Written by Anthony Caruana.
This article originally appeared in AR146 – available now through newsstands and digitally through Zinio.
Today’s world depends on connectivity. Until recently, that connectivity was based on bringing people together using the internet as the conduit for email, instant messaging and video conferencing. But over the last couple of years, things have changed.
We now expect devices to deliver a constant stream of data to us, for us to be able to communicate with those devices and for different devices to communicate with each other. We are now entering the Internet of Things, or IoT, era.
For commercial buildings, some of the concepts used by the IoT are familiar. Sensors and controllers are used to manage services in order to optimise the experience of tenants and patrons. For example, thermostats can be used for climate control systems, ambient light sensors can be used to control light dimmers and window coverings or security passes can be used for secure access and to activate building services.
Where the IoT differs from traditional systems is that it is built on the open protocols of the internet. Rather than each system being based on proprietary standards developed by component manufacturers, the IoT relies on the use of open standards that allow devices to interoperate and to be accessed and controlled over the internet.
This has significantly changed how buildings, large and small, are designed and built.
THE RISE OF THE BUILDING NETWORK ENGINEER
In the past, systems such as air- conditioning and heating were installed by specialist engineers and electricians. With the advent of IoT, however, these devices can now be connected to a network.
That means building design and construction companies need new skills. With proprietary equipment, data used to monitor and control a device was largely confined to a closed system that didn’t interact with any other systems.
With the IoT, that data can now be shared between systems and outside the building. That means installers need to be network engineers who understand connectivity and security. While the traditional skills employed by electricians are still important, it’s vital to understand the potential security issues that can be introduced if a system is connected to the internet.
For example, a building security system with access control on doors, security cameras and personal data that is connected to the internet presents new opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, it makes it easier to keep an eye on building operations and carry out routine support. However, it also presents opportunities to malicious parties who wish to circumvent security and carry out a physical breach.
BUILDING MATERIALS AND DESIGN
Today’s workforce depends on wireless communications; however, Wi-Fi signals can have difficulty penetrating some construction materials.
During the design and construction phase, it’s important to ensure adequate cabling to every work area is provided so that wireless access points can be installed easily.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR SMART BUILDING
There is a massive upside to a well- deployed building management system that takes advantage of the technologies IoT offers. The rise of connected, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets makes it possible for architects to create smart buildings where everything that happens within the construction can be visualised from anywhere at any time.
Furthermore, as systems increasingly turn to the use of public standards such as TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol – the networking protocol of the internet) rather than proprietary standards, it becomes easier for systems to integrate both from an operational point of view and for monitoring and management.
For example, when a person enters the building using their security credential (which could be a biometric system using facial recognition via security cameras) the climate control, power management and lighting systems in their workspace could be automatically activated. The climate system could take into account external light and temperature to optimise the environment.
Suddenly, architects can evolve from designing edifices to creating experiences for patrons.
Architects, working with network and software engineers, can create real-time feedback systems with data delivered to a smart console so that everything can be monitored and managed.
All of these tools require a new way of conceiving how buildings are designed and built. This will require new skills but, more importantly, a new wave of creative design.
Written by Anthony Caruana.