Skip to main content

Q&A: Security Systems for Safe & Healthy Buildings

Insider Perspective: A Conversation with Honeywell International

Security systems have new roles to play in keeping us safe and healthy. Analytics were being deployed in building safety design even before COVID-19, but now they’re more crucial than ever. How do you use AI to add new features to existing systems, without compromising privacy or breaking the bank?

To answer these questions, we talked to Bruce Montgomery and Sheeladitya Karmakar from Honeywell, a global leader in building automation. They explained how guarding against theft is only the first step to making your building secure.

(To listen to the full interview, check out our podcast on healthy buildings.)

Building Safety Moves Toward Building Health

Kenton Williston: Tell us a bit about your roles at Honeywell.

Bruce Montgomery: I work in Honeywell’s enterprise commercial security business, and I manage and design, and take care of very large accounts and all of their needs.

Sheeladitya Karmakar: I’m the senior offering management leader at Honeywell Commercial Security. Apart from that, I’m also leading the Healthy Buildings Initiative from a commercial security standpoint for Honeywell.

Kenton Williston: You’ve touched on a point that’s on everyone’s mind, which is the idea of healthy buildings. What are some of the ways that the pandemic has changed the care abouts for your customers?

Bruce Montgomery: It has changed everything that we do tremendously. In our world, in the safety and security world, there have always been three traditional pillars of security: access control, video, and intrusion. Building safety, however, takes on a whole new look since the pandemic. And that means a variety of things: thermal detections, facial recognition to initiate contact tracing, social distancing analytics that are telling owners of buildings where groups are gathering too closely together.

Our mantra is: “How do we make it safer? How do we know it’s safer? And how do we keep it safer?” And all of this is happening with technology, and being able to: one, detect it and make it safer; two, be able to put reporting definition and checks and balances to know that it’s safer; and three, how do we address that, and educate those people coming into our buildings to wear things so that we can keep it safer.

The Challenges of Doing Safer, Faster

Kenton Williston: What can your customers do to deploy these new capabilities quickly, without having to totally throw out their existing systems? It just seems like such a huge lift.

Sheeladitya Karmakar: Our end customers are very wary of doing huge capital expenditures. So it is important to create solutions using existing infrastructure that they already have in order to address the compliance and sustainability needs of opening their businesses and keeping them open as they operate in this environment.

That is how they’re prioritizing their solutions right now. They’re using preventive technologies, such as software, that can take feed from existing camera infrastructure, or can be retrofitted on an access control system, which can then help them achieve these outcomes in order to keep their staff and visitors and building stakeholders safer within the building.

Kenton Williston: Your end customers are working with you, and also with system integrators, to implement and maintain these systems. As a system integrator, what can I do to facilitate all of these new priorities? And how can I help those end customers quickly ramp up their capabilities?

Bruce Montgomery: The first thing is they really need to get up to speed quickly with some of the newest trends and newest capabilities. Honeywell as a manufacturer—we take that upon ourselves as a responsibility to teach integrators exactly what the newest trends and technologies are—how to use them, how to deploy them, how to sell them so that we can show the integration. And we can talk about the problems that end users are experiencing.

We do it by being able to put very thoughtful solutions into a building. For example, we can have more organized or more structured entrances to a building, where we can create entrance pads. I can present an access control card, identifying myself, and it takes my temperature for me. I don’t have to now hire a person to stand there and put one of the handheld devices to somebody’s head and take those temperatures.

Deploying the Analytics

Kenton Williston: Pragmatically speaking, what do your solutions for this space look like? And how do they help accelerate the deployment of these new capabilities?

Bruce Montgomery: The pandemic is creating the demand, and the data is the value—being able to take that data saying: this person’s not wearing a mask. And we’re gathering that from an analytic that is now giving us the ability with our integrations to put notifications up. Whether it’s something as simple as an LED screen as they’re walking in that’s a reminder: “Please wear your mask.” Or maybe it’s an audio or a wave file that just says, “Please put your PPE detection mask on.”

Thermal screening, that’s another case where we’re deploying cameras and readers that have the ability to allow access control based on somebody’s body temperature. I can now say to this individual, “You are within threshold. I’m going to approve your access credential for the rest of the day.” But if that individual was outside the threshold of what we prescribe as being safe, then our systems are going to automatically suspend their privileges for 14 days until we can get additional clearances.

The next analytic that we’re doing and seeing a lot of is contact tracing. And that means the employer that gets a phone call on Tuesday from somebody who says, “Hey, I just tested positive.” Now we can go back and find out who were the individuals that were in the proximity of that employee.

We can do that through analytics, through cameras. We can tell you who was in the elevator at the same time, or who happened to sit at the same lunch table together. We can start to identify those individuals and notify them discreetly and professionally, so that we are representing the person who is infected properly.

