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Business trends

Your office's air conditioner is watching you

Japan's Daikin to collect and sell data on how employees interact

Daikin Industries thinks Japan's humdrum offices are ripe for a consulting service that would use information collected from sensors on air conditioners to tell companies how efficient their workplaces are.

TOKYO -- Air conditioner maker Daikin Industries plans to let its air conditioners gather data on employee movements and their work environments, aiming to start a new service that will advise clients on how to create better workplaces.

A sensor installed on Daikin's ceiling-mounted air conditioners will gather data on office activity, lighting and noise levels. The sensor can measure how employees move around the office and how fast they walk. The information will be used to monitor employees' health and to enhance workplace security.

Data on activity levels will be used to check for signs of people suffering from poor mental or physical health, and to create better seating arrangements, for example. Lighting and noise-level data can help the company come up with proposals for better layouts of office furniture.

The service Daikin envisions is the latest example of a manufacturer seeking to commercialize the information it has at its disposal, using big data technologies. The information it gathers will be stored and processed in a cloud computing system managed by the company. 

Daikin hopes to work with around 10 partner companies, including office furniture makers, security companies and information technology specialists to develop the consulting service. Daikin would receive fees from partners for the use of its data.

One possibility is that Daikin will focus on supplying the raw information, while its partners would offer the actual consulting service. Daikin will hammer out details of the business by the end of fiscal 2018 and then begin testing. The goal is to commercialize the service in fiscal 2019.

Daikin has strength in the market for commercial air conditioners used in small and midsize buildings. It has 600,000 to 700,000 units in operation.

Offices generally have at least one air conditioner, which is usually installed in the ceiling in a central location. Because it has an independent power source, the edge of an air conditioner is the perfect spot to place a sensor, according to the company.

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