How AI is being used to reduce the spread of COVID-19

by Neil Sharma on 06 Jul 2021

COVID-19 inoculation is growing at a promising rate and that means workers are already returning to their offices, but vaccination isn’t the only reason they’re going back.

Technology is the driving force behind workers returning to the workplace, as offices are upgrading their lighting and HVAC systems—the latter long neglected, according to mCloud Technologies Corp.—among other things.

“One of the dirty little secrets of the building industry is indoor air quality has taken a way back seat, in terms of what folks operating building have been paying a lot of attention to, much to the frustration of the HVAC industry,” said Patrick O’Neill, president of mCloud Technologies, a Canadian firm headquartered in Calgary that uses AI for ventilation and particle reduction. “The healthcare industry understands healthier environments reduce people’s sick leave and makes them more productive, so it’s unfortunate and hard to measure and quantify [with HVAC systems] versus a utility bill.”

mCloud uses overlay technology instead of retrofitting buildings, as is typically done, and installs indoor monitoring and air purification systems in HVAC units to track air quality, particularly CO2 particulates and how much ventilation a building is receiving.

“We use artificial intelligence as a mechanism to decide how to optimally manage systems and maintain indoor air quality while minimizing energy use,” said O’Neill. “We install our devices and cellular routers at customers’ sites to maintain independent systems from the customers so we don’t need to get onto their IT servers and we can control the equipment and provide service that way. We believe you can provide good indoor air quality and safer indoor air quality without substantially using energy.”

Many buildings have areas that aren’t receiving ventilation air, so mCloud first ensures there’s appropriate airflow in all occupied zones of the building and then it checks how much air is going into the spaces.

“In many buildings, there’s deferred maintenance, so the outdoor air module is not functional or it’s rusted or in a position where there’s very little outdoor air, so we make sure that’s functional so that we can modulate outdoor air, then we look at filtration,” said O’Neill. “Most of these facilities have filtration that cannot remove a virus and smaller particles from the air, so we’ll improve that system.”

mCloud uses MERV 13, which is thicker than what most HVAC systems can handle, but the company’s technology allows for its integration.

Retrofits are becoming the norm in North America. Dream REIT spent the last 18 months upgrading its portfolio to WELL Health Standards, which are considered premier indoor air quality benchmarks continent-wide. According to Dream’s COO Gord Wadley, commercial property tenants expect building owners to implement measures that will reduce the risk of being exposed to contagions.

“We’ve adopted several industry-leading practices during this pandemic and we’re well-positioned to welcome our clients back,” said Wadley. “Sometimes when you do these programs, the communication is equally as important and everyone has a different risk tolerance, so it’s really important that the landlord is packaging this information and providing it in a comprehensive way that our clients can show to their customers, their guests, that they’ve aligned themselves and partnered with a really safe work environment.”

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