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Building Intelligence: How Technology, Data, and IoT are Shaping Smart Buildings

This article was written in collaboration with the FIS (Future Intelligent Solutions) team

After the latest industry evolution, it seems every device you own, wear, or interact with has turned ‘smart’ (or will inevitably become). You can trace your steps, your sleep and even the food in your fridge. Devices that accomplished a specific task are now able to do multiple things at once and/or connect with other devices of yours to create seamless interactions in your day-to-day life.  

But once your whole room is filled with devices turned smart, what follows? How can life be, well… smarter? The answer is within the question, of course… you take the actual room, and make it smarter. And thus, the birth of smart buildings.  

A simple answer that can make life for all those living, working at, working for, or simply spending time in the building, much simpler.  

To achieve this, we must understand and find innovative ways to: 

  • Leverage cutting edge sensor, AI, security and IoT connectivity technologies 
  • Integrate them into the fabric of a building 
  • Intelligently and remotely control/monitor functions within the building 

This way, smart buildings become living organisms that can actively gather insights, respond to specific needs, and optimize energy consumption, operational efficiency, and occupant comfort. 

In this article we will explore: 

How is technology making buildings smarter and more efficient? 

IoT is really the lifeblood of a smart building. By enabling connectivity between sensors and other devices, buildings can collect and transmit a wide range of information about the state of the building. Add in some intelligent processing of that data and you’ve now made your smart building… smart.  

What are some examples of applications and technologies that play a major role in smart buildings? 

  • Wireless Connectivity: Wireless links connecting data from sensors to gateways span multiple technologies including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee and LoRaWAN for example. Matter is an emerging protocol driven by the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA). Created in 2019, this new standard creates a unified and secure connectivity platform for smart home devices. 
  • Wired Connectivity: Ethernet is widely used for high-speed data transmission and commonly employed for critical applications in building automation. Power over Ethernet (PoE) allows both power and data to be transmitted over Ethernet cables, simplifying installation and is useful for applications such as IP cameras and intelligent commercial lighting. 
  • Voice and Sound Recognition: Whether voice keyword commands are used to control functions of a building or sounds such as glass breaking are intelligently identified, the ability to control and monitor buildings based on auditory signals is essential. With the recent advances in large language models and tools such as ChatGPT, voice recognition seems destined to improve greatly in the way that natural language is processed and used to interface with smart building controls. 
  • Machine Vision: Thanks to advanced cameras and computer vision algorithms, visual data is captured and interpreted including the recognition of objects and people. Machine vision technology can be used for several monitoring needs in smart buildings, such as occupancy detection by area, queues and congestions analysis and security breaches.  
  • People Tracking: These systems use Bluetooth, WiFi, or RFID beacons to track movement and locate individuals in a building. This way, the information can be analyzed and used to optimize space utilization, facility management and occupant experience. For example, HVAC and lighting systems can be set for optimal conditions and efficiency depending on real-time occupation for meeting room bookings.
  • Tracking Applications for Safety and Efficiency: IoT-based tracking applications can help increase safety and efficiency in a building. For example, staff and visitors can be tracked or located in case of emergency situations enabling efficient evacuations. Assets and inventory can also be tracked, streamlining facility management operations by providing real-time information.
  • Automation and Adaptive Controls: Data from various IoT devices and sensors can be integrated to make real-time adjustments towards the optimization of energy consumption in a smart building. HVAC systems, lighting, and other environmental conditions can leverage this data based on, for example, occupancy.

What role does data analytics play in an IoT-based BMS (Building Management Systems)? 

A smart building is crawling with different devices like sensors, actuators, controllers, meters, and other systems that generate a vast amount of data with everyday interactions with and by users. This data is harnessed and analyzed by BMS to improve the decision-making intelligence, operational efficiency, comfort and sustainability.  

IoT-based BMS can leverage connectivity to harness data from multiple devices at a time, resulting in an enhanced, superior experience for occupants. How? 

  • Real time monitoring: Parameters such as energy consumption, temperature, humidity, occupancy, equipment performance, etc. can be analyzed in real time allowing identification of anomalies or inefficacies and trigger alerts to take required actions.  
  • Predictive maintenance: Analysis of historic and real-time data can help BMS identify patterns and trends and schedule maintenance needs accurately and proactively, avoiding costly breakdowns or inconveniences.  
  • Energy management and optimization: Analyzing data from smart meters, sensors, and other energy systems can help identify wastage, energy-saving opportunities and optimize energy consumption, reducing costs and increasing sustainability.  
  • Occupant comfort and productivity: By analyzing occupancy and temperature sensors as well as air quality monitors, BMS can help identify occupants’ behaviors and preferences, suggesting personalized settings to increase comfort and productivity as needed.  
  • Space optimization: Analyzing occupancy data, movement patterns and rates of utilization of diverse rooms in a smart building can allow BMS to optimize spaces, planning and resource allocation to improve operational efficiency.  

What are the benefits and drawbacks of ‘smart’ buildings? 

While the benefits of smart buildings are apparent, some drawbacks must be addressed. As your trusted partner, we’d like to take a look not only at the pros, but also the cons of these new technologies and how the latter could be addressed (see ‘Considerations for smart building design’ subheading). Find the area of opportunity, innovate, and take the market by storm! 

Benefits of smart buildings:

  • Energy efficiency and cost savings 
  • Improved occupant comfort and productivity 
  • Enhanced safety and security 
  • Streamlined facility management and maintenance 

Drawbacks of smart buildings:

  • Initial implementation costs 
  • Privacy and data security concerns 
  • Complexity of integration and interoperability 
  • Dependence on technology and potential system failures 

Considerations for smart building design 

Now, where some may see drawbacks, we like to see areas of opportunity. To innovate confidently in the smart building business, you might want to consider:  

  • Comprehensive planning: Thorough planning and assessment must go into every new design. This is especially true for larger investments such as smart building implementations. To address potential challenges, you must be prepared with effective strategies to overcome them. These might include finding cost-effective solutions within the market, prioritizing privacy measures, and enabling compatibility and interoperability between all applied technologies.  
  • Cybersecurity and Embedded Security: Cybersecurity and embedded security have become overarching topics in most new technologies today. Prioritizing and implementing robust security measures in both software and at the hardware design level becomes paramount when speaking about smart buildings as these may involve places where people spend most of their time, such as residential or office buildings. These measures can include strong encryption protocols, network segmentation, and regular vulnerability assessments to protect all sensitive data and reduce privacy concerns.  
  • User education and training: Offering comprehensive education and training for users, managers, and maintenance staff can reduce concerns about the nuances of technology as they better understand functionalities and identify potential issues. With the proper understanding of the systems, users can feel safer and maximize their leverage of technology, managers and maintenance staff can make informed decisions, identify failures, and tackle them in a timely manner.  
  • Flexible solutions: Choosing scalable and flexible solutions future-proofs your designs in smart building implementations, reducing long-term costs, smoothing out operations and allowing for growth and upgrading in the future.  

By taking these into consideration, smart building design comes with the least amount of drawbacks and maximized leverage of its benefits.  

The era of smart buildings is another sign of the times that says we’re stepping into the future. Increased energy efficiency, occupant comfort, and smooth operations are possible… and the right planning and innovation could help you pave the way to success in this rising industry.  

Where does your piece fit the puzzle?  

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