Tech Innovation

Smart Buildings Are the Next IoT Frontier

office building

Integrated sensor and automation technologies used in smart buildings are helping bring modern conveniences to workers and residents.

It’s a scenario straight out of the opening scene in a Black Mirror episode: An employee grabs her briefcase off the counter and gets in her car. After navigating traffic on the thruway, an alert on her phone directs her to the closest available parking spot at the office.

Facial recognition technology lets her into the building without a badge. She picks up her pre-ordered coffee off the bar and sees the alert on her phone indicating her meeting is in conference room A. It’s always cold in there, but since the room knows who will be attending, it preemptively warms the space to a comfortable temperature.

city buildings

“A smart building responds to the tenant’s needs in the context of her environment,” explained Sunita Shenoy, Director of Products at Intel. “The building adjusts the air conditioning, heating and lighting, and is connected to community areas and external spaces like parking garages to help the person productively get through the day.”

Engineers are tapping into Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in order to add smart building to the list of smart objects ranging from autonomous cars to microwaves.

Under construction, Intel Israel’s smart office building will do everything from upload relevant documents and manage the tech devices in the meeting rooms to know how long the cafeteria line is and share the dish du jour.

Smart buildings can save energy costs, because there’s no risk of occupants leaving the lights on when they leave for a long weekend or an overactive air conditioning unit blasting cold air in February.

designers working on laptop

“In a traditional building, a landlord might not find out about a water leakage in the basement until 10 days later. Then it’s a costly fix,” Shenoy explained. “If they had a smart building, the mechanism would alert the landlord that the water piping is getting old, allowing the landlord to fix the equipment before a problem occurs.”

Smart buildings benefit tenets, building managers and the environment, but managing the intricate system is no easy task. The million-dollar question is quickly becoming: Who manages a building that manages itself?

“This is something that’s in evolution now,” explained Christine Boles, Director of Smart Building Solutions at Intel, saying that, in the past, general contractors and HVAC experts have dealt with systems-related problems.

But as these systems become increasingly technologically advanced, building managers will have to find new contractors with more tech-based skill sets.

“There are places where the builders aren’t approaching it with the tech in mind,” Boles said. “It’s important to think about how the tech interacts with people, and how it helps the space and is a part of the space.”

Older buildings can still benefit from IoT upgrades. Boles said there’s a market coalescing where facility managers bring in systems that can connect to the current lighting, HVAC and internal structures.

“There are a bunch of existing buildings, and the owners aren’t going to rip out the existing systems,” she said. “They are going to bring in something new. They are looking for how to add or supplement the existing environment to help them achieve some of these goals.”

Some facility managers are making changes slowly. Rigoberto Lopez, Corporate Services IoT Project Manager for Intel, said some building managers are still transitioning from florescent lights to energy-efficient LEDs. The next step will be to eventually begin to introduce smart controls to further cut costs.

comfy screenshots

One company that’s helping to transform existing spaces into smart ones is Comfy. The occupant-facing app connects to existing building management systems (via a gateway device that includes an Intel Snappy Ubunto Core). For the first-time, individual occupants can “talk” to building systems and immediately customize conditions in their personal spaces.

With Comfy, occupants can easily warm or cool their spaces without needing to submit a ticket to the facilities team — and play the waiting game, explains Anna Lui, the company’s integrated marketing manager. Occupants can simply press a button in the Comfy app to adjust the temperature.

comfy screenshot

“Over time, Comfy is also gathering the tens of thousands of requests that people are making through the app and looking for usage trends,” Lui said. “Based off these trends, Comfy is automatically fine-tuning settings for specific parts of the building, teaching the building to create ideal conditions based on people’s preferences.”

Intel’s Building Management Platform enables solution providers to bring their smart building services to market more quickly.

The technological part of the transition, however, might be the easy part.

“You need to change to how occupants use the building,” Lopez said. “Connect people to the building and give them a means for feedback. If you put in a smart conference room, you want to make sure people say, ‘this is great’ not ‘why do we have this?’ Create a positive feedback loop, otherwise people won’t use these systems.”

A means to avoid circling the parking lot in search of an open space and a conference room that doesn’t require a winter coat, however, are likely to win people over.

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