Smart Buildings are Getting Smarter

Technology allows our buildings to learn from us and adapt to serve us better. We look at the next steps in this area of technology and how it will shape our experience of buildings in the future?

By Matt Wilderspin

smart building access system
When people talk about AI, my mind jumps immediately to the robots of Terminator or the “replicants” from Blade Runner, both strong ideas about the possibility of creating replacement humans in the future. Nowhere in my mental library of quality 80’s films are replacement buildings! I am not sure how Ridley Scott would react if he received a screenplay about a smart building!

We read a lot about smart technology and the massive, ever growing reservoir of data being sent back from millions of censors throughout our buildings, and about what we should be doing with it all, but most of the articles I read are about how digital monitoring can promote energy efficiency and asset optimisation. Yes, clearly this is very important and a massive step forward in how we operate our buildings – no one wants to waste money or resources. At CBRE we have a team delivering Asset IQ, a programme that takes a holistic view of systems performance across the whole building in order to use energy as sparingly as possible without impairing user experience.

However, buildings of the future need to do more than just optimise energy consumption. I see the next steps being buildings capable of learning and predicting when things will fail, not just mechanical and electrical services installations but key parts of the fabric like cladding systems and roof coverings. We will see intelligent cladding systems predicting when they need repair based on weather exposure, air pollution, sunlight and aspect, determined individually for each unique situation. This approach can apply equally to every part of a building, however for me, the really exciting stuff is how AI can shape our user experience of the space we occupy. 

Machine learning will optimise more than just static physical components and engineered systems.  AI will allow our buildings to learn at an intensely granular level how, what, where and when we use our space. Buildings will be able to learn how to operate at maximum efficiency, space can be optimised to the max, avoiding having to run a whole building if only a part is occupied on any given day. Going beyond this, AI can learn how individuals use the space – for each individual occupant, for each individual tenant, creating a bespoke and unique user experience, a set of user preferences – room temperature, air quality, light settings, power demand and more.

Digital twin virtual representations of our buildings are not new, but linked to AI technology they can examine multiple combinations of settings and predict different outcomes by analysing data drawn from a diverse range of sources. They can run simulation scenarios designed to maximise building and user efficiencies. These scenarios can then be played out in real time, optimising the building’s operation and directing users to the right spaces with a preferred and predetermined environment.

The digital twin is, in effect, a “replicant” and the more it can learn from actual building and user data, the more successfully it can duplicate the physical building and model everyday user interaction, so it’s better able to predict future performance, operating conditions and, more excitingly, the future pattern of user interaction and experience. The digital twin becomes the predictive twin, modelling the future state and behaviours of the building and its users – all we need now are Ridley Scott’s replicant human users!

For the (still human) user of the future moving anywhere inside a building, the environment will adapt effortlessly to suit their needs. Linked to a user experience app – of which CBRE’s own Host is a powerful example - room booking systems, video content recognition and virtual client interaction, the building environment becomes part of the user experience. Intelligent perhaps rather than smart, learning as we go – the possibilities are endless!

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