A business founded in 2017 is poised to find its perfect moment, as it fine-tunes the technology to guide us through the post-lockdown world of communication, disease control and energy consumption. Direk, based on Surrey Research Park, is developing advanced indoor radar technology which can pinpoint the exact position and number of people within a building – useful for checking Covid security. It also offers the means to control heat, light and ventilation, to optimise running costs and fight climate change.
This sounds an exciting and innovative idea, so I chat over Zoom with project manager Seyed Ali Khatami, known as Ali. To start, I ask him to explain what the company does, in terms I can understand. He obliges with the simple phrase “think of it as GPS for indoors”. Ali elaborates, saying the technology has been created in collaboration with the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey, co-founded by Professor Rahim Taffazolli, who also set up Direk with Dr Amir Taba. Both are experts in their field and they combined their skills to create a company that could look closely at how to track the position and activity of people within a building, using artificial intelligence.
Ali explains: “We are used to having GPS on our phones and being able to navigate our way round the world, but Professor Tafazolli and Dr Taba felt there was a use for indoor technology to perform similar tasks. Using our AI we can offer clients the ability to work out precisely how many people are using a particular room and to monitor and control heating, lighting and ventilation systems for maximum energy efficiency.”
The pandemic brought specific issues into modern business practices, one of which was to ensure there is sufficient space for people to work safely within an office. Direk technology can be programmed to show managers which rooms have been used, by how many, and to take appropriate health security actions.
Direk is in conversation with several universities to look at whether this technology can be used to monitor classroom use, in terms of Covid security. A major sports stadium has made inquiries about using it to ensure safe occupation and movement by spectators, post-lockdown.
The second application of the technology is in reducing carbon emissions. The technology can be used to monitor how many people are in a particular part of an office and to set heating, lighting and ventilation controls accordingly. A third important possible use of Direk tech is for safe evacuation of buildings in an emergency, where it checks that all rooms are empty.
Ali stressed that the AI tech cannot detect the gender of people in a room, so information is anonymous. “It can just tell us how many there are and where they are sitting, or standing, to within 20 square metres,” he said. Direk is still a small company of 12 employees with an average age of 26. I ask Ali to look forwards six months, to forecast where it could be. He grins and says: “By then we should have made all the tests and had them verified. Then we can get on with some serious marketing. It’s an exciting prospect and we’re raring to go!”