Case Study

Downton Abbey meets the IoT: A peek inside IBM’s Hursley House

To the untrained eye, it appears the perfect picture of the old world — a stately mansion in the English countryside. But inside its 18th century walls, Hursley House has long been a hotbed of innovation for IBM and a source of some of our most cutting-edge software. Today, we are using our Hursley location as a “living lab,” designed to foster innovation, creativity and breakthroughs in IoT technology.

IoT is changing how we build, manage and experience buildings. Even 200-year old buildings. “The Hursley House is an old, traditional mansion,” says Dave Locke, who leads the Watson IoT ecosystem at Hursley. “It’s a real-life Downton Abbey.”

This comes with its own set of problems. The house’s historic designation (Grade II* listed) limits the modifications that can be made. “We can’t drill holes, run cable or even paint the walls without approval,” says Locke. The Victorian heating system, and the fact that Hursley was never designed to house a data center in its basement, present challenges to creating a modern space conducive to technological innovation — challenges that the Hursley team is meeting with IoT solutions.

Healthy House: Creating a great experience for clients and IBMers

Because of the antiquated heating and cooling system, the rooms at Hursley are often too hot or too cold. Temperatures can vary dramatically room to room, and even by time of day. In order to enhance the experience for clients visiting our Executive Briefing Center, and for IBMers working in the building, the Hursley team outfitted the rooms with PhotonStar sensors to monitor temperature and occupancy, collecting the data with Watson IoT Platform and visualizing it on a dashboard.

Today, notifications are sent to briefing consultants to take action and improve the temperature when a room becomes uncomfortable. As a next step, the Hursley team is pushing to make this location into a true cognitive building. “We are going to take the data from a weather station which we have deployed,” says Locke. “To help us incorporate live weather data and historic weather data — temperature, humidity and light level. Then, we can bring that together with a third source of data which is the meeting booking system.” Next, they will automate the commands to the room controls — opening and closing room blinds, or turning on a radiator. With this automation in place and with the cognitive power of Watson IoT platform, Hursley’s temperature control system will operate as a true cognitive building.

Healthy Water: Removing the need for manual monitoring

Most buildings in England (such as company campuses, hospitals and other large sites) require testing of water temperature. The water testers are primarily looking for Legionella—the water-borne pathogen responsible for Legionnaires disease, a fatal condition that infects tens of thousands of people each year.

The process of testing the water is a very manual one. A person will arrive on site quarterly, turn on the tap, test the water temperature and write it in a book. The manual process has a few problems. First, it takes much more time than necessary. And second, if there was a problem throughout the quarter, odds are it will not be caught since readings are only taken once a year. 

“We created a solution which we’re referring to as Healthy Water,” says Locke, “by providing devices which can be installed around these water supplies. The installation takes about five minutes per water outlet.”

There is very little configuration required and syncs data to a mobile app in real-time. Now the temperature of the pipe is available 24×7. According to Locke, this has a number of benefits: “One, it’s fully automated. Two, we can actually monitor on a granular basis. And we can actually look for trends and weak spots. If, for example, the water is gradually getting hotter and hotter, we can raise alarms before it becomes a real problem.

“Healthy water is a very simple idea,” Locke says. “And it’s often the simplest ideas which prove the best.”

Learn more about the Hursley Healthy Water project by reading our case study.

Cooler data center: Reducing energy costs by 4% per year

Clearly the original builders of Hursley House never anticipated we’d install a data center in the basement. But thanks to insights from IoT data, the Hursley team was able to optimize the room layout and meet energy reduction targets.

The goal was to reduce the energy costs at the Hursley Hyperscale Cloud Data Center (HCDC) by 4% per year. Using over 500 humidity, temperature and corrosion sensors, the team was able to optimize the layout of equipment in the room to meet the goal. The result was an increase in savings and in the ability to consolidate sites to HCDC.

Next, the team plans to connect the data they are collecting to Watson IoT platform. From there, they will be able to proactively manage the data center — using analytics to predict problems in advance and further reduce costs.

Using our own buildings as IoT incubators

For centuries, buildings have been silent structures. But with the advent of IoT, we now have the ability to listen to what they are telling us, and to use those insights to create a better experience for occupants and better value for businesses.

At IBM we’re using our own buildings as laboratories to experiment with the future of how we experience buildings. And we’re not letting the age of a building hold us back. If we can make a site like Hursley a modern, cognitive building, we can do it anywhere.

Learn more

To learn more about how our clients are using IBM Watson IoT to change the way they manage, operate and experience buildings visit our case studies website.

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