Smart Buildings: The Future with IoT

Smart Solutions

Smart Buildings: The Future with IoT

Until recently, even the tallest office towers and hotel complexes basically just consisted of an assortment of building blocks. But today architects need to manage complexity as demand for intelligent smart buildings that require new integrated planning methods and smart computer solutions instead of old-fashioned drawing boards grows. Many of them are already taking IoT to a more macro scale with the “Building Internet of Things”.

by Rainer Claaßen


Listening to modern-day developers discuss “smart” buildings sounds a lot like science fiction: Garages that guide drivers to free parking spaces, elevators that take you to the right floor without the need to press a button, meeting rooms that order the appropriate number and type of beverages attendees at a meeting will want long before the conference is convened: all this sounds pretty farfetched to laymen’s ears. But even more exciting, at least for the people who will have to pay for them, is the potential to raise efficiency by orders of magnitude, and in the process reduce building costs and overhead.
According to the International Energy Agency, buildings account for more than 30 percent of worldwide energy consumption. That means that reductions will pay off disproportionately. German hi-tech giant Siemens, a major player in the merging market for smart buildings, claims that the recently opened Taipei Financial Center, which is equipped with IoT-Technology, operates at a third of the cost of a conventional building.
Writing in Electronic Digest last September, notes Cabe Atwell, a Chicagobased writer and electrical engineer “On a grand scale, the Building Internet of Things will allow building engineers to better manage their properties.”

Smart Buildings: Taipei Financial Center


Energy only where its needed

“From monitoring the number of people in every room and temperatures of individual offices to controlling each light switch remotely, BIoT technology will help make life easier. There will be no more walking around a 100-story building to turn off light switches or tinkering with thermostats,” he continued.

Some of the obvious applications could be more granular monitoring of occupied spaces to make sure comfortable temperatures are maintained when they are occupied and to lower temperatures when no one is in the room.
However, Atwell also points out that BIoT will “revolutionize the way we collect data.” All that granular data will provide enormous amounts of quality information that can be analyzed for contributions to improved security, automation, and energy management. It could also contribute to region-wide management efforts, helping whole cities, for example, to become more energy efficient and helping police locate relevant surveillance information to solve crimes.
How to achieve this? Smart buildings are like living organisms, Atwell says. And just as many animal species have developed very efficient lifestyles, managing systems of smart buildings can develop similar capabilities. Ideally, in a smart building energy will only be used when and where it is needed.
Probably the most obvious example is the efficiency of heating systems: As modern systems are able to heat up a room in a very short time, an intelligent building can lower down the temperature in areas that are not used at a given time. As soon as movement-sensors detect that all workers have left an office in the evening, the temperature can be lowered – and the light can be turned off. Or conference rooms will only be heated a short time prior to the time a meeting is to take place.

I don’t believe the industry has put a lot of thought into what a ‘connected’ system really is and the ramifications it will have upon our industry. Time will tell.

Phil Zito
Author of the blog „Building Automation Monthly“


Use of air-conditioning can easily be optimized in a similar way: For example windows will either be dimmed or darkened by blinds, thus preventing the rooms from heating up – just like animals searching for shade in sunny weather. The efficiency of such systems can even be increased even more by adding data from recent weather forecasts.

Connecting to the grid

As renewable energy becomes more and more important, buildings themselves are being turned into energy generators. Modern Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) include components such as Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning (HVAC), solar and wind power generation, thermal storage, E-car chargers and smart meters, just to name a few. Increasingly, buildings feed energy into the grid instead of the other way around. This calls for both flexibility and efficiency in managing loads. Experts believe that smart buildings will play a fundamental role in stabilizing the grid through smart consumption. Not only will they be able to produce energy but they will be also to store it, and to do this through energy consumption forecasts that they share with utilities and grid operators.

Taking security to the next level

But of course the consumption and the flow of energy isn’t enough. Modern buildings need to take security to a completely new level. Connected systems such as security cameras and face recognition software will give workers access to their offices without having to wave a card or type in a code, allowing them to enter the building at all hours of the day. These systems will also ensure that employees can only enter those areas of the building that they are authorized to be in.
Fire safety is another major concern for smart building developers. People in the affected area will be warned, ventilation systems shut down, firewalls closed and higher pressure generated in areas near the fire. Without human intervention, smart buildings will take care that neither flames nor smoke can spread. far
Intelligent buildings can make life a lot easier as long as they work the way their builders intended. But as the number of components that rely on each other grows, down-time on any part of the system needs to be kept a minimum. Here, again, BIoT technology can help: sensorequipped components detect potential breakdowns before they happen and even order up the spare parts that will be needed to repair them.

