The more intelligent way of living: Smart buildings and homes

It’s impossible to avoid seeing IoT in the medias these days. Smart heating and air quality monitoring, hubs and devices that listen and understand you, items delivered to you with a push of a button; smart entertainment centers, fridges, washing machines, cleaning robots, drones - the list is endless really.  Smart buildings and homes are re-defining efficiency, convenience and the quality of life. 

The market for smart building technologies is expected to grow about 34% annually, over the next few years based on how it’s helping to boost greater automation and technologies in the built environment. By 2021, the total market size for smart building technologies is forecast to reach over 24 billion USD. 

Building companies are looking to increase the number of smart buildings constructed and consumers are converting their houses from the conventional ways of living, into smart homes by using inter-connected hubs and gadgets. This article briefly discusses some technological innovations that are changing the way we live. 

Predictive & Automated Maintenance 

IoT allows a shift from prevention and repair maintenance to a more condition -based maintenance that works in real-time and is based on past performance data from all possible equipment in question and compares it to the performance data from similar equipment elsewhere in the world. By leveraging data, builders and construction operators are able to indicate potential problems in real time and take repairing actions before any larger damage is done. This saves companies around 15% in capital assets spent, by optimizing assets and prioritizing maintenance. This also reduces downtime and related costs. 

Similarly to machine learning, smart buildings will eventually become intelligent enough to diagnose and repair damages in structures and systems without human intervention. New sensor technologies can enable buildings to output data on structural integrity after a seismic event for example. Also building materials are becoming more intelligent: self-healing concrete, coatings, sealants and adhesives; shapeshifting metals and windows that generate solar energy. Regardless of where and how soon, technology leads the development and optimization of smart buildings. In the near future, buildings are able repair themselves up to a certain point and smart homes are able to repair us, by  monitoring our health. Smart toilets for instance, are able to analyze our stool and give us information about possible health risks such as diabetes or colon cancer and even notify women about pregnancy possibilities. 

Smart buildings and homes provide us with better information about our living environment as well. They can inform occupants about efficient energy management, recycling, water usage and other installed smart systems, which encourages us towards smarter human behavior.

Connecting networks 

Wireless plays a key role in smart building development and technology, and is undeniably an incredible convenience that most of us are unwilling to bargain. On the flip-side, it's still showing limitations with interface and reliability. 

Smart buildings are integrating 4K video on-demand, access control, energy management and occupancy control, and they are incorporating these features through central dashboards and controls. It's important to avoid redundancy though, the more intersecting points there are in the systems, the more intelligently the systems can work together. 

From wiring to networks and HVAC, smart building infrastructures are most easily installed during the construction phase. However, even a larger opportunity is to bring smarter building systems to already existing buildings, which is where Wi-Fi comes back in to the picture. Companies are looking more and more into wireless technologies and putting infrastructure into cloud-services for storage and data management. Wireless technologies are also the key in making the existing built environment smarter without having to open up walls. For new buildings too, wireless can help keep first costs down. 

Biometric integration 

The industry should  expect more research and product development around the intersection of biometric data and enhanced smart building operations. Smart buildings can use sensors to detect, trigger and control our living space by adjusting lighting, thermal comfort, air conditioning, and air quality for example. Researchers are finding ways to increase productivity in office buildings and reduce stress in hospitals and other environments by mimicking circadian rhythms.  Smart homes will soon be intelligent enough to distinguish between family members and guests within its' physical space and adapt to individual needs, based on biometrics like fingerprints, body temperatures, circadian rhythms and even facial recognition. Smart homes can  already adjust lighting, room temperature, play music to your personalized preferences and have a cup of coffee ready for you when you wake up by using pre-configured profiles and apps but eventually all this will be automatic and app-free. 

Security 

As the explosion of IoT and interconnected devices continues to spread, smart home and building security becomes of much greater importance. If there's a chance your coffee machine, fridge and entire house knows your credit card number, you can be sure that someone will try to violate that information, it's also possible to flip your smart lock via a smart phone and sneak off with your valuables. This is why there's a growing number of cyber security companies that provide commercial-level systems protection (which include firewalls, monitoring, data analysis, etc.). Future home security will also integrate with systems inside and can automatically alarm about any suspicious activity. There is of course a concern over increasing governmental surveillance and the use of big data when our whole living ecosystem is recording data about our vital functions and habits. 

"Rebuilding" the Construction Industry

New advances in digital technology, big data, construction materials and new approaches to design and energy use are creating a wave of innovation in the construction industry. There’s a lot of buzz around drones, 3D printing and robots and as these technologies mature in an increasing pace. We’re getting closer and closer to a world where structures can be built completely automatically and without manual labor.

