In commercial real estate, the concept of the intelligent building is enjoying a revival. Technology can extract economic efficiency from buildings, and make us happier and possibly more productive at work. Has its day arrived, or has the intelligent building yet to come of age?
The optimism of 30 years ago was summarised in a paper by workplace consultancy, DEGW, called ‘The Intelligent Building in Europe’. It described how buildings would move and breathe according to the demands of its occupants, and predicted lifts arriving when needed, shades adapting to the position of the sun and air conditioning cranking up automatically in busy areas.
DEGW saw programmable buildings; they could not see occupants interacting directly. This was before smartphones and cloud storage. The age of big data and machine learning was yet to dawn. Just like Fritz Lang in his 1927 film, Metropolis, the future turns out different to the futurist vision.
Smartphones, broadband and cloud applications now allow systems to be democratised, and cheap reliable sensors generate data for machine learning algorithms. Building occupants are actively and passively involved. How will they accept their place in its evolution?
The technology that helps us find and book parking spaces, meeting rooms, or a vacant desk, is an easy sell, as long as it works and is user friendly. The same goes for recognising meeting participants and painlessly starting video technology, just as car owners are happy when their vehicle unlocks the door and adjusts the seat before they get in.
However, can automation and remote control improve all work activities? Here are three points of potential failure.