Smart buildings have been considered the future of buildings. These are capable of connecting various pieces of a building into an integrated, dynamic, and functional system that can extend to connect a building to the environment and the electrical grid it exists within to better optimize and minimize energy costs and mitigate a building's environmental impact. Two things that can set a smart building apart from a traditional building with traditional command and control solutions is the possibility for granular data monitoring and advanced analytics. This can be achieved through the use of the Internet of Things (IoT), which can collect data about almost any, if not every, aspect of a building's operation, and allows a building manager or operator to monitor the power and power-quality, the condition of a building's equipment and predictive maintenance to stop failures, occupancy levels, and energy measurements.
Generally speaking, smart buildings can be broken into three possible segments: smart design, smart construction, and smart building management. Smart design includes the use of algorithmic tools to help design a building with new usage trends and find ways to design buildings to be more energy efficient. Smart construction, on the other hand, works to construct a new building with the use of technology to save time, money, and resources. While, when most people speak of smart building, they refer to the management of the building. This is, in part, because the promises of smart buildings can be extended through management to existing buildings with the retrofitting of IoT and monitoring devices to give an older building the same functionality as a building designed with that functionality in mind.
When retrofitting a building or developing a smart building, there are two keys to building the smart building environment. These are security and scalability. In this case, security is understandably important, especially in the case of a building being something more critical or housing vulnerable information, such as in the case of a power plant or a bank. These software systems can provide data integrity, resiliency, and manage cybersecurity risks, which can quantify and certify risk management and the creation of appropriate firewalls.
And in scalability, a platform needs to be flexible enough to ensure it can be functional with the building and the systems within the building. This often means users choose an open platform. Open platforms offer flexibility and lower ownership costs, while providing a comprehensive developer environment that allows for rapid development and deployment of applications across a cloud-based environment. And platforms that are open on top and bottom are better, as they offer total access to data and a choice of the ways to gather the data. Open on top means data is not locked into a proprietary system and can be sent anywhere. While open on bottom means a user can take a pick of the multitude of sensors on the market and allow users to build an environment that suits their need and often at the lowest cost.
At a fundamental level, smart buildings work to deliver building services to make occupants productive—for example illumination, thermal comfort, air quality, physical security, or sanitation—at the lowest cost and environmental impact over a building's lifecycle. And this is achieved by smart buildings connecting a variety of subsystems that would normally operate independently to allow these systems to share information and optimize building performance.
This then works to use advanced analytics, statistical algorithms, and machine learning capabilities to achieve sustainability requirements, including the following:
- reduction of water use
- reduction of the intake of fresh air
- lowering of the overall power consumption of a building operation or equipment usage
- measuring of various aspects of operation, such as humidity, compressor vibrations, refrigerant temperature in evaporators and condensers, temperature inside a refrigeration unit, and related features to detect possible failure in equipment.
Considered one of the most important technologies for smart buildings, IoT uses a common internet protocol (IP) platform to connect multiple devices to exchange and analyze information. This can be used to automatically optimize equipment and device controls or to monitor and collect data on machinery or equipment. This has led to the emergence of multiple applications within commercial and industrial settings, both improving upon operations and enhancing the occupant experience.
One example is connected, (aka "smart") restrooms, where the quality and cleanliness of a restroom draws the most complaints from occupants and can negatively affect customers. In a restroom, IoT sensors could resolve issues before they happen—alerting cleaning crews when soap or paper towel dispensers are low; monitoring whether a certain amount of traffic has gone through the restroom, requiring cleaning or sanitization; and determining if a restroom is full and allowing visitors to have an approximate wait time.
Similarly, IoT can help with various systems, such as the following:
- monitoring equipment for predictive maintenance
- monitoring occupancy to optimize comfort levels without wasting energy on less-used or unused areas
- helping with security and surveillance that can allow users to know when people or assets at risk
Similar to IoT, artificial intelligence is often a buzzword that receives a lot of attention, but what it offers is automation, or decision-making, within a machine or software without need for human intervention. The application of AI within smart buildings is extensive, especially being that AI can be integrated into IoT sensors and devices and provide edge computing to increase the autonomy and capability of a smart building. Such devices will apply deep learning to understand objects and environments and make adjustments according to learned user preference or an analysis of historical trends, and an IoT and AI-enabled asset management system can pick up abnormalities in the functioning of given assets based on what the AI has "learned" about the given asset.
Artificial intelligence also allows for analytics of the large volume of valuable data that IoT can generate about a building and how the building is being utilized. This can further allow building managers or operators to make informed decisions to optimize the use of a building.
