefits, but that is the purpose of the development of SAMBA and the research agreements we've got in place with Sydney University. It's widely accepted the indoor environment quality is linked to productivity."
Data captured by the devices is wirelessly relayed in real-time to the university's IEQ lab, analysed and made available to users in real-time by dashboards.
"This technology enables us to really understand what the environment is, what it's doing in a much more detailed way than we ever could before," IEQ lab director Richard de Dear said. "Previously the best we could do was plug the old thermostat sitting on the wall, which would tell us the temperature of the wall – not even the temperature of the space."
The system can tell if a floor is unoccupied, for example, by measuring its CO2 levels.
"If a floor is unoccupied, there is no need to ventilate it at all," Prof De Dear said. "We can turn the lights off."
The device doesn't yet connect into building management systems, permitting automatic adjustment of ambient controls, but that was the longer-term aim, Prof de Dear said.
Different landlords have different aims for the technology. Mirvac is using SAMBA as part of its bid to get Gold WELL certification, a US measure that measures a building on a broader range of factors such as indoor environment, health and wellness.
Investa, which has been trialling the device at its 126 Phillip Street head office in Sydney, hasn't made a decision yet on signing up for WELL certification.
"What we probably will realise in a couple of years' time is that there are other facets you need to measure," he said. "We're a part way on that journey."
Sydney University, which is producing the first commercial batch of 200 devices itself, is seeking backers to ramp that up. Prof de Dear said China was a key potential market. Mr. Condon said Investa hadn't made a decision about whether to support SAMBA's commercial production, but that it would be a significant tool for landlords.
"This technology is going to drive the way buildings are operated into the future," he said.