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What Exactly Is a Smart Building?

By Gabriel S. Peschiera, PE, Director, Smart Buildings, Jaros, Baum & Bolles

What Exactly Is a Smart Building?Gabriel S. Peschiera, PE, Director, Smart Buildings, Jaros, Baum & Bolles

"Smart building" is the shorthand for the latest technology trend that is hitting real estate operations. Typical of trends, it is a moving target. While what was cut­ting-edge a decade ago has now become commonplace (e.g., LED lighting), much of the future-shock hype remains largely unfulfilled. Buildings are not relying on artificial intelligence, neither are exterior facades harvesting enough solar energy to power entire build­ings. So what is a more realistic and smarter view of the future? What does a developer building a super tall office tower or a sprawling corporate campus today need to be aware of to have an impact on building occupancy five or ten years toward the future? Here is an overview of what the core building infra­structure of the future will need to include.

Service Robots

Commercial building service robots have proven their worth in initial deployments and are ready for large-scale deployment. The main applications of these robots are transporting food, linens, and cleaning supplies, cleaning floors, along with security patrol. Hotels and malls have taken the lead in employing service robots for now, but soon, they may be delivering lunch to your desk at work. The questions raised by robot technology include: how many robots does a building need? How much space is needed for charging them? How much money is really saved through deploying robots? How can the data they collect such as WiFi strength be utilized? Successfully integrating robots in a project involves coordination between access control, vertical lift, operations teams, electrical design, space allocation, and even between different types of robots. Until now, buildings have been designed for people; now they have to be designed taking into account our mechanical friends too.

The future of construction will combine spatial granularity in control, seamlessly integrated IoT devices with central HVAC system control, and core infrastructure that offers more flexibility and comfort

Hyper-Personalized Environment

The CEO walks into the building, and by the time she gets to her corner office it is already at the exact temperature and brightness she prefers. That was the vision of the future ten years ago. The new and more democratic paradigm is that everyone should have control over their personal environment. Building standards like LEED and WELL are promoting personal control for everyone. Apps for remembering personal temperature preferences have arrived for the commercial office and all major building automation OEMs now offer one or the other kind of workplace app that includes hot or cold feedback.

The challenge is that infrastructure was not traditionally designed to support what the apps promise, which means that people can still end up freezing or sweating at their desks. The future of construction will combine spatial granularity in control, seamlessly integrated IoT devices with central HVAC system control, and core infrastructure that offers more flexibility and comfort.

Temperature is always a tricky issue, but lighting and shade control are also areas where people increasingly expect a tailored experience. The infrastructure requirements are almost the same—individual feedback and the control at the edge that informs central system operation with more range.

Cybersecurity for Operational Technology

Information technology (IT) networks have made huge strides in security. With two-factor authentication, protocol scrubbing, penetration testing, and anomaly detection, it’s hard to find an IT network without a host of cybersecurity features, and corporations are employing a dedicated network operations centre for 24/7 monitoring. The same is not true in the case of the networks for building systems falling under operational technology (OT)—lighting, CCTV, access control, HVAC, occupancy measurement, etc. Therefore, owners will need to pay better attention to improving cybersecurity for OT networks.

While many owners/developers are opting to keep IT and OT on physically separate networks, OT networks require the same design, commissioning, ongoing security software updates, periodic penetration testing, and 24/7 monitoring that IT systems receive. Combining the two networks for a truly converged communication backbone will drive labour and material savings in network management. Every IP-enabled light fixture, lock, and fan controller is critical for delivering the expected experience of occupants, but at the same time they also represent a point of vulnerability for cyberattacks. Intelligently managing the building’s fiber highway, as well as the vendors who uses that highway, will be of paramount importance.

Wireless

Buildings will need to manage a single, centralized wireless network for all OT devices, and vendors will need to follow standards in order to connect their devices. Because, there is no need for beacons, temperature sensors, smart plugs, occupancy sensors, or the hundreds of other OT wireless devices to have their own wireless, unsupervised network in any building.

WiFi? LoRaWAN? BLE? Zigbee? EnOcean? The decision as to which wireless protocol(s) to use for OT edge devices will depend on the requirements of the individual building. What are the data rate requirements across all types of sensors to make the network future-proof? What are the constraints for antenna siting and signal interference? How and when should we use battery or energy-harvesting sensors that can be easily moved if spaces change? Building owners will be taking control over what has been an unruly assortment of OT wireless devices.

Summary

As new trends in technology continue to evolve and define the smart building landscape, it is important to take a step back and consider how all the dynamic components of a building work together to achieve occupant satisfaction and owner goals. Integrating a number of specific technology solutions to achieve a cohesive building vision requires an ongoing conversation among occupants, tenants, owners, operators, designers, contractors, and technology providers.

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