The most fundamental feature of a smart building is the linking of core systems within the building, which can share information in order to automate various processes and reduce the involvement of human decision makers. These processes could include, but are not limited to, heating, ventilation, lighting, air condition, and security.
The automation can be controlled either by a Building Management System (BMS) or Building Automation System (BAS), both being central digital or mobile hubs. These systems are compatible with IoT solutions and can monitor factors such as temperature, humidity, electricity, and water pressure. These systems can offer building managers or operators a single dashboard of software suite that can be accessed either centrally or remotely to manage buildings in real time.
For facilities management, augmented reality technology has been used in building when examining a room full of various unfamiliar electrical and mechanical equipment. This would allow for digital guides or representations of the equipment to appear overtop of the equipment and could provide identification and added detail, including written instructions, warnings, date of installation, date of inspection, and common troubleshooting.
Similarly, virtual reality could be used to create dynamic quality checks, 3D internal design review, and virtual walkthroughs. All of this could be further enriched with a 1:1 scale digital twin of a building and related equipment to better understand how a space or a piece of equipment is being used.
Buildings systems that can integrate with other building systems can allow for the sharing of data and allow smart buildings to become greater than the sum of the individual parts. For example, integrating occupancy sensor data into a desk or room booking system means a building manager can enable efficient management processes and provide a smart environment for employees.
Buildings and real estate are often the highest costs for a business, which means ensuring that a space is properly used and is not wasted is essential. Here sensors can be an integral part of smart buildings and play an important role in collecting data to inform decisions about where to allocate resources. For example, sensors can be used or integrated into a building to help users understand whether facilities have the right types of space to meet occupant requirements, including to identify whether a building has the right size or amount of rooms, which areas are most popular or unpopular, and whether working spaces are sufficient for a business's need.
Using artificial intelligence and connected systems, building managers can monitor an entire building ecosystem, including communication systems, HVAC systems, power usage, environmental data, access control, environmental controls, data centers, alarm systems, power submetering, air quality, real-time location, and edge-based monitoring. Monitoring would occur through user-defined dashboards. The systems provide a realistic picture of how a building is being used and help prolong the life of equipment, furnishings, and appliances. They can also include security measures, automated fault detection, and asset management support.
By delivering a space that is capable of facilitating good indoor air quality, physical comfort, security, sanitation, lighting, efficient processes, and room that staff need an optimum level to help them perform. Identifying and understanding how people make use of and move around a building can help optimize the physical layout of frequented spaces and minimize wastes of space.
Smart buildings often allow for the use of sensors and automation to improve energy efficiency, and, in turn, energy costs. Features include the ability of the system to automatically turn off lights or HVAC systems in unoccupied rooms or spaces to reduce the need for unnecessary consumption of energy in unused or lesser used spaces.
Building overheads can be a significant cost for any building owner or users; while these can be necessary business expenses, the level of spend is often wasteful because it is not intelligently applied. By identifying patterns around underutilized spaces, users can reduce real estate to cut costs.
Smart building companies
Smart building software provides assistance with configuring, managing, and monitoring IoT devices. This can allow building operators to achieve the goal of a smart building and collect the necessary data and necessary analysis to create trigger actions based on touch, temperature, proximity, humidity levels, or water levels. And this piece of software offers a single management platform through which building managers can monitor and manage a building.
Smart building software companies
With the growing number of IoT devices, there has been an increasing need for interoperability for these devices and systems can benefit the users. Most of these devices are equipped with RESTful API, but integrating IoT devices is often challenging because of the lack of API standardization. Each manufacturer tends to define how their API for their product works, and with the traditional RESTful style, this is often designed based on a resource-oriented paradigm, which often lacks functionality description. This can increase development cost and and present obstructions to the use of these applications.
However, using either an open standard for APIs or standardization across APIs, this could link a variety of devices and could make fully smart buildings easer to develop and easier for users to manage, rather than either work from separate APIs or separate management dashboards based on which works with what.
Using an API can be important for extending a digital system and include smart products, such as elevators, doors, or HVAC systems that can then be included in and used through an end user application. On the other hand, other APIs can offer equipment and operations data with the customer's building management systems.
APIs can also offer a user a chance to build a digital twin to map a building and begin to understand how to better save energy in the building, track airflow, and increase public safety. It could also be used to track employees and visitors during an emergency. But in order to build a digital twin, this could require an API capable of plugging into a variety of systems to read and understand the traffic data from them. And the analysis of the data can further help understand what types of devices are in the building and what those devices talk to. All of which generates simulations of the building to help building managers to understand what they need or want to know about the building.
