Breaking down Ryerson’s plan for a smart campus

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By Donald Higney

Ryerson University has partnered with Vancouver-based system integration company FuseForward to help turn the downtown campus into a “smart” school—meaning the area will be optimized with streaming data from smart devices and sensors. 

“It’s a partnership between industry and academia to take new technologies to market,” said Mark Damm, the CEO/CTO of FuseForward, in a Dec. 10 virtual presentation called “Building Smart Infrastructure: An Inside Look at the Ryerson Smart Campus.” 

Ryerson has been working with FuseForward on smart building systems and infrastructure since 2016, according to Ryerson central communications.  

Even before then, the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science (FEAS) had similarly been working with facilities management and development (FMD) to “develop algorithms and research that drive down energy consumption on our campus,” said Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi. 

“The vision that’s driving the research we’re doing is a world in a future where all of our infrastructure, our buildings and networks, all work together”

The goal of the smart campus project is to optimize Ryerson’s campus by using predictive analytics, as well as sensors and monitors, to improve environmental performance and reduce traffic congestion and energy costs while still being open for the development of smart buildings.   

Assistant architecture professor Jenn McArthur is one of the FEAS members who has been working with FMD. McArthur’s work and research make her an expert in smart building systems and sustainable building design. She has secured over $3 million in grants for smart campus development.

“The vision that’s driving the research we’re doing is a world in a future where all of our infrastructure, our buildings and networks, all work together,” said McArthur in the presentation. 

McArthur touched on the importance of the technology to identify smaller problems, like a broken piece of a machine, before it leads to something greater. “We want to be able to predict issues before they happen. We want to be able to predict failures before they’re catastrophic.”  

FuseForward uses automated information technology (IT) systems to make businesses run more efficiently. The four areas of automated IT research they are facilitating for Ryerson’s smart campus are smart mobility, smart buildings, smart infrastructure and sensor fusion and digital twins.

“The smart campus project aligns with Ryerson’s goal to support larger city building activities,” said Lachemi. “It positions Ryerson as a key partner for communities and cities that are seeking holistic sustainability solutions, as well as industry partners seeking to advance smart building technology research and development.” 

The Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex (DCC) has been the testing site for the new technology, complimenting the building’s pre-existing building automation system.   

Currently, the DCC building has a few different “smart” features. It uses radiant heating, a system of energy where heat can be supplied directly to the floorboards or wall panels of a building. The bathrooms use a greywater system—meaning any water collected from rain, showers or taps can be treated and used to flush toilets. Offices are temperature controlled using chill beam technology, another energy-efficient medium. 

Perhaps closest to the smart campus vision is DCC’s “comprehensive sub-metering system” and carbon dioxide sensors. The system collects real-time data about the buildings’ energy use which is then examined to create new opportunities for sustainability and energy efficiency for future construction projects. The sensors identify the amount of carbon dioxide being used in the building and emit fresh air as needed. 

Smart-Data Safety

Since the start of the pandemic, a new area of study has sprung up when it comes to turning Ryerson into a smart campus: the study of a safe return. While campus has been operating at a minimal capacity, the team found it useful to gauge how often or rigourously spaces need to be cleaned. Using some of the technology already in place at Ryerson such as occupancy sensors and predictive algorithms, a schedule can be put in place for the cleaning of buildings. 

“There’s a really great opportunity for smart buildings and smart campuses to help to make these [spaces] not just smart, but also healthy and a lot safer in this current pandemic context,” said McArthur.   

One of the challenges of the project is that the majority of the buildings on Ryerson’s campus were not designed to be smart buildings. Some of Ryerson’s buildings heavily predate smart technology such as Kerr Hall, which was built in the 1960s. 

However, the repurposing of older buildings has taken place at Ryerson before. Last year, The Centre for Urban Innovation (CUI) was opened, which incorporates the first pharmacy school in Canada—the Ontario College of Pharmacy. The architecture of the CUI preserves the original three stories of the pharmacy school and has added new additions on the north and east sides of the building, as well as a green roof. The site was also the home of the university’s Theatre School from 1971 to 2016.

Instead of collecting new data, the team will begin by making use of the networks of data that are already available as they set up the newer smart technology.  

Another challenge will be ensuring the security of the network. Ryerson has a one-way connection across a local area network (LAN) firewall, while also installing a virtual private network (VPN). 

“Without this firewall and one-way connection, you could actually go through the roof [of the DCC] and hack through this and it would expose the entire building automation system to remote hacking,” said McArthur.   

“One of the greatest fears of smart buildings is that somebody is going to be able to come in and hack into a thermostat or a Wi-Fi node or a temperature sensor or a CCTV camera or something and use that to get into the security system and hack through,” she continued.  

Managing the volume of data associated with smart buildings is another significant task. DCC currently experiences over 5 billion changes of value per year. Those “values” can refer to anything from the temperature changing or lights turning on and off.  

“There are all sorts of different types of data. So we need to sort it, we need to make sense of it,” said McArthur.

FuseForward is currently working with Simon Fraser University in British Columbia on their Big Data Initiative and has worked with other schools such as York and Brock Universities, University of British Columbia (UBC), University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) and Mohawk College. 

No official statement has been made by Ryerson about the project; however, Lachemi said the university will be sharing more details “in the coming days.” 

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