How smart is that building, really?

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Is it time for a re-think on ‘smart’ buildings? Ian Richardson explores the term and what it really means.

Steve Jobs was a well-known businessman and is often described as a computer genius. He is widely recognised as a pioneer of the personal computer age of the 1970s and 1980s.

Jobs said “Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them”.

The reference to the word ‘smart’ generated my interest in how this term is currently being used. Smart can refer to intelligence. SMART is also a mnemonic acronym originally quoted in a paper by George T Doran called ‘There’s a SMART way to write management’s goals and objectives’. The acronym spells out as specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-related. 

The concept of a smart building has been around for some time. Unfortunately, the term is somewhat overused these days, even being adopted by some commercial interests, almost claiming ownership of the phrase. A truly smart building should be seen to adhere to the SMART acronym where it is specific to the task, can provide a measurable difference to the building – for example in energy efficiency, is achievable or action oriented through current technology, is very relevant to the needs of building owners, and is time-related to deliver projects efficiently.

So how do we define a smart building? Having lights automatically turn on upon entering a room and only remaining on when the occupants are in the room is a step towards this goal, but is this smart or intelligent? The public’s first view of a smart building is often seeing how the lights react. This technology has been around for many years with the use of movement detectors, however does it fulfill the definition of being SMART? Not really. We can say lighting control is specific, achievable and relevant in its nature, however on its own it is not necessarily fulfilling the definition of the smart building.

Having motorised control over blinds and shutters provides convenience to a building occupant, but is this fulfilling the requirements of being SMART?

If we get away from the common perception of a smart building, we can start thinking about the ‘Smarter Building’. A Smarter Building should be designed to make life simpler. It should provide the best in comfort, security, design, and energy efficiency for today and in the future. All the building automation functions such as blinds, lighting, heating, air-conditioning and door communications should be designed and integrated to make life simpler and smarter for the occupants. The range of solutions should offer diversity as well as high performance, coupled with fair pricing.

A Smarter Building should be as unique as the occupants who live or work there. The system designer can use the tools and applications available to tailor a different solution according to the needs and desires of the client, drawing from the solutions available from a wide range of products, providing full interoperability irrespective of brand, vendor or application. 

Digital smart assistants can provide a useful interface to the Smarter Building, allowing building occupants almost endless possibilities for comfort, safety, and energy efficiency. Various brands of digital assistants can offer voice control to operate the applications in the Smarter Building. Direct access via smart phones, tablets and computers provide additional convenience of operation. 

A Smarter Building requires the individual controls of the smart building elements to be integrated together to provide a total solution. These individual elements can include the voice control digital assistants, blinds, shutters, lighting, heating, air-conditioning, door entry systems, renewable energy, energy measurement and management, movement detection, presence simulation, panic switches, weather stations and more, to be linked in an intelligent way. It is an extensive list of applications.

Consider providers who are able to link these elements together and also consider future-proofing your technology. For example, in 1999 when KNX was founded, touch screens were hardly considered, now they are commonplace. The ability to talk to a device to command a specific action would also have been considered a futuristic capability belonging in science fiction, now it is almost a requirement.

The Smarter Building will allow single touch scene commands to control lighting, blinds, media, and climate controls to the optimum settings of the desired mood. Energy usage can be monitored and controlled to suit the capacity of renewables or stored battery charge if desired to maintain a sustainable lifestyle. 

Following Steve Jobs quote, smart people with the right tools can do wonderful things.

Ian Richardson is Chairman at KNX National Group Australia.

Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

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