Companies offering APIs for smart buildings
One of the hallmark features of a smart building is to provide access management, enabled through smart doors. These smart doors and their related systems can let only authorized individuals into the building, while allowing for smart entry systems that can provide guests (such as delivery persons) with messages to allow them into the building. Smart doors can also provide data for building managers on the occupants and traffic flow into an out of a building at any time. Further, based on various systems, such as key fobs or mobile applications, smart buildings can provide no-touch access for authorized individuals and further provide secure access.
These systems can also be extended to parking, allowing guests access to parking garages and tying payment in through applications to ease parking procedures. As well, they can be used to help individuals find their vehicles in larger parking facilities. Similar technologies have been used as people have returned to offices to develop virtual doors and manage occupancy levels for rooms and offices to keep occupants of those buildings safe and reduce interactions that could spread COVID-19 or other viral or bacterial infections.
Using IoT, doors and access management can offer real-time monitoring and control of doors and whether a door is open, which can further help with energy consumptions and help building managers detect high-energy consumption spots.
Companies offering smart doors and access management solutions
Generally smart elevators, similar to smart buildings, combine big data, IoT, and AI with other technologies such as sensors, to solve different issues with elevators. This includes the frustration of waiting for an elevator, and the elevator being too full to board. As well, these systems can include a built-in security system and provide greater energy efficiencies and savings from traditional elevators, both by reducing power draw of elevators not in use and by sensors monitoring the conditions of the elevators and related equipment.
Through the collection of real-time data from individual elevators through sensors, AI can be used to analyze wait times, levels of congestion, and the number of people waiting for the elevator, and use the information to decide which elevator operation modes to deploy, including peak traffic and nighttime nonstop modes.
With an elevator enabled with AI, it means the elevator can collect and analyze the data to predict performance trends, and also collect information for seamless entry, allowing secure users to call an elevator through an application for better dispatch service, less wait time, and a reduction in frustration for users. Further, to increase efficiency, TK Elevators has developed a system with partnership from Microsoft and Vodafone to collect data from different installations. The system is capable of delivering automated service tickets as soon as an error is discovered, including all the information technicians need to expedite the service and reduce possible downtimes.
Smart elevators can also include comfort technologies, which could include screens capable of playing ads, news, and weather while users ride the elevator, and could further include options such as voice control or gesture-based controls for calling the elevator and calling for the floor for an elevator. Similar integrations could allow robots to call and ride an elevator during light traffic times, and newer technology could replace a lot of the machinery and mechanical elements used in "drive-by-wire" systems.
Smart elevator companies
For companies that use refrigeration, IoT technology can allow a building manager or individual occupant to equip refrigerators with different sensors and controls, including temperature, pressure, and humidity controls used in a range of commercial refrigeration units. Smart refrigeration features can include control of pressure and fan speeds for energy efficiency, defrost controls to help maintain a refrigerator's lifecycle and keep ice from building up in a refrigeration unit, and temperature and leak controls and detectors to keep a refrigerator energy efficient.
For a smart building, using a "smart" parking solution can offer benefits for building occupants and visitors. These can include full security monitoring; time tracking for expired or expiring tickets; alerts and notifications for events in parking spaces, such as lot availability; waiting lists for specific times of days or months for parking; permit validation and ticket management; and secure payment options. These systems could also be offered to occupants through a mobile application to further decrease any friction between individual building users and building managers.
Like other systems, occupancy sensors can provide more precise data on the occupancy of a room. This can offer cost savings, energy consumption reduction, and improved space efficiency and occupant wellbeing. This can help employees occupying a space to be more comfortable, and in turn be more efficient. As well, this can give a building manager a more precise idea of how a building is being utilized, which can help those occupants or building managers to redesign a space for better use or to convert lesser used spaces into something more efficient. And this can also offer occupants of a space an idea of which offices or rooms are at occupancy levels, or if there is a vacancy; it can inform them of which desks or areas are free and whether that space has been recently cleaned; and can help adapt the ventilation and lighting to occupancy levels.
HVAC and sensors that would allow an HVAC system to be considered "smart" offers a chance for building managers and companies to reduce operating expenses and provide greater control over building systems. These systems can also be used for decision support for building managers. These systems can be outfitted or purchases with sensors capable of collecting data about the conditions of a HVAC system and can provide overall environmental controls, including the ability to fine-tune temperature, humidity, and air flow in various zones to reduce energy consumption while maintaining occupant comfort.