The last one is the social distancing analytic, and that is obviously becoming an issue. Social distancing is definitively a problem, specifically on college campuses. Being able to hire manpower to effectively police that, that’s really challenging. So that’s where we start to be able to deploy this type of technology that does it for us.

The Role of AI

Kenton Williston: When you say analytics, the first thing that comes to my mind is AI. So where does AI fit into this?

Sheeladitya Karmakar: In terms of the solutions and use cases that Bruce has just described, almost all of them have some deep learning and AI capability within them. Now, in terms of the capability itself, I would say for our customers we are looking at three phases of solutions.

We are looking at short-term solutions which use AI—like the thermal screening, which uses a regular video stream or a visual stream, and then does thermal analysis based on the temperature-sensor data that’s coming in, combining that data, and then providing some proof point of an elevated body temperature. It’s just a screening method, but some of these short-term solutions are actually useful in helping businesses get back to work.

In the medium term, with some of the AI technologies around social distancing or contact tracing we are partnering with Intel and building solutions using the deep learning algorithms, which can allow our customers to actually respond and scale their operations during incidents that we see.

Suppose they identify a potentially COVID-positive person within the premises, then how do they respond to that particular incident? Just to give you an example, a lot of retail customers might want to know which aisles have repeatable social distancing violations.

And then finally, in terms of long-term solutions, we want to look at these solutions not as point solutions, not solutions that you deploy and forget about, but as solutions that can be scaled for future operations, even in a post-COVID world, which our customers can utilize for future analytics.

For example, they can use AI and the data that’s coming in from these deep learning algorithms to actually create a very comfortable and personalized space for a person within a building. As an employee, when I walk in, the zone where I work actually has a specific temperature that suits my comfort levels, or it has a particular lighting level. Or they can manage the occupancy of a building using these technologies which will ensure that the airflow within the building is based on the occupancy of the building.

Kenton Williston: A lot of folks are worried right now about how video is being used, not only from a personal privacy standpoint, but also from a larger civil rights perspective. And I’m wondering how those concerns can be addressed? And again, as a system integrator, what things might I want to think about there?

Sheeladitya Karmakar: Data privacy and cybersecurity are two key pillars to product development, not only at Honeywell, but for most technology companies today.

For example, we have a feature called selective masking and unmasking within our video management systems, which allows the operators to actually mask the face of a person when they are doing an analysis, or when they are performing video analytics. It has the feature capability built into the product. And I think that is the approach that we have to take when it comes to product development.

Also, a lot of the data that has been stored or is being utilized is actually in the valve within the control of the end customer. And it comes with an expiration date or retention period, which means that our system integrators can help their customers create the right retention period and the right rules to ensure that all of the data privacy concerns are met.

Bringing It All Together

Kenton Williston: Access control, fire suppression, lighting, HVAC—I think it’s safe to say that these systems work best when they work together. And that leads me to the question: what should system integrators keep in mind as they work towards delivering more holistic systems that bring all of these elements together?

Bruce Montgomery: At Honeywell our goal is to be able to bring you the solutions for your business that integrate to not just our platform, but maybe even other platforms.

The integrator needs to think in that manner: they need to think about the platform for the end user—does it integrate to all of these other things? Anybody can lock a door, put that onto a system, give you some report. Where we excel is after the door, after the door lock.

That would be my message to integrators: be thoughtful about what you’re presenting to your customer, make sure that it isn’t a dead-end road, right? Once the sale is done, let’s not stop there. Let’s make sure that they have opportunities to do other things when needed—like when we get a surprise pandemic at the beginning of the year and realize very, very quickly that we better integrate to all of these other things.

Kenton Williston: What are some best practices system integrators can follow when they’re looking to customize a solution, and looking to pick the right elements that go into their offering?

Bruce Montgomery: The integrator needs to know the platform very well too—be the local expert on your system, know it frontwards and backwards, learn the system better than your manufacturer does, if that’s possible.

Also, leave your customer in a better place than when you met them. Things like reducing the cost of liability by learning your customer’s security pains. Are they in the type of business where they have fines and penalties based on non-compliance?

Kenton Williston: Anything else you’d like to add?

Sheeladitya Karmakar: I want to add that the products and solutions we are talking about are right here today, that these are products and solutions that we want to—not just deploy in the short term, or to address point needs, but create that ecosystem which you can utilize year over year to improve your productivity. And not just your bottom line, but your top line as well.

Bruce Montgomery: We want to be available to you to help design, to mitigate issues. I personally spent a lot of time doing universities and K-12, so I’d offer my solutions and my services for a design and a review of abilities and how to get your kids into the building safely. And we have some really good ideas for you, whether it’s a standalone system or something that’s integrated, we have that solution for you today.

About the Author

Kenton Williston is the Editor-in-Chief of insight.tech and served as the editor of its predecessor publication, the Embedded Innovator magazine. Kenton received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2000 and has been writing about embedded computing and IoT ever since.

Profile Photo of Kenton Williston