Building large complex structures is a very expensive and time-consuming contract to undertake. The largest skyscrapers, for instance, take several years to complete. Already today, there are technologies applied, that enable a 57-story building to be built in less than 20 days – quite a leap from the traditional way of building. These sort of advancements are only possible by combining emerging technologies that gather data, automate processes and build structure with more precision, accuracy and speed and enable also enables faster returns on investments.

TRANSFORMATION

In construction, inspections play a crucial role, even before building the foundations, the site goes through a series of inspections. These inspections are made in order to get important data about the soil, drainage, vegetation, surface space etc. Once the actual building process starts, inspections continue to ensure safety, compliance, quality and progress. In the conventional way of building, all these inspections are made manually (hence, are time consuming) and can be a safety hazard for the inspectors. The most advanced construction companies are using drones to conduct these inspections. Drones can cover vast areas in much shorter time spans and capture detailed close up images with their advanced lenses, and finally send this data to intelligence computer systems. This digital data allows builders to perform pre-construction simulations, where they can test various designs and hypothesis and in this way lower the chance of making mistakes and miscalculations. This digital data also enables the automated construction of buildings.

3D printing is changing the way structures are being built by enabling the printing of concrete structures at very high speed. It’s pretty amazing what is already being done by 3D printing: The world’s first 3D printed sky scraper is on its way and unmanned printing machines are building entire bridges. With additive manufacturing, curved, layered, detailed and artistic structures can be printed much more efficiently compared to taking on these types of complex projects manually.

Robots can construct beams, lay bricks, drill, dig, paint and perform almost any type of tasks required to build structures. The most innovative companies have built solutions that allow smart robots to synchronously construct various complex objects, all they need is a technician to watch and monitor the process over the web from across the world.

Here are a few other innovations that have changed the conventional idea of construction, towards a greener, smarter and more future savvy building.


SELF-HEALING MATERIALS

Cement for instance, is one of the most widely used materials in construction. Cracking is a major problem, usually caused by exposure to water and chemicals. Self-healing materials, such as the self-healing concrete use a mix that contains bacteria, which will germinate as soon as water enters a crack in the concrete. It will then start to produce limestone, plugging the crack before water and oxygen has a chance to corrode the steel reinforcements.

THERMAL BRIDGING

Efficient insulation material is becoming increasingly important in the construction industry. Heat transmission through walls tends to be passed directly through the building envelope, the internal fascia. This process is known as “thermal bridging”. One solution called Aerogel is considered one of the most effective thermal insulation materials and is used in a fiberglass matrix. This can be used to insulate studs, which can reportedly increase overall thermal resistance of a wall by more than 40 per cent.

PHOTOVOLTAIC GLAZING

Building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) glazing helps buildings generate their own electricity, by turning the whole building envelope into a solar panel. Companies such as Polysolar, provide transparent photovoltaic glass as a structural building material, forming windows, façades and roofs. Their technology is efficient in producing energy even on north-facing, vertical walls and it can be double glazed or insulated directly. Its cost is only marginal over the traditional glass, and in addition companies save money on energy bills and can earn feed-in tariff revenues.

KINETIC ENERGY

Kinetic energy is another technology under development. This technology enables the flooring or roadways to harness energy from footsteps and other kinetic movement. It can be used indoors and outdoors in high traffic areas. Electricity is produced from footfall using an electromagnetic induction process and flywheel energy storage. It is currently used for example in football pitches and train stations to power streetlights around the area.

 

PREDICTIVE SOFTWARE

The structural integrity of any building is only as good as its individual parts. The way those parts fit together, along with the choice of materials and its specific site, all contribute to how the building will perform under normal, or extreme, conditions. There’s software that can simulate the stresses and strains on different structures of the designed building so that these types of challenges in the designs can be taken into consideration early on in the building process.

ASSET MAPPING

Asset mapping focuses on operational equipment, including heating and air conditioning, lighting and security systems, collecting data from serial numbers, firmware, engineering notes of when it was installed and by whom, and combines the data in one place. The system can show engineers in real time on a map where the equipment needs to be installed and, once the assets are connected to the real-time system using IoT. These can be monitored via the remote devices and systems and it helps customers build databases of asset performance, which can assist in proactive building maintenance, and also reduce building procurement and insurance costs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikekavis/2016/07/12/how-technology-is-disrupting-the-construction-industry/#55d900091749

https://www.raconteur.net/business/top-ten-construction-innovations