CampusApp helps to find study places (and much more)

An app that informs you of the latest free study places. It already works in Leuven. In Delft, Dr Bart Valks from campus real estate knows that good cooperation is required.

At TU Delft, the first steps have been taken towards an up-to-the-minute information system. (Photo: Justyna Botor)

On the campus of the future, students can quickly check where free study places are and what they are like before setting off. Are they lively or quiet where you can concentrate? Once they have found a suitable place, they tap it on the screen, get on their bikes and are there on time.

Is this the future? It’s just around the corner, hopes Dr Bart Valks. He is a policy officer property development at Campus and Real Estate (CRE), TU Delft’s real estate manager, and he recently obtained his doctorate with a thesis on smart campus tools – technologies to support users and campus managers. He examined IT systems that provide information on the use of campuses at nearly 30 universities.

A well-known example is that of the University of Leuven: the Leuven Blokt dashboard provides an up-to-date picture of how busy four learning centres and six libraries are. Other smart campus tools have additional functionalities, such as reservations or information about the type of study places.

Ghost reservations
Congestion on campuses has a self-reinforcing effect. “If people feel there is too little space, they will be more inclined to reserve space. But if you end up not using it, others will be left empty-handed because they think the space is occupied while it is in fact not,” says Valks. The current reservation systems cannot do anything about this, but if, he suggests, an attendance sensor is connected to it, the room could be freed up after, say, 10 minutes of absence.

There is a growing range of data available that give an increasingly precise estimate of the number of people present such as counters at the entrance of lecture halls, gates, infrared sensors under desks, counting cameras, the number of active WiFi users etc.

During his study of some thirty campus information systems, other parties were sometimes in the news because of privacy legislation. Universities have therefore become very cautious about the privacy aspect in the implementation of smart campus tools. “Public institutions no longer get away with registering more information than strictly necessary,” says Valks. Apart from these few cases, he has not come across any objections from campus users against counters and cameras.

On the road to the CampusApp
At TU Delft, the first steps have been taken towards an up-to-the-minute information system. Valks mentions Mapiq as an example. This platform allows reserving space in the TU Delft Library and the IDE building. It also shows the current level of activity at various places. At the request of the Student Council, CRE is also in the design phase of a system that will provide an up-to-date overview of available study places on campus.

In addition to service provision, sustainability, more efficient use of space and energy are put forward as arguments for the introduction of smart campus tools. Occupancy and utilisation measurements show that many rooms are still used sub-optimally at universities. 

At the same time, there is still little conclusive data available on the actual effects. In particular, the first claims of efficiency improvement (5-10 percent) will only become clear in the longer term. In addition, Valks points out that it is difficult to attribute the efficiency improvement to smart campus tools: other measures are also taken, and student numbers change continuously.

He believes that a TU Delft CampusApp should combine various existing initiatives. As the property manager, CRE may be the appropriate initiator, but a CampusApp can only be successful if the TU Library, IT, Facility Management and all faculty services work together. “Ultimately, we can only make it successful if we work together.”

  • Bart Valks, Smart Campus Tools – Technologies to support campus users and campus managers, Promotor: Prof. Alexandra den Heijer (Faculty of Architecture), 11 October 2021.
Science editor Jos Wassink

Do you have a question or comment about this article?

Comments are closed.