Alumnus Nic Halverson Creates Technology to Help Students Track Occupancy in Real Time
UC San Diego graduates are innovators and entrepreneurs, and the Library strives to serve as a think tank and launching ground for student innovation. As the intellectual hub of campus, we take great pride in nurturing our students during their studies and are often awestruck by what they go on to achieve after they graduate—electrical engineering alumnus Nic Halverson ’17 is a prime example.
Halverson leveraged his experiences on campus—both his education and day-to-day observances—to create a company called Occuspace and its accompanying app, Waitz. Waitz allows people to view occupancy levels in high-traffic areas, mainly on college campuses, in an effort to save them time when mapping out their day and, in the Library’s case, searching for a place to study.
The Library is just one location at UC San Diego that has adopted this “smart space” technology. It has been installed in multiple buildings across campus (more than 70 different spaces are being monitored, such as the Price Center and RIMAC) and transmits data via the UC San Diego Waitz site and app.
What’s more is that the idea behind this innovative technology was hatched right here at the Library. Being the most popular place to study on campus, Geisel Library is often at maximum capacity—especially during peak periods like 10th week and final exams. Like many students before him, Halverson often found himself wandering around the building’s sprawling footprint searching for an open seat.
“I was walking up and down the eight floors of Geisel trying to find a seat to study one night only to see zero spaces available,” Halverson said. “I literally said to myself out loud, ‘I wish I knew how busy every floor was before I arrived!’ That’s when the idea for Occuspace was born.”
Halverson, along with co-creators Max Topolsky ’17 and Linus Grasel ’18, quickly went to work, developing technology that would save others from experiencing similar frustrations. The prototypes were installed in Geisel during Fall Quarter 2017 shortly before Halverson and Topolsky graduated.
Today, Occuspace is used at many University of California campuses, as well as several other universities and Fortune 500 companies throughout the U.S. and Canada. This technology, while useful during normal times, has proven to be especially effective during the COVID-19 pandemic. Universities across the country have adopted it to share occupancy in real time with students in such spaces as libraries, gyms and dining halls, among other buildings on campus.
At a time when social distancing was paramount, Waitz allowed (and still allows) students to “go with confidence” and map out their day with increased effectiveness and assurance that they will land in a safe space when they venture out.
“Having technology to reference when heading out on campus has been reassuring and helpful,” said Library student employee Sabina Fritz. “Each time I enter Geisel and the Biomedical Library, I make it a point to scan the occupancy levels on each floor. The screens at the front entrances are super useful in helping students like me gauge the best chance of finding an open seat.”
Along with occupancy accuracy, data privacy was also considered when deciding to implement this technology at the Library. “Occuspace boasts a 95% accuracy rate, making it a solid indicator of how busy a space is at any given time…and it’s secure,” said Tim Marconi, director of technology and digital experience at the Library. “Visitors’ personal information is not gathered as a part of the tracking process, making it a secure and anonymous way of identifying occupancy.”
On top of being private and secure, the application of the tech is relatively simple. Sensors are plugged into electrical sockets throughout the building that pinpoint Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals from mobile devices, such as laptops, smartphones and tablets, within approximately 4,000 square feet by using algorithms to determine real-time occupancy of spaces—all without compromising the user’s personal data.
The next time you visit Geisel Library or the Biomedical Library Building, look for the Waitz occupancy dashboard monitors as you enter—you won’t miss them. Download the Waitz app today to gain insights into the occupancy levels of buildings across campus at waitz.io/ucsd.
Reducing Energy Use One Plug at a Time
Thanks to the efforts of environmental and mechanical engineering professor Jan Kleissl from the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and the Center for Energy Research, the university received a $1 million California Energy Commission grant to reduce energy waste on campus.
The objective of this grant is to create opportunities to reduce energy use in unoccupied spaces, during power grid emergencies and at night when the campus’ mostly solar powered grid is not able to support the load. More specifically, the goal is to fund projects that will ultimately result in a 20% reduction of energy use in 10 buildings across campus by 2024.
Geisel Library was selected to participate in this important initiative, and Library Facilities Director Jason Schulz welcomed the opportunity to be involved. “Being responsible for overseeing our various Library facilities—both on and off campus—it often weighs on me how much energy we use not only to support our buildings and the work that is conducted in them, but also to properly care for our collections that require specific air quality and temperature control,” he said. “We appreciate the opportunity to participate in a program that helps alleviate energy waste and make us more sustainable. I look forward to seeing our energy numbers drop as a result.”
Through the program, each of the 10 buildings received free installation of new Plug Load Controllers (PLCs) designed to keep plug loads from drawing power when not in use, with the exception of computer electrical usage, which will remain on and be more closely monitored.
Through the documentation of the building’s daily energy use, the team was astonished to see that plug loads continue to draw significant power when not in use, which can result in as much as 40% of a building’s total energy use.
Grant execution was kickstarted by project executors Jesse Wolf and Keaton Chia. The first step in the process was to find an industry expert to partner with for the deployment of wireless plug load control technology. Best Energy Reduction Technologies (BERT) was selected based on its strong reputation, and together, the team came up with a phased approach:
- Summer 2021: Space surveys were completed to determine where PLCs might yield energy savings without impacting operations or causing occupant inconvenience. The team identified 1,800 plug loads in 10 buildings.
- Fall 2021: PLCs are being installed at each participating building and will be used initially to collect baseline usage data.
- Winter 2022: All PLCs in each building will be set to a static schedule customized to the building’s usage. For example, plug loads in the Library will be off from midnight to 4 a.m.
- Spring 2022: A dynamic power supply schedule will be set based on each building’s occupancy. Plug loads will be turned off whenever a space is unoccupied.
Now that the plugs are installed at Geisel, we are working with campus and BERT to determine the efficacy of the PLCs. Through the program, it is expected that across the 10 participating buildings, the university will experience an annual savings of approximately $234,000 and 240,000 kgCO2 emissions.
To learn more about the project in its entirety, visit https://sites.google.com/ucsd.edu/derconnect/home.
A Commitment to Sustainability
In an effort to deliver on our strategic plan’s commitment to sustainability, the Library Sustainability Committee (LSC) was established with an overarching mission to educate and promote a culture that integrates sustainability into the daily habits of the Library community.
Run by a variety of employees from across the Library’s organizational structure, LSC has developed a number of initiatives that have transformed the Library’s sustainability practices in ways large and small. Examples of its work include collaborating with campus groups to bring hydration stations into the Library buildings and creating internal programs to recycle and upcycle office supplies in addition to promoting green buying practices.
To learn more about the LSC and the ways it is making an impact, visit lib.ucsd.edu/sustainability.