Future-Proofing Buildings For Connected Cities of the Future

Smart cities are steadily becoming a reality, thanks to the engineers who are future-proofing buildings by integrating open, interoperable IoT platforms that can be enhanced, grown, and leveraged for years to come. With technology always evolving, it’s essential that the platforms, data, and infrastructure being used today are designed with future possibilities in mind.

554
A city and a person holding a cell phone
Illustration: © IoT For All

It’s no secret that sensors and the amount of data they produce through the Internet of Things (IoT) are making buildings smarter and businesses more effective. However, there still remains a lot of hype around the possibilities of IoT and smart cities while organizations strive to put them into practice.

Today, sensors can help with fragmented tasks. For example, they can detect when critical systems are nearing failure, adjust air quality based on weather reports, and optimize light to save energy. But with the emergence of intelligent technologies like AI, machine learning, and 5G, what will these buildings look like five to ten years down the line? What kind of infrastructure will be required for the ever-increasing “behind the scenes” data demands? What kind of actionable measures derived from the collected data can be implemented autonomously and with what safeguards? Finally, what should facilities managers be doing now to prepare?

Technology evolves so rapidly that building for the needs of today also means building for the possibilities of tomorrow. While today’s building sensors can identify how much energy is being used on a given day, tomorrow’s will be able to evaluate and forecast energy needs, risks, and priorities for buildings across cities and automatically allocate and optimize energy and other resources to those that need it while conserving, storing, or reallocating in places that don’t. The collection and aggregation of data are important, but the actionable measures that can positively impact user effectiveness, enhance the occupant experience, and improve the building’s performance (and its associated citywide connections) are where these systems show their most potential value.

Smart cities are steadily becoming a reality thanks to the engineers who are future-proofing buildings by integrating open, interoperable IoT platforms that can be enhanced, grown, and leveraged for years to come. The actionable measures derived from the data today will have new meanings and unforeseen connections in the future. Therefore, it is paramount to ensure that the platform, the data, and the infrastructure will be designed with future flexibility in mind. And that those providing this design and implementing the actionable results have the knowledge, experience, and foresight to future proof for the best life-cycle cost of the initial IoT investment.

Building Open IoT Platforms For Smart Cities

When consumer devices receive major technology updates, it’s fairly simple to upgrade to a new device that supports it. But when talking about smart buildings, it’s not exactly feasible to gut them or knock them down and construct something new to accommodate every new technology that becomes available. Ideally, the existing infrastructure, devices, and programming investment would be leveraged as much as possible for the best return.

That’s why it’s critical for engineering professionals to design long-term future-proof systems when upgrading buildings, and one of the most important elements to consider is an open platform for smart building IoT deployments.

Open platforms are beneficial because they can be inspected, enhanced, and upgraded according to needs, and they can create a central gateway to connect many different devices and sensors, improving interconnectivity. This is particularly important when building smart cities, as more sensors are being deployed and will likely be connected to other infrastructure, like transportation systems, utilities, and even commercial consumer interaction platforms. More sensors means more data, and open-source tools are useful for collecting and processing large amounts of data and for ensuring future integration possibilities.

Analyzing Data Today For a Smarter Tomorrow

IoT sensors are deployed in buildings to collect data on energy usage patterns, indoor environmental conditions, and trends, and for wayfinding and tracking movement throughout the building, to name a few use cases. But all that data is useless if it’s not being properly collected, presented, and analyzed by the right people. The data should easily lead to a desired result.

Architecture, engineering, and construction professionals are increasingly using intelligent 3D modeling to plan, design, construct, and manage buildings through a process called building information modeling (BIM). Data collected from buildings can feed into the BIM and be analyzed to improve building operations management and to inform future buildings projects.

For example, using data to analyze how occupants are moving throughout buildings provides clear insight into when facilities should be programmed to let in outdoor light, lowering energy costs and improving people’s productivity and enjoyment. Not only are these capabilities becoming code requirements and saving on building operating costs, but they can also be used as a tool to boost morale, occupant engagement, and overall work ethic, which can have an even larger impact than energy savings alone.

What’s Next?

Right now, IoT-enabled smart buildings have advanced vertical capabilities that are focused on individual functionality. For example, during peak traffic hours, a lobby in a building may automatically adjust its temperature to proactively maintain a comfortable 73 degrees and then let the setpoint drift to a wider dead band when it senses people have left. But cross-functional, horizontal capabilities, like the temperature of a room being linked to the amount of light let in depending on energy consumption of nearby rooms and the load on the surrounding electrical grid feeding the building, is coming more into play.

A horizontal IoT platform approach promotes system interoperability that can improve overall building function and the occupant experience over time. Advancements in AI and machine learning will improve these functions by proactively and automatically performing tasks that are linked, not just within a building itself, but also with surrounding buildings and infrastructure. Imagine the scenario above, except now with a smart connection to other parameters outside the building—maybe a city where parking fills up on certain streets in the morning, and traffic lights divert further traffic from trying to park or pass through. Especially for those with a destination not in that immediate area, this would save time and unnecessary congestion, and alert the building of potential occupant delays based on public transportation delays or street congestion. When architects, engineers, and construction professionals design and upgrade buildings, it’s critical they do so with open, interoperable platforms. There are future possibilities linking many citywide activities that no one has even envisioned yet, but those building the infrastructure now should design with the possibilities of future intent.

Decades ago, future-proofing meant building resilient facilities with stronger materials made to last. While this still rings true today, future-proofing has taken on a whole new meaning as intelligent technology makes its way into more aspects of our everyday lives. We may not know exactly what smart cities will look like 50 years down the line, but we can ensure they’re possible by building the foundation for them to continue evolving and innovating for many years to come.

Jason Gladney, VP and Branch Manager at Southland Industries