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Center for Real-Time Applications Development

Smart Buildings Get Smarter and Expand into Real Estate

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Modern smart building applications are helping building designers, owners, and managers digitally transform their operations to realize enhanced benefits.

Smart buildings are increasingly becoming more sophisticated, and the roles they play are changing. At the same time, rather than being entities unto themselves, many smart buildings are collections of tightly integrated smart applications and services. These aggregate systems, in turn, are often further integrated with other smart systems and applications run by municipalities, agencies, and commercial enterprises.

A look at some smart building trends highlights their expanded functionality. Many new efforts are aimed at commercial buildings.

Smart buildings have traditionally provided improved control over physical aspects of building management. A building might use real-time systems to monitor and manage access control, HVAC, lighting, and energy management. Other leading-edge applications areas include smart lobbies and smart elevators. Real-time systems that manage those features rely on integrated sensors and IoT elements to capture data to derive AI-based data analytics.

The pandemic has increased the need for many more smart systems. Employers must provide assurances that their workers will be safe. They need real-time solutions that help monitor and enforce social distancing of their employees and room-by-room environmental health quality. They also need visitor management systems that do more than log a person in when they enter a facility. In many cases, visitors will need to be screened (a quick temperature check) and their movement throughout the building tracked to be sure rooms are not overcrowded.

As more employees return to the office, more emphasis is being directed at improving the occupant experience and ensuring safety. Some systems of interest help a business monitor for circumstances that spread the virus and automatically react when conditions are not right. These systems might:

  • Monitoring for unsafe people densities: A system might use cameras, cell phone location data, or proximity detection to assess how many people are in a room.
  • Maintain a safe environment: Smart systems might be used to help with facilities and environmental management. For example, after a meeting ends, a smart solution might automatically alert facilities management and schedule a cleaning after a meeting breaks up.

Perhaps, one of the most interesting developments in smart buildings is the move to autonomous buildings. While traditional smart buildings seek to automate many operational aspects of running a building, autonomous buildings aim to take things to a higher level. Specifically, autonomous might seek to reduce the costs of maintaining a building, optimize the structure’s environmental impact, enhance the occupants’ comfort, and increase security.

Real estate aspects of smart buildings

Some leading-edge smart building and smart urban spaces projects begin to meld into real estate issues.

One example is to leverage the capabilities of smart building systems in the site selection and design stage. For example, a developer might be able to optimize the ratio of commercial retail space, office space, and living quarters based on the control a smart structure would give them over energy use, traffic management, and more.

Another example is MIND Milan, a major new district for science, knowledge, and innovation on the former Expo site in Milan, Italy. The project’s focus is to build sustainable urban facilities that automatically adjust to conditions and make efficient use of resources.

Still another project that is garnering much attention is the Bouygues Construction ABC (Autonomous Building for Citizens) demonstrator program in a neighborhood of Grenoble, France.

The ABC demonstrator is a residential complex designed to be water and energy self-sufficient and more comfortable for the people who live in it. According to the company, the residence is designed to be energy self-sufficient (using solar panels), consume 70% less water, and optimize waste management.

Making it happen: Challenges and the tools, best practices, and methodologies that can help

There are many obstacles that must be overcome if next-generation smart buildings and smart urban areas are to happen.

Typically, there is a need to bring together data from many disparate systems, including many that are owned or managed by third parties. There is a great need for flexibility to quickly incorporate new technologies, new data, new analytics solutions. And solutions must be highly scalable.

Additionally, smart buildings and smart urban areas need real-time capabilities and the ability to work with streaming and events data. This is an area where many organizations lack expertise and often turn to a technology provider to get help.

In today’s fast-changing world, smart buildings need to evolve rapidly. They must take advantage of new technologies as they come along. That might include new hardware, such as a new location tracking system to better understand occupancy levels and the traffic flow throughout a building.  Or it might be the introduction of artificial intelligence to enable a wider range of applications.

One last consideration is how smart building applications and systems will be developed. What’s needed is a development environment that makes use of low code techniques and a platform that can easily connect to many data sources and convert that data into decision-making insights for real-time actions.

If the obstacles to building real-time smart building applications are overcome, those applications can offer improvements in many areas, including:

  • Energy use and efficiency
  • Workplace safety (both from a traditional security perspective and now COVID-based safe return to office view)
  • Improved occupant experience (everything from optimized elevators to reduce the wait time to dynamically adjusted air quality based on room occupancy levels
  • A move to sustainable buildings and autonomous buildings
  • And the synergistic benefits of integrating smart applications into building design from the earliest design stages

At a higher level, such modern smart building applications are helping building designers, owners, and managers digitally transform their operations, and that such a transformation offers many additional benefits, including the ability to gain real-time visibility into occupancy levels, occupancy experience, efficient space utilization, and more.

Salvatore Salamone

About Salvatore Salamone

Salvatore Salamone is a physicist by training who has been writing about science and information technology for more than 30 years. During that time, he has been a senior or executive editor at many industry-leading publications including High Technology, Network World, Byte Magazine, Data Communications, LAN Times, InternetWeek, Bio-IT World, and Lightwave, The Journal of Fiber Optics. He also is the author of three business technology books.

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