You’re probably reading this blog post in a building — and if you aren’t, it’s likely you’re on your way to one. We tend to spend more time inside buildings than we do outside; they’re our places of work, of education, of recreation, our homes. Despite this, our relationship with buildings is usually non-existent; we go in, inhabit and arrange the space as best we can, and often settle for less.
Advancements in tech are changing this. Smart buildings and the IoT solutions that make them tick are transforming how we live and work. Our workspaces can now be more efficient and optimised, our homes more secure and comfortable — even our impact on the environment stands to change for the better.
But what is a smart building? As technological advances are made and industry standards shift, the definition can be hazy. But the general idea according to RCR Wireless is that they’re buildings whose functions are automatically monitored with sensors that amass data allowing for control through automated processes, including security, HVAC, lighting, and more. They are ‘living organisms connected to a network with intelligent and adaptable software.’ Smart buildings are being made ever more intelligent through a plethora of IoT applications. Let’s take a look at the value for end-users in some of this tech.
In the office
Whether it’s business owners, employees, maintenance workers, or visitors reading The Times in the lobby, a smart building that can adapt to the needs of its inhabitants results in a higher quality-of-life experience for anyone who may need to spend time under its roof. Automatically-gathered analytics on building vitals can lead to more comfortable staff and rapid fault-detection. Crucially, a building that can monitor itself also allows for time and effort to be spent on more urgent and profitable projects.
A smart building means more than just slapping a sensor on every surface. Through strategic sensor placement, systems can be effectively and autonomously monitored, and a wealth of workable data can be gathered. To an AI, this means faster machine learning and query-answering than ever before: for example, instantly distinguishing between, pinpointing, reacting to, and alerting to faults or changes in the building. To a human eye, this means a streamlined data retrieval and analysis process, completely removing the need for manual research via clipboard and trips up and down the stairs. Either way, this helps eliminate downtime of systems such as elevators, lighting, and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning).
The approach to occupant comfort stands to be completely reformed. Live feedback from occupants via an app would mean room temperature can be adjusted immediately and accurately, according to the wishes of those in the room. Wearable tech could perhaps accomplish this even quicker than an app. Getting chilly? Your fitbit’s got you covered before you even notice it.
This is crucial, because comfort correlates with higher workplace morale and productivity. Staff who don’t need to worry about being comfortable at work will think better, stress less, and deliver more consistently great results.
Data Analysis and Decision Making
Whether it’s an open fridge or a tap left running, building sensors that pinpoint the causes of excess utility usage will allow for the implementation of floor, room, or even desk-specific plans to combat wastage. Rather than resorting to guesswork or blanket solutions, companies can make data-driven decisions based on specific pain points.
This also means a business with an IoT-equipped smart building will have a far easier time going green. Emissions can be gauged and traced to areas of high energy usage; in response, staff would know where to cut down their energy usage and could more effectively plan how to meet green standards.
Companies also stand to benefit from space usage analysis enabled by door clickers and movement sensors: for example, if it’s brought to a company’s attention that a particular office cubicle is often going unused, action can be taken in order to either maximise the office space being paid for or to save money on unnecessary premiums.
In the Home
Our lives at home also stand to be transformed by IoT and smart home applications, whether they be simple quality-of-life changes or crucial security enhancements. Our homes are our castles, after all.
Making the home safe
A smart security system can enable 24/7 observation of a home if need be, and can automatically contact emergency services in cases where trespassers are detected or smoke alarms triggered. Smart baby monitors can help ensure that babies are safe in their cribs, and there are household monitoring systems than track temperature, light, and movement in order to help the elderly live independently. Smart locks can allow you to grant temporary access to guests or family, and log a door’s usage.
Speak and it shall be done
Consumers are already finding a great companion in Siri, Alexa, and Echo — but what if voice control capabilities extended to all home processes and appliances? The ability to ask your lights to brighten or dim, your oven to preheat, or your television to spark to life would delight many a homeowner.
Taking things a step further, you may not even have to ask your lights to dim. Through machine-learning, your home could learn when bedtime is and start turning the lights off just as you finish brushing your teeth. A home could also start brewing your coffee when you wake up, or order your shopping for you based on your regular purchases.
Keep tabs on Tabby
You can even keep track of your cat, or dog through GPS tracking, or receive alerts if they cross certain thresholds — so you can know if puss is pulling a heist in the kitchen when you’ve got a roast chicken cooling on the counter. You could also track your toddlers to make sure they’re always as safe as possible in the home.
In the world at large:
Smart buildings are not, however, limited to business and home applications — beyond the home and the office, there is potential for wider societal and institutional change that could prove hugely beneficial to a range of individuals.
Impacting people and the environment
We’ve already seen how smart buildings can help us go green through monitoring energy usage on the inside, but what about the outside of buildings? Cropping up in cities like Toronto and Taiwan, vertical forests on buildings are not only pleasing to look at; they’re key for both pollination and anti-pollution. But the need to grow upwards rather than outwards at street level isn’t without its complications. Smartening up these building based forests with IoT sensors allows for the safe upkeep of such precariously placed plant life, through monitoring the soil’s water table, nutrition content, temperature and exposure to wind, along with managing the irrigation of said trees—effectively streamlining operations so less people can make a bigger impact.
A better University experience
Students could see an improved university experience through the effective use of smart building tech. Through the use of an integrated workplace management system, the University of Maryland has streamlined the processing of their 65,000+ work orders per year, ensuring the efficient allocation and use of resources. And Carnegie Mellon University estimates they will save up to 10% ($2 million!) on utilities through their new smart buildings partnership. Not only does this mean a better experience for those using the building, but in a wider sense, it’s allowed for funding to be directed to other areas, and could even slow tuition fee increases.
Smart building summary:
To sum it up, although there are systems in place that allow for the automated running of buildings, they’re not nearly as optimised as they could be — and this is where IoT solutions bring value to customers.
Organic buildings that can detect or even solve their own issues will free up funding and thousands of man-hours that could be better spent elsewhere. Rather than trying to predict what infrastructure that will satisfy occupants for the next few decades, and instead of playing whack-a-mole guessing games with what could be driving costs, we can inhabit spaces that adapt to human wants and needs in real-time.