The components of a smart HVAC system can include thermal sensors, capable of detecting differences in conditions in different zones of a building, such as a crowded conference room versus an open-office area, which provide specific an unique challenges for an HVAC system. Carbon dioxide sensors are capable of detecting buildups of CO2 in a space; CO2 buildup can have negative impacts on thinking and decision making for occupants of a space. Occupancy sensors can provide data on the occupancy of a space and trigger specific events for an HVAC system. Light sensors can provide an HVAC system the conditions of ambient light in a space and determine if the light is natural or artificial, which can determine whether the light carries heat or otherwise.
Lighting plays a role in the infrastructure of a building, and with smart building technology, energy efficient technologies, and lighting control, can help develop lighting schedules. Dedicated lighting controls can also enable dimming control and daylight harvesting, where lights near windows are shut off while the outside light level is high enough. Further, with increased occupancy sensors, and the understanding of how many occupants are in a given room or space, the lights can be further automated, which ensures that in areas where there are no occupants, the lights will be turned off.
Further, these sensors can allow building managers to track the lighting and related assets for either detecting faults or for detecting when a light has burned out. It can further provide building managers with the necessary information to replace the light as soon as possible and ensure they have the right lightbulb.
There are various trends in smart buildings. One such being network-connected sensors and devices, in which the network is used to connect sensors and devices to protect and gather data from sensors. Once the data is gathered, buildings using centralized data storage systems for the flow of data and for reporting systems help simplify systems for building managers. And these can help offer central visual management dashboards, which can provide visual, custom-configured dashboards for building operations and can provide tools to make sense of the data from IoT devices. Building automation is also assisted, such as moving the operations of various systems to an AI system for greater automation, and only bringing events or out-of-the normal situations to the attention of a building manager.
There is a growing trend in the smart building industry towards open protocols, especially in the case of sensors, network hardware, and software and APIs, in order to help support devices and cloud-hosted systems in a building management system. And to allow for users to create customized management interfaces from a combination of devices that can address specific needs, rather than limiting or requiring users to work around the range of tools available from specific vendors and their proprietary protocols.
With the use of IoT, one of the bigger trends in smart buildings is the use of secured network connectivity for service contractors and facility teams to monitor and troubleshoot systems without needing to be near a piece of equipment. This has increased the demand for coordination between service providers to increase the security of network connections and user authentication strategies.
One of the more often used technologies in smart buildings, AI and ML, can help monitor and uncover patterns within large datasets and can help accelerate processes that would otherwise take a human operator to review and decode. Advanced machine learning can also be used to create models of what is happening in a building. Examples of this include detecting excessive energy use, identifying energy savings opportunities, alerting users to equipment and system failures before they occur, providing recommendations for operations, and solving problems with minimal human intervention.
And using AI and ML, a building software platform can provide intelligent building analytics, which work to help manage operations and improve overall efficiency. These analytics help to make data meaningful for a user and can help develop insights from the data, including more valuable fault detection and diagnostics. This can be achieved in part through the use of aggregated real-time and historical data to provide contextual alarms and suggest possible solutions.
Water resources have become, in many places, a scarce resource, and this has increased the importance for buildings to manage water consumption levels and take appropriate measures to reduce it. And with the use of sensors and flow meters, building managers can keep track of water usage. By combining sensor data with AI, a better understanding of a building's water usage can be had, and a building manager can be notified of possible solutions to reduce water consumption.
As smart buildings become more common, connecting those buildings to other smart systems, such as the developing smart grids, can provide a few benefits. This includes the ability for electricity markets to begin to offer real-time pricing on electricity and respond according to demand, and then request a reduction in demand when the pricing for power is high or the grid reliability is jeopardized. In addition, dynamic electricity rates allow a building to be charged closer to the actual costs of producing electricity at the instant it is used, rather than the average cost over time.
For example, a smart grid that anticipates an increased demand on electricity generation, such as during a temperature spike, the grid could offer to pay a smart building for every kilowatt-hour drop from its average electricity use. The smart building could in turn accept the offer and activate an internal demand-reduction policy to reduce overall load.
Commercial buildings are expected to use technology in managing regular cleaning and sanitation, proper office ventilation, smart entry control, temperature measuring devices, and space optimization for physical distancing, which has further increased the demand for smart building technologies. In terms of keeping occupants safe, these technologies can help track occupants, work to ensure proper ventilation for occupied rooms to properly introduce fresh air, and help ensure no rooms reach or exceed safe occupancy levels. These systems could also alert building management to when a traffic or occupancy level has hit a point to trigger sanitation and keep the building staff from sanitizing areas that have not been used enough to be sanitized.
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