Smart Buildings Now, Autonomous Buildings Coming

Autonomous buildings can take action on the information produced by smart building technology.

Advances in facilities management software and technology for smart buildings and soon-to-be autonomous buildings are making this so.

"Buildings are our partner, not our problem," says FM:Systems' Chief Strategy Officer, Brian Haines.

Haines said that over time, the building stock moves through these phases of maturity, from traditional to connected, to smart, to autonomous.

"Each phase lays the groundwork for the next one," he said.

Since 2020, buildings have been in the "connected" phase, where buildings are outfitted with an array of sensors and meters that collect data and send it to the cloud. The usability of that information was limited, however, because it wasn't easy to turn those data streams into actionable insights, he said.

"Now, we're in the dawn of the "smart" phase," according to Haines.

Smart buildings take the information from those connected devices and not only parses it but integrates the data streams to reveal new and more sophisticated insights. For the most part, though, it's still up to humans to act on these details, he said.

Autonomous buildings can take the information produced by smart building technology and action it without human intervention.

Examples include automatically adjusting window shading throughout the day, depending on the weather, and issuing work orders for maintenance when an equipment fault is detected.

Smart buildings will become the norm by the end of this decade, Haines said.

"But, concurrent with this technology growing in prominence, we're also seeing early adoption of autonomous building systems," he said.

Generative artificial intelligence and machine learning have turbocharged the capabilities of smart building applications and are helping to usher in the next phase.

"I think we'll see adoption of autonomous building technology really accelerate in the first part of the next decade."

Retrofitting Driving Smart Building Solutions

Autonomous building capability is built on a base of smart building technology, like Internet of Things (IoT) devices, digital twins, sensors, and software.

Thanks to advances in battery, cloud storage, and Wi-Fi technology, those components are straightforward to deploy in existing assets, Haines said.

"We do it every day, and that kind of retrofitting is what's driving the widespread adoption of smart building solutions," he said.

Where the implementation of autonomous building technology gets more complicated and where new development will have an edge in optimizing the use of these solutions is in facilitating the software's manipulation of mechanical, electrical, and hydraulic systems, according to FM:Systems.

"It's one thing for the system to notify a human that a piece of equipment needs to be shut down, but enabling the system to turn off that equipment itself requires additional functionality that most existing buildings and equipment won't have," Haines said.

New-building development will also benefit from being designed to maximize the benefits of autonomous building technology.

For example, as smart and autonomous building technology teaches more about how people interact with facilities, new buildings can incorporate that information to address things like bottlenecks, indoor air quality, placement of amenities, and optimization of janitorial services.

Source: GlobeSt/ALM