February 2015

Innovations in Comfort, Efficiency, and Safety Solutions.

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The Constantly Evolving Smart Building

Whether it’s a smart building or even a green building, the meaning and standards of smart or green will continue to change as innovations come into the marketplace, and occupants and building owners realize increased value.

Jim Sinopoli
Jim Sinopoli PE,
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings LLC

Contributing Editor

“Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal”,
Albert Einstein

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CitiesThe “smartest” parts of a building, its systems and materials, are driven by innovation and technology. They may have a focus on long term building operations and performance but some are simply “game changers”. Inventions such as elevators, construction cranes, and power tools are examples of equipment that changed the way buildings are designed and constructed. While electricity is not a human invention, the commercialization of electricity and its use in buildings was a milestone. One of the latest game changers has to be Building Information Modeling (BIM); designing, fabricating, implementing and managing construction in five dimensions.

The backdrop for buildings and related automation is now tied to the relentless penetration of innovative information and communications technology for building systems, building design, construction, operations and building occupants.  Many astute building owners embrace the technology and innovation. However, it can be a challenge and uncomfortable for some building owners, architects, engineers and facility managers to innovate and change. It’s always easier to just keep doing what you’ve been doing than to put forth the effort to do something different, some may choose not to innovate based on the rationale that they can mitigate risk. Nevertheless the smart designers and engineers will examine innovations, assess risk and gauge the ultimate value for building owners, as well as include new ideas and products in discussions of a project concept.

The larger environment for smart buildings is related to: (a) the habituation of the global society for communications and information technology where people expect technology laden buildings and innovative products and services, and (b) the emergence and a somewhat convergence of three related markets: smart buildings, smart cities and the Internet of Things.

The morphing of these different markets has happened very quickly and almost without any measured intent of the building, city and IoT industries. What’s driving the transformation is the commonality between the three markets. Each of these entities are “pushing the envelope” to improve and advance the experience and performance for building occupants, city citizens and individuals, using technology as the enabler. The tools being utilized to provide that experience are similar. They include system integration, the acquisition and management of data, the analysis of data, the creation of new software applications, the development of performance metrics, and the visualization of the data tailored to the entity or individual consuming the data.

Smart Buildings and Cities

Smart BuildingsThe best and most obvious example of these markets evolving are smart buildings and smart cities. The driver for smart cities is population growth, with the population becoming more urbanized. Predictions are that seventy percent of the world’s population by 2050 will be in cities. Urbanization spawns buildings and requires building owners and the city community to take responsibilities for sustainability, energy management and livability. Here’s a short list of mutual issues for cities and smart buildings:

The Internet of Things and Smart Buildings

Internet of ThingsThe Internet of Things (or Everything) is a wild card. It seems to be a concept with little definition.  The “Internet of Things” will basically connect everything to everything else using the internet, which will lead to a level of automation for a variety of fields that’s never been seen. The fact that it’s a concept without any boundaries may be a good thing and spawn new ideas and inventions. However, developing standards may  be the Achilles heel of the IoT. It may take some time and it may eventually result in multiple standards, including proprietary standards from groups of commercial technology companies. This could delay the IoT market everyone is expecting.

This level of connectivity could provide some integration to enhance the level of functionality that none of the systems or devices could provide individually. Or it could simply acquire data from devices and analyze or mine the data for developing and gathering information. This is however essentially what many astute facility management groups are already doing; integrating building systems to provide greater functionality and deploying analytic software applications to improve the performance of building systems. It’s difficult to see if IoT can add much for building owners who already are integrating and analyzing data.

If you examine the commercial companies involved in the various associations or consortiums attempting to create the IoT standard, all are technology companies; chip manufacturers, and hardware, telecom and software vendors. It would seem that home automation, wearable technology and IT will be significant sectors of the IoT given the involvement of IT companies.

What we don’t see is large building automation companies as part of the IoT movement. One can assume they are either not interested, or simply want to wait to see how the marketplace matures, or are developing products and services that haven’t yet announced.

What effect or influence will the IoT really have on building management? If the initial products are related to wearable technology and home automation there will not be much interest by facility managers unless a building is mixed use, in which some apartments or condominiums require home automation to be deployed. Facility management can and will deploy additional sensors if needed without thinking much about IoT. With the building automation industry’s long history of a handful of well-known global communication protocols and the excellent gateways and middleware in the market, facility managers have the tools to take their buildings to a higher and more valuable level of building automation, with or without the IoT.

Whether it’s a smart building or even a green building, the meaning and standards of smart or green will continue to change as innovations come into the marketplace, and occupants and building owners realize increased value.


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