Dec 11 2019

How Arizona State University Built a Smart Campus

Sensors, mobile apps and data are the foundation for smart parking and facilities management.

The Internet of Things has big potential for post-secondary campuses: Colleges are already using connected devices and sensors to save on HVAC costs and improve student security

But as the cost of IoT sensors falls — from an average of $1.30 back in 2004 to just 44 cents last year — institutions can now boost the scale and scope of their adoption to facilitate advances in communications, connections and community

The front line of this remote revolution is physical campus infrastructure. From parking lots to dining halls, solar power to football stadiums, here’s what happens when IoT comes to campus.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Smart City and Smart Campus collaborations move communities forward.

Smart Campus Sensors and Mobile Apps Streamline Parking Services

Digitally connected students don’t have time to waste. Not only are they leveraging university-built apps to facilitate their campus experience, they want better use of collected data to drive personalization and deliver increased value.

That’s the goal of Chris Richardson, deputy CIO for development, mobility and smart cities for Arizona State University. With more than 128,000 downloads of ASU’s mobile app, Richardson’s team has been developing new IoT initiatives to create multiple communication channels that enhance student and staff experience.

For example, ASU now combines parking lot entry and occupancy data to deliver color-coded availability via both mobile and web apps, allowing students and visitors to plan their travel accordingly. ASU technology staff also worked with a new campus dining provider to leverage open application program interfaces and deliver in-app information about student meal card balances, meal calorie counts and the operating hours of dining facilities.

As Richardson notes, while not every IoT deployment has a clear-cut business case, efforts to improve communication between IT and the rest of campus means that “IT is included at the table” when leaders tackle long-term tech strategy.

IoT deployments can also help colleges identify potential cost overruns and reduce the revenue risk of unexpected repairs. 

At ASU, energy sensors report on “campus metabolism.” For instance, how much energy are buildings using? Are solar installations living up to expectations? This helps facilities staff pinpoint key energy sinks and deploy new resources as needed to limit total spend.

MORE FROM EDTECH: The big Education impact of IoT’s smallest device.

Smart Campus Tech Refines ASU Stadium Management

Inside Sun Devil Stadium, meanwhile, ASU has deployed plumbing sensors capable of detecting if hot or cold water lines are being used and how long they’ve been on. Past a specific time threshold, the sensors trigger an alert to limit the risk of leaks or floods. 

The stadium also features IoT-enabled trash cans capable of sensing overall weight and notifying staff when they’re full. In addition, ASU has transformed one stadium suite into a piloting space that both showcases emerging IoT applications and provides valuable feedback for applying campus IoT initiatives at scale.

Campus culture is one of the most important factors for college students. In fact, new research found that “a sense of belonging” is key to academic success. For Richardson and ASU, the 54,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium offered the ideal testing ground for community-based IoT pilot projects. 

Using the ASU app, fans can light up their smartphones in unison in response to plays on the field or encouragement from the crowd, while sound sensors placed around the facility record cheering decibel levels from individual sections and then notify fans which section was loudest when the game is over.

Efforts are also underway to conduct visual sentiment analysis during games. Are fans only unhappy when things don’t go their team’s way, or are other aspects of the stadium itself — from service to comfort to connectivity — positively or negatively impacting the experience?

Scale Smart Campus Initiatives to Meet Strategic Initiatives

Richardson has a simple approach to campus IoT initiatives: “Think big but start small.” 

Thinking big means going beyond campus borders with recent events like the Smart Region Summit Flagship Event, which featured a week of breakout sessions and brainstorming around IoT deployments. Along with discussions of 3D campus mapping and in-classroom virtual reality, ASU also made inroads with a new partnership to help facilitate Phoenix metro area smart technologies.

Starting small, meanwhile, means tackling on-campus concerns such as building access. By leveraging smartphone near-field communications via the ASU mobile app, Richardson and his team have combined ease of use with identity-based authentication: Students and staff simply place their devices near NFC-enabled readers that confirm their identity and grant or restrict access based on current permissions.

While IoT technologies offer significant benefits for post-secondary campuses, getting decision-makers and affected departments on board isn’t always easy. Richardson points to four key challenges:

  •  Seats at the table: IT departments “need a seat at the strategy level of the table to help make smart decisions,” according to Richardson. Here, small-scale pilot projects with measurable returns can help put IoT on the C-suite radar.
  • Siloed data: Campus departments each have their own priorities — and their own “silos” of data. IT teams need to establish best practices across IoT deployments to add value, standardize implementation and break down silo walls.
  • Stakeholder concerns: Richardson notes that IT “sometimes forgets the upstream or downstream impacts” of new technologies. For example, many university departments have been running legacy solutions for decades. Unless IT staff can articulate IoT benefits and offer demonstrable proof that new solutions won’t complicate current processes, smart technologies are a tough sell.
  • Strategy at scale: Every IoT initiative is different: Parking sensors, connected trash cans and building access each require different approaches to deliver success. For Richardson, scaling IoT strategy across campus means identifying common concerns — such as connection strength, bandwidth issues or authentication — and reusing these lessons to “solve the next problem quicker.”

As costs fall and use cases rise, there’s an expanding role for smart technologies on campus. From improving communications to controlling spend, from building community to crafting new connections, an IT-led, board-backed approach can crack data silos, develop new strategies and drive deployment at scale.

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