New Microsoft Azure tech could let smart building operators model the links between people and objects at work

Office buildings and cranes dot the Seattle skyline. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

As Microsoft leans into its focus this year on cloud services for the internet of things, it’s introducing new platform services that will let companies setting up or operating smart buildings figure out where your perfectly adjusted desk chair that someone “borrowed” wound up.

The new “spatial intelligence” platform-as-a-service technology is being launched in private preview mode at the Realcomm IBcom conference in Las Vegas later on Tuesday. As the technology matures, Microsoft Azure users will be able to use it within the workplace to understand how people and devices move in and out of various spaces around the office, which could make capacity and resource planning easier, said Bert Van Hoof, partner and group product manager for Azure IoT.

Microsoft provided a glimpse of some of these spatial-orientation concepts during Build 2018, during which it demonstrated a futuristic office that understood when certain people entered a conference room and automatically added them to an ongoing meeting.

The yet-to-be-named Azure IoT spatial intelligence services build on similar ideas and are designed for commercial real-estate brokers and building operators that want to offer their tenants smart-building services. They will allow those operators to help their own customers track movable objects “down to understanding where a specific desk or chair is located” with sensors as well as set role-based access controls needed for security, Van Hoof said.

As the industrial internet of things becomes more and more prevalent, it’s not enough to just pack sensors and computing power into everything; you’ll need something to manage the associations between those objects, their owners, and their locations in order to extract relevant data, Van Hoof said.

“A specific focus with this is, how do you model the relationships between people, places, and devices?” Van Hoof said. Once you’ve established those relationships, it’s much easier to use software to look for better or more efficient ways to set up a building, he said.

Microsoft Azure partner Steelcase built a “heat map” of an office floor using new Azure IoT spatial intelligence technology. (Microsoft Image)

Microsoft is working with several partners during the private preview phase of these new services, including Steelcase, which specializes in furniture and workplace design, and CBRE Group, the massive commercial real estate company. Both of those partners designed mobile apps for their customers that help workers set up meetings and plan gatherings by inventorying available spaces.

As cloud vendors continue to look for ways to differentiate themselves, it seems Microsoft has decided to make a stand around the internet of things, judging by Build last month and the constant talk of the “intelligent edge” from Microsoft representatives over the last year or so. Industrial and commercial uses of the technology seem way ahead of the fabled smart home, which bodes well for cloud service providers.