Keeping out the hackers

But what about the danger of hackers breaking into a smart building? In Star Wars movies, the robot R2-D2 is able to open every door in the Deathstar. Similarily, a determined hacker could conceivably gain access to sensitive areas, and the more components that can be controlled remotely, the higher the danger of cyber-sabotage or blackmail attempts.

IBM’s X-Force, an ethical hacking team, recently managed to crack the servers that control door sensors and thermostats in their own office building through hidden flaws in the firmware. While the white hats failed to gain full control through the open Internet, they were able to do so wirelessly from the parking lot.

So far, hacks like this have only been performed by security experts wishing to draw attention to potential vulnerabilities. But a recent survey by IBM showed that 84 percent of building automation systems are in some way connected to the Net, and only 29 percent of system managers had taken action to improve cybersecurity. Building automation software must be isolated from the rest of the network, the IBM experts insist, and patches must be applied regularly. The systems themselves should be monitored for unusual activity, justlike other corporate software applications. Simply relying on the firewall is a sure recipe for disaster.

On a grand scale, the Building Internet of Things will allow building engineers to better manage their properties.

Cabe Atwell
Writer and electrical engineer


The Wikipedia entry for “building automation systems” lists 17 different protocols and a wide range of industry standards that can apply in Smart Buildings. This may still prove to be the greatest hurdle on the road to the widespread deployment of building automatization systems. The effort required to get systems using different standards to communicate smoothly can be daunting and can be a real problem during the initial planning phase, especially if different components speak comnpletely different “languages”. Besides, architects and building engineers often lack the special know how needed to ensure good data connectivity throughout the edifice for smart buildings.

Smart Buildings: Watching the bottom line

Watching the bottom line Energy efficiency and lowering maintenance can significantly reduce the costs of erecting smart buildings. BIoT technology can also increase worker productivity by orders of magnitude. Studies show that improved ventilation and air quality, which can easily be achieved and monitored by intelligent building systems, lead to fewer sick days, and greater comfort can allow employees to focus better on their work.
The payoff from smart buildings can come in many ways. Li Hang, technical director of Lilacs International Commercial Center in Shanghai, which used a Building Automation System provided by their partner Siemens, explains that “with the communications systems and the data we collect, such as marketplace traffic and the operational performance of every store, we can help our retailers analyze buyer behavior and optimize their sales strategies.” Managers can determine how popular a particular store in the company’s sprawling retail complex is in the view of shoppers. “The answers all can be found in our data”, says Hang. “If customers hesitate to enter a store, it could be because of the store’s window displaysor its prices. Based on the data we collect in our building, we can deliver vital feedback of this kind to our tenants”.

Building tomorrow

To catch a glimpse of the future of Building Automation, all you need to do is travel to Hamburg, Germany, where Internet entrepreneur Lars Hinrichs recently full filled a childhood wish by building his hi-tech dream house; a modern hi-tech boarding house where tenants are shown the way to their apartment via a fiber optic guidance system in the hallway; apartment doors are opened and closed automatically when the inhabitant’s smartphone approaches; lighting, electric sockets and room temperatures are controlled by apps; smart washing machines are preinstalled in each apartment; biologically designed lighting is attuned to the tenant’s sleeping patterns; an inhouse power plant produces electricity while heat pumps reduce energy consumption levels. The building boasts a guiding system for the parking garage, of course, which also is equipped with power sockets for e-cars. And on the basement floor there are 30 flexible coworking spaces which can be quickly turned into venues for product presentations or conferences. Hinrichs thinks his smart apartment will appeal to professionals in the high-income bracket who are only stopping over for limited time periods. And while rental prices start at a whopping 4,000 Euros, he currently runs a backlog of customers eager to sign on the dotted line. The future looks bright for building automation. But building professionals also need to consider what all this will mean for them and their business. In an article entitled “Do People Have a Clue What to Do With IoT?”, Phil Zito, author of the blog “Building Automation Monthly“ concludes that “on the flip side, I don’t believe the industry has put a lot of thought into what a ‘connected’ system really is and the ramifications it will have upon our industry. Time will tell.”


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