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A Successful Czech-Finnish Startup Provides Metrics for Offices’ Air

Article February 26, 2019  |  Text by Lukáš Rozmajzl Text by Lukáš Rozmajzl

We each breathe over 10,000 liters of air every day. Do you know what’s inside that air? The Finnish company named 720° is able to measure it. Their project, at whose beginnings stood a Czech named Tomáš Novotný, is improving the atmosphere of offices and more with the power of big data.

Why is the company named 720°, actually? What does the name mean?

We know of multiple companies that have included “360°” in the names of their products or projects. And we answer in jest that we’d like to be twice as good.

And the serious theme here?

We took inspiration from physics. Things that we can see with our naked eyes need to be rotated 360° to return to their original state. But certain microparticles, too small to see, must be rotated twice in order to do so. This is a fact that is unintuitive and that would remain unknown were it not for measurements.

This bears some similarity to our business and to environmental analysis. While we all perceive our environment, we do not truly see it. At 720°, our goal is to measure and describe what is happening in this environment.

What, then, forms the core of your solution?

We help companies to choose good infrastructure and sensors that will generate good data. Because good data is the only data worth working with. But the trouble is, when you install several dozen sensors for ten different factors into a small five-floor building, it’s not humanly possible to regularly check all of their outputs and tell what’s happening.

That’s why our service’s foundation lies in software, data collection, data analysis, and precise interpretation. So that we can provide the manager who is responsible for the given environment with specific recommendations on what action to take and what impact it will have on the environment. Without having to think about such questions as “What’s a ‘VOC?’” [VOC’s are Volatile Organic Compounds – eds.]

 

 

DUST – AND NOISE AS WELL

From what source do these VOC’s enter the air?

They’re generally generated inside of a building itself. Construction materials generate them, for example, but they can also come from perfumes, food in the kitchen, or the packages that someone has brought in.

You as the facility manager want to know: Is this something that’s only in our interior temporarily? Does it have a potentially negative impact on our users? Can I eliminate it using ventilation or a change to people’s behavior? Should I keep it from entering the building? You’re able to identify this once you have those five floors of the building with sensors deployed in them.

So how do your people interpret the data?

We have professionals on our team with doctorates in the appropriate areas, including healthy buildings and e.g. physics and chemistry; we also externally cooperate with academics. Because every VOC-type gas or substance has its own behavioral characteristics. After this, the individual curves can be categorized. This is then work for our data analysts; using statistical methods and machine learning, they determine whether something important is involved and whether the source of the substance is outdoors or associable with a particular floor, or even perhaps a particular person.

Alongside basic characteristics such as temperature and humidity, and the concentration of CO2, VOC’s, and dust particles, what other factors in offices do you typically measure?

We’re currently able to process 12 parameters. Not all of our clients utilize all of them. Some of them are specifically tied to a particular environment. For example, you only need to measure carbon dioxide when your building has underground parking, because this hazardous substance is among the emissions from internal-combustion engines.

Noise-level and acoustics measurements also come up often. We don’t just measure decibels; we’re also able to divide up the noise into two different types based on frequencies. In open-space offices, we can measure how much time is spent talking and how loudly people the people in them are talking, because people are far more bothered by human speech and its comprehensibility than by noise per se.

FIND THE PROBLEM

What’s a typical problem with which your clients turn to you?

Most often they come to us for two reasons: First, if people’s dissatisfaction with the given environment is growing and they wish to improve it. Second, when they’re turning to us with requests like this: “We think our building and work environment are very good; we’d like verify that and show it to people. Can you make some measurements to prove just how high in quality our offices are?”

But certain factors, such as e.g. air temperature, are subjective. On what basis do you advise a certain temperature for an office?

Until recently the common practice was for an administrator or developer to decide that the temperature in an office would be, say, 22° or 25° C, and then that was just how it was. We try to communicate about environmental quality with everyone in a building. We enable them to give feedback on whether or not they like a given setup.

You can then observe, to put it simply, that e.g. the people on the third floor like a higher temperature than the rest. That may be because they’re all the same gender, all the same age, or are all simply used to wearing lighter clothing. You can then raise the temperature in that specific part of the building while lowering it for the people on the first floor. You can optimize it.

Tomáš Novotný / BIO

A graduate of the Brno University of Technology, where he studied economics and management. He also studied business at Aalto University in Helsinki but cut these studies short when he realized that he preferred to do business in real life. Since 2010 he has been living in Finland, where he founded 720°.

720°

• Since 2012, this company has been analyzing and improving the air quality of buildings’ environments. The company has won several awards for startups, such as Best IoT Startup 2016 in Scandinavia. It employs about 20 people.

• 720° has acquired investments and grants in the amount of about 100 million crowns from sources that include several international investors, Finland’s national technology agency, and the European Commission (within its Horizon 2020 program).

• “At present, 95% of our installations are in office buildings. In the near future, we would like to also expand more strongly into schools, where we already have our first clients, and into new fields. And also, to geographically focus on the market in North America,” says the company’s co-founder and CEO Tomáš Novotný.