The connected cube that brings happiness

Since last June, tiny connected boxes by GreenMe have started to colonise open work spaces across France. The goal of the cube, developed and produced in France, is relatively simple – to monitor the comfort level of working employees while improving conditions and reducing energy consumption of the buildings being monitored.

In 2012, Alexandre Dugarry founded Aca-o, a small software development company based in the south of France. With his three employees and his business partner, Alexandre develops SaaS applications, including menu-collectivite.fr, designed to allow the catering industry to directly generate well balanced menus. The company collaborated with ADEME (the French Environment and Energy Management Agency) to participate in a project concerning positive energy buildings. The agency’s mission is to reduce energy consumption for existing buildings to a bare minimum. Seemingly simple, the project quickly proved to be a bit more complicated than expected when the team wanted to make the employees of the buildings aware of the situation. “We displayed diagrams but employees passed by without even seeing them. Quickly we imagined to move on in a more entertaining manner by converting savings into distance covered in kilometers. But nothing worked, it was clear that we were not able to engage employees.” To reduce buildings energy consumption, involving employees is vital. Alexandre recalls, “Indeed, new buildings today are very efficient in terms of energy. As it turns out, a large part of energy overconsumption is not the result of a building’s design but rather due to employees themselves.”

How to encourage employees to save energy?

The key to the project was in fact in the notion of ‘comfort’, an abstract conception having concrete implications. “To hook employees, it is important to speak about what interests them, what they can easily grasp. Comfort emerged as an interesting anchoring point on which we worked a lot,” explains Alexandre. From here, GreenMe was born, a project making it possible for anyone to monitor their level of comfort at work. It is based on a tiny device in the shape of a cube, pierced with several small holes and able to monitor ten parameters related to comfort and health including: temperature, light quality, noise and air refresh rate. The device creates twenty events every five minutes, which are then aggregated and summarized in a dashboard and a mobile application, available to employees as well as the human resources department, managers, facility managers and the Committee for Health, Safety and Working Conditions. For GreenMe, these ten parameters are not enough to measure the comfort of level of employees, which in essence is a completely subjective notion. Equipped with an accelerometer, the cube can be tilted to one side or another depending on the feelings of the person who is using it. One side corresponds to a positive feeling while the other side indicates a situation of discomfort (due to a temperature that is too high or a shining light, for example). Immediately, the person in charge of building management is alerted and can intervene as quickly as possible to transform discomfort into… comfort.

The GreenMe box creates 20 measuring points every five minutes, which are then collected and summarised in a dashboard and mobile application.

If Alexandre highlights the gains in productivity achieved through improving employee comfort at work, businesses call on him more and more within the context of their CSR policy (Corporate Social Responsibility). GreenMe makes it possible to optimize the work environment on an individual scale, but also – and most importantly – at the level of the enterprise as a whole. The startup regularly gathers the aggregate data and performs overall analysis. All data is interpreted according to established rules but above all, it is used to provide more comprehensive recommendations allowing customers to achieve substantial energy savings. Near the city of Lyon, GreenMe has recommended to a large group, occupying more than 10,000 square meters, to leave the lights off in its offices for three additional hours per day... because keeping them on served no purpose. At another customer’s location, the sensors sent a general alert indicating that the air is too dry during the winter period. By moistening the air, employee well-being could be greatly improved.

The data collected using GreenMe connected cubes is interpreted differently but they allow for more global recommendations, enabling customers to make significant energy savings.

GreenMe Wins medal at French CSR Night

With almost 300 devices deployed throughout France, the startup has already conquered some major groups; La Poste, EDF and Vinci have been working with the startup for several months. To complete its approach, GreenMe has made the choice to design and manufacture its cube covered in sensors, in France. For the plastic cases which house the devices, the startup first tried to produce them itself using two 3D printers but this proved to be insufficient in keeping up with week after week of increasing demand. So, the team turned to a third party specialising in plastics, located just ten kilometers from the enterprise. From design to packaging, the cube never leaves the region of its inception. This controlled design policy and the project itself earned the startup the bronze medal at CSR Night, held in November 2015, as well as a prize won for a contest sponsored by La Poste for French IoT.

From here, GreenMe still has a long road ahead of it. Based on an infrastructure hosted at OVH.com, the GreenMe adventure will continue in the months and years to come, as the small cube is full of virtues that have not been anticipated by the team. “Inevitably, when comfort and work conditions improve, employees generally work better and are absent less. We also noticed that this device improves the atmosphere between teams and their creativity by playing with temperature ranges,” states Alexandre. This is an observation that could have been made by Elton Mayo during his experience at Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works. In 1932, researchers attempted to establish a relationship between the working environment and productivity. An example of this was the modification of lighting on the production line. After three years of research, no concrete evidence was found correlating increased productivity with working conditions. Elton Mayo assembled a research team and reached the following conclusion: higher productivity had little to do with the modification in lighting but rather was a result of the consideration shown to the workers through the experiment and the social link it helped create between employees. Reducing energy consumption, improving working conditions and creating a link between teams, all this from a tiny cube developed and manufactured in France, what more could we wish for Alexandre and his team than success?

To build the platform that collects and processes the data provided by these connected cubes, the startup relies on Public Cloud by OVH.

With 20 events being recorded every five minutes, GreenMe estimates that each cube generates two million data records per year. In anticipation of growth, it was necessary to put together a scalable infrastructure able to grow according to needs without having to regularly reconsider the overall architecture of the platform. Also, Public Cloud instances are employed as web servers (to view data in the form of dashboards or access the mobile application), API servers, MySQL servers (for user account data) and make up a Cassandra cluster that exploits KairosDB to build a Time Series type database. These machines are interconnected through an OVH.com vRack, assuring more security and better performance.

Find out more about the OVH Digital Launch Pad programme (startup accelerator).