IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Arizona State University Embeds Sensors Deep into Student Life

The university wants to deploy IoT inside Sun Devil Stadium and on campus to monitor everything from crowd noise to classroom attendance.

OK, Sun Devils, let's see how loud you can scream. Because a number of sensors installed in Sun Devil Stadium are listening.

“We can identify now the loudest cheering section in the stadium,” said Gordon Wishon, chief information officer with Arizona State University, home to the Sun Devils football team. “The next step in that is — once we’re able to deploy our proximity-based sensing technology — we hope to be able to identify the individuals who are seated in those sections, and then ultimately push out some sort of a reward or discount off of a hotdog, or some sort of a reward.”

The project to measure stadium noise is but one small — and you might say whimsical — pilot project the Tempe, Ariz.-based campus is undertaking as it explores how systems built on a network of interconnected devices can improve not only the game day experience, but everyday life for students on campus.

Cameras installed around Sun Devil Stadium offer not only a safety component, say officials, but they can also offer data indicating how long a restroom or concession line has grown to, and how quickly it's moving.

Wishon also mentions the hundreds of sinks and toilets in the stadium. After a game it often takes several days for custodial staff to check and clean each restroom.

“And so it would sometimes be days before they discovered that sink had been left running,” he said. “So we demonstrated that we could actually instrument the faucet, and could now detect not only when water was left running, but if it had been left running for more than say two or three minutes, we could automatically shut it off.”

These projects are still in the “pilot-demonstration mode,” and have not been fully deployed.

“Our plans are now to begin scaling these groups of concepts and demonstrations more broadly, not just in the stadium facility, but ultimately, our objective here isn’t necessarily focused just on athletics,” said Wishon.

School officials are devising projects that use IoT devices to help the school intervene more directly with students who may be struggling.

One of the first projects will use location-based sensors combined with “virtual Bluetooth” technology to identify when students are attending certain classes.

“From the data that we collect on students and their activities, we know that students who fail to attend ASU 101 — an introductory course for freshman that sort of exposes them to university life and how to study and all those sorts of things — on a regular basis, have a higher probability of failing to persist to their sophomore year,” said Wishon. “So we have a strong interest in knowing which students are attending that class and which are not.”

Class sizes for the 101 course are large, making attendance taking prohibitively difficult.

“And so we needed to find some automated way of taking attendance in those courses,” said Wishon, explaining a pilot program where a cohort of students have agreed to have their connected devices — like a smartphone, laptop or tablet — detected when it enters the classroom, an indication that the student is present.

The university’s IT department is also devising projects to make monitoring the operation of the school’s roughly 2,200 buildings easier and more efficient.

“Some of the newer buildings have building information management systems. Most have nothing,” said Wishon. “Those that do have systems are from a variety of different vendors using a variety of different technologies to deliver building control systems.”

The challenge for the university is how to give officials a single view into each of these different systems in order to better understand energy conservation or water conservation opportunities as well as predicting maintenance needs.

“I think there are enormous cost-savings to be found in the operation of the institution,” Wishon added. “But ultimately, our principal objective is to enhance and improve the student experience and to help deliver greater chances of their success while they’re here at the university.” 

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.