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Technologies That Are Making Smart Buildings Smarter

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff

Developing technologies are making buildings more efficient and convenient.

What are smart buildings?

According to the Building Efficiency Initiative, smart buildings are structures that go beyond the equipment on the interior and exterior, and instead deliver systems that aim to make occupants more productive. Smart buildings rely on information technology to operate independently and control different aspects automatically such as sanitation, security, thermostat control, and lighting.

Features depend on the goals of the building owners and designers. For instance, a corporate building in Australia includes underground thermal tunnels to help bring more fresh air inside. Solar panels installed can harvest renewable energy from the sun. Motion detection lighting is another popular feature in smart buildings. Lights turn on and off based on room occupancy. The lighting could also adjust based on weather and time of day.

Reusable water sources have grown in popularity in smart buildings with architects installing features such as harvesting tools for groundwater, rainwater and HVAC condensation. Smart blinds are a feature that can be used to control the temperature inside a building as well as adjusting to reduce the need for artificial lighting.      

Businesses are taking a cue from the smart home phenomenon and integrating new technology to make their businesses into smart buildings. Much of this technology is meant to increase security while also increasing convenience and efficiency. These functions are slowly being converted into analogous systems that make an interconnected network.

The internet of things and smart buildings

If you're interested in smart buildings, it's important to understand what the internet of things (IoT) is. In general, it's the idea of an interconnected system of computers, devices and people. It involves the use of devices and technology with the embedded ability to be connected to a network. The major benefit of IoT is that certain processes are streamlined.

For example, in a smart home scenario, a refrigerator connected to the internet can send alerts that you're low on milk to your phone when you're on your way home from work, according to analytics company SAS. Likewise, a transportation company with connected devices can track its fleet, monitoring vehicle maintenance schedules and fuel usage.

CANDI is a company that specializes in building the IoT at businesses, allowing users to control and automate several functions from one interface. Its interface, called PowerTools, connects with hundreds of different smart building devices through the cloud. You don't have to construct a smart building from the ground up. According to CANDI, special gateways allow you to connect legacy devices to the network.

Wireless sensors and data collection is a big part of IoT. Sensors placed in a variety of spots for different devices can feed data about your building, including sound, light, temperature and occupancy of different rooms. This is useful for determining certain usage of rooms, energy, water and other analytics to help you make decisions about resource use.

This interconnected nature of every aspect of the building almost turns it into a living, breathing being that runs itself efficiently. Saving energy is a big part of this status; smart buildings are often green buildings as well. Comprehensive information on how your building uses energy will be invaluable in cutting down on electricity and gas.

You can further automate the process by linking switches or actuators to the IoT. For instance, they can switch lights off when no one is in a room. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning can all be part of IoT too. A sensor developed by Carnegie Mellon University, if placed in a break room, can even determine how many sheets of paper towels are left, just by sound, and will automatically order new rolls when they begin to run out.

Access control and security in smart buildings

Keeping tabs on who enters your building is an important aspect of security. Access control and security have evolved past a deadlock on the front door. As security systems become much more advanced, they converge with the means of how your employees enter the building and how you keep track of digital IDs, and other functions.

Biometrics is currently the field being most developed by access control companies, making identification protocols more convenient and less invasive. Fictional depictions of people using eye scanners to open doors with a quick look into a camera are not so fictional anymore. Iris scanners are being developed to quickly scan an employee's eyes and grant them access.

EyeLock's Nano NXT iris scanner can capture users' irises from a distance and while they're in motion. The scanner can integrate with many major access control and security platforms, and can be tied to a second authentication device, like a card reader. This allows only personnel with certain credentials into the building.

Mobile phones are also being used for more advanced access control, eliminating the need for physical key cards and fobs. Applications like Brivo Onair allow employees to unlock the door with their mobile phones. As businesses are moving toward BYOD (bring your own device) policies, these apps are compatible with both iOS and Android.

Small and midsize businesses can benefit from security systems that do more than just lock the doors and set up an alarm. ADT Business Security allows business owners to view live security footage, control lights and temperature, and lock or unlock doors from their phones. If you're a restaurant manager, the system can alert you if the fridge and freezer temperatures are abnormal.

The future of smart buildings

Artificial intelligence will play a big part as our smart buildings become even more automated and convenient for businesses. IoT is already creating an automated and data-driven environment, and IoT and AI will go hand in hand as the technology advances. Both will be critical for other ideas to go forward, such as predictive maintenance, which will accurately inform building managers what needs maintenance and prioritize areas for us, according to the Advanced Control Corporation.

Developing technologies, such as voice recognition and virtual and augmented reality, may also find a place in smart buildings. The next step might be reserving a conference room with your voice, or exploring the building's infrastructure in virtual reality. 

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