Intelligent Buildings 2
Part 2 of 2: A deeper dive into what makes an Intelligent Building
Intelligent Buildings 1 was an introduction, but here I explore some of the tech and applications a little further. Some of these clearly help across more than one of the three identified benefit groups, for example Air Quality monitoring and controls could help with Optimised Operation of a building as well as improving User Experience.
With recent events, this is definitely an aspect of a building that is seeing greater focus. This could be seamless integration of multiples systems (e.g. HVAC with opening windows) or active measuring and controlling of the gas mix and/or particulates. When you consider the amount of possible data inputs, you quickly understand how this can become complex and require sophisticated software - for example it is one thing to monitor what’s happening inside the building, but when dealing with opening windows, knowing the conditions outside would also be useful. And then there’s the things like occupancy levels within the building to factor in.
Occupancy levels right now, or over a period of time. Both are useful. In realtime this sort of information can help with anything from security, to temperature controls to lift speeds. Mix in a bit of AI and look longer term, and now your building starts to think ahead and plan for busy periods or empty buildings by doing things like pre-heating or powering down zones on a quiet Friday afternoon. In a world where hot-desks are more common, it’s not hard to see this linked to way-finding and access control, with the building telling you where to sit day to day. A bit like being told which security queue is least busy when at the airport.
Does every toilet need cleaning 3 times a day, has the kitchenette run out of teabags, how many times are the bins emptied even if they are not full? More sensors and more active monitoring means greater ability to carry out tasks just in time. Forget the rota or being reactive, this is efficient, just in time management and replacement. The careful connection of sensors to the network and passing this on to a management service with work orders is not hard to imagine. I can see how this will save money and reduce waste.
Apps are everywhere, so why not have one that controls things within your building. The key here is integration and making sure the user experience is simple and easy - after all this is about trying to make things better, not create frustration through password issues, extra clicks or lack of connection. Whilst I can see how this works for an everyday user of one building (who becomes familiar with a single app), I still struggle to see how someone that visits multiple buildings will manage to deal with these things. As a visitor, maybe you could access similar services over a browser via a QR code rather than needing to download an app for every building? No doubt the tech is there, and there are many ways to push it to the user.
And remember apps will be able to provide lots of information (if allowed) to the building - think location (links back to occupancy, and way-finding below), instant feedback or softer things like social profiles or demographic data which could be useful for visitor stats.
Access Control, Visitor Access & Wayfinding
This does what it says on the tin. But consider the efficiency of better integration and upfront arranging of your visitor pass.
You enter the building and use your mobile app to pass access control, which also calls the lift to the floor where the meeting room is booked. At the same time, the host of the meeting is told you have arrived. You don’t get lost, because the app gives you directions to the room, and maybe you ordered a latte in advance of your arrival.
And this is just an idea, but if you are in a secure environment then perhaps the building is alerted if you veer far away from where you are meant to be or remain significantly longer than the planned meeting.
This is hardly a new thing, as I am sure most of us are familiar with online booking systems. But imagine a more seamless system, linked to all these other services we are talking about. The difference is wider and more sophisticated integration.
You might think this is a repeat of the Air Quality section, but it is not. This is more about you being able to control temperature or other settings to maximise your comfort. In an Intelligent Building you will not be fighting a colleague to win over the maintenance guy when it comes to setting the heat or direction of the ventilation grille above your desk. If done right, and with feedback of location from your app, your desired settings might be able to follow you around the building.
Digital Twin and Building Automation
Think of a digital twin as a major part of the Intelligent Building’s brain. A digital twin is an exact digital replica of something that exists in the physical world.
The digital twin is actually connected to the systems in the physical world, i.e. the building, via a “digital thread.” The digital twin collects information from all the sensors, and then processes this, quickly carries out modelling/simulations etc. which all help towards a better understood and hopefully optimised building.
Currently when I think of a digital twin I think of MEP systems, but I think we are moving into a place where this expands and digital twins include more integration, where they themselves become just another part of an intelligent building.
Much like environmental control you can imagine spaces that react to your specific settings, a special event, or just follow building occupancy for power saving.
With lighting being a sector of construction where LaaS (Lighting as a Service) is being explored, you can also see how the age, usage, power consumption or faults could all be real-time reported to the building system, which could raise work orders with the lighting provider. Oh and of course if an engineer was booked to attend the building, they would have a pass sent to them in advance and that are of the building might have been effectively ‘roped off’ ready for the visit.
This already happens to an extent with digital advertising in retail area and airports coming to mind. But let’s go back to the Minority Report comparison, this time looking at how Tom Cruise walks through a space and all the adverts notice him and call out his name. This might feel quite extreme, but it does seem that we are on a path towards something like that. Maybe things will not be fully personalised, but if a building is tracking us via our phone or device, personalised way-finding could appear on screens as we approach. And if not showing way-finding, the ads or info can be curated to suit the people, day, weather, what’s for lunch or anything else.
Work Orders, Fault Diagnostics and Detection
With all these sensors monitoring not only the people but also the plant and equipment within a building, a major step forward is taken in terms of maintenance. Health checks become continuous, with faults detected early and often dealt with before becoming a problem or causing an outage. Scheduled visits will become a thing of the past, as inspections are largely virtual with only a few reasons left to be physically present. This should improve efficiency, reduce cost and provide a better service to the end user.
As already mentioned, if any issues that are spotted require attention then these can be seamlessly pushed into a work order system, potentially with parts ordered and labour (if required) aligned to be on site when the part has arrived. This could also include alerts of outage or scheduled maintenance to occupants, without any intervention of the Building Manager.