Thursday, April 13, 2017

Leveraging IoT for Smarter Buildings

Imagine if one of your EOD (End of the day) task at work is collecting the ingredients of a pre-decided dinner recipe just outside your work place. Or picture coffee machines at work which remember your preferences and tell users when they need to be refilled. Too smart, too soon? Not exactly! These are the features of, what has been claimed and awarded as, the world’s most sustainable and smart office building called The Edge, with an “outstanding” rating and highest ever BREEAM (short for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology) score of 98.36%.

The way, ride sharing apps have connected our smartphones with a more convenient transportation (while simultaneously occupying a bigger wallet share!) similarly, buildings are one of the basic components which are swarming with opportunities. A staggering 40% of the world’s electricity is consumed by the 1-billion buildings on the earth’s surface, and they are responsible for 33% of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions. This leads to the need for greener, smarter, and more intelligent solutions — The Smart Buildings.
Smart Buildings are said to be among the fastest growing commercial market under Internet of Things, along with Smart Home and Transport. According to Gartner estimates, by 2017, use cases in smart commercial buildings and transportation will be the main contributors, representing 58% of all IoT installed base in a Smart City. This article covers the business use cases and areas which show the impact of IoT technology in the Real Estate sector, or the Smart Buildings.
Buildings have evolved from simple to automated and now pave a way to smart connected buildings along with technology progression. IoT, by its basic definition, implies connected physical objects communicating data about their condition, position, or any other attributes over internet. For any business to derive value while leveraging IoT, it needs to focus on reducing the major cost forms to generate viable returns. Improvisation and reduction of the operational and maintenance costs, which form a huge portion of the Life-cycle cost of a building, are key attributes impacting the smart index of a building. Following details the important characteristics of a Smart Building:
  1. Optimization of the Building resources — As sensors track different building functions like motion, pressure, light, temperature, etc. an integrated platform can intelligently monitor and control them accordingly. This has led to a growing number of technology providers in the energy efficiency space like lighting, energy usage monitoring, smart plugs, occupant detection, HVAC monitoring and control, access control, water management, and others. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about 35% of the total building operation costs is spent on energy, while a little over a third, is spent on lighting. An interesting example in this area being View Dynamic Glass, a Smart Glass player, whose tint can be modified automatically based on weather outside (solar heat coefficient) or through smartphones based on a user preference. The company has seen over 300 completed commercial installations and another 150 in progress of an extensive client portfolio since last 12 months and boasts of investors like GE, Khosla Ventures, DBL, etc.
  2. Automation — Reduced manual human intervention across various dimensions like building security, environment risk detection, structural health sensors, etc. not only aims to improve the user experience but can also identify grey spaces in savings through features like fault detection, proactive maintenance, energy savings, or interfacing with various applications in general. For instance PointGrab claims to use embedded edge analytics on a low-cost ARM-based processor for image sensors to identify and process occupant details while protecting privacy. Such technology can lay foundation to numerous upcoming use cases like staff planning, space utilization, etc. in a Smart Office or advanced analytics in retail chains.
  3. Personalization — A normal automated building might have a centralized feedback, however an interactive control flow makes a building smarter. Dynamic and self-learning control systems, preference-based operability providing occupants with smartphone based control over the end-user energy flow in workplaces, or personalized retail experiences like automatic check-in, marketing, payment, etc. are some opportunities which can be harnesses through Smart Buildings.
Hence, the real-time visibility of building operations and energy responsiveness are clearly the game changing way forward towards a smarter home, office, hospitals, and an overall smarter infrastructure in a Smart City ecosystem. However, there are few challenges which still need to be addressed before the wide-spread implementation of the technology to provide the desired commercial returns. These include:
  • Smart Building capabilities should match with the needs of existing facilities like existing legacy system controls or proprietary technology
  • Upfront cost needs to match with the life-cycle savings of the simple sub-systems like efficient light control. While implementing the smart solutions at The Edge in Amsterdam, Deloitte considered implementing the smart solutions with a return on ­investment of less than 10 years. Moreover, the recurring costs of a traditional and smart building might vary a lot for an end-user
  • The security issues associated with Smart Buildings — A simple break-in to the Building Automation System (BAS) can lead to not only software but physical vulnerabilities as well, as exposed by the IBM X-Force Ethical Hacking Team
  • Privacy concerns of an end user — The data being collected by continuous monitoring of a building brings out certain privacy concerns by the users. Hence smarter buildings need to come up with smarter regulations to address the same.
Real-time monitoring, sustainability analysis, energy consumption, and innumerable similar scenarios can further create multitude of business opportunities bringing forth a new disruptive frontier in both B2B and B2C space through real estate sector. Established players like Cisco, Intel, Honeywell, Huawei, Philips Electronics, and others have already realized the commercial importance this segment can bring with their own Smart Buildings solutions. Future lies in implementing the same to address the right problems, keep evolving the solution with enhanced underlying technology, and get back the expected overall returns in a long term.
Views expressed here are my own and do not represent that of my employer (Current or Previous)