November 2018

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A City Full of Unconnected Building Networks is Not Smart

The responsibility is not with the vendors competing in a free market but with the standards agencies to set guidelines that are best for the sector as a whole.

James McHale
James McHale,

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"To deal with challenges faced during the growth of cities, the concept of Smart City has been envisioned, which denotes “the effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens,” begins a recent Georgia Tech research report on integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) in buildings.

“As the cells of smart cities, Smart Buildings are buildings which integrate intelligence, enterprise, control, and materials and construction as an entire building system to meet the drivers for building progression: energy efficiency, longevity, comfort, and satisfaction,” the paper continues.

The study focuses on IoT data standards and how they could be improved to achieve greater penetration and better integration within smart buildings, a component of the IoT that the researchers believe is being neglected.

It is the failure of current standards, they suggest, that has led to the highly fragmented smart buildings industry and the restructuring of those standards that will offer the best solution. Only by bringing buildings and their disparate systems more cohesively into the IoT can we begin to create truly smart cities and unleash the cyber-physical revolution.

“The built environment is a critical – but frequently overlooked – component of the Internet of Things (IoT) paradigm. Buildings – along with cities and vehicular / transit systems – comprise the platform into which ubiquitous computing and IoT systems are embedded,” the report states. “Buildings represent highly structured spatial environments – organizational systems of connecting spaces and components – that can provide a strong semantic overlay on the organization and interaction between IoT devices and their environments.”

Structure and the spatial limits of buildings are at the essence of cities; it could easily be argued that a city is simply a network of buildings. Connectivity within and between those buildings is then fundamental to the functioning of smart cities, as discussed in our 2016 article What’s a Smart City Without Connected Smart Buildings?, and of the smart grid: Smart Buildings Can Be ‘The Nodes’ Of The Smart Grid. The building’s influence, however, goes beyond physical, digital and electrical connections.

“Buildings provide intrinsic organizational information about the communities, businesses, and operations of the people, equipment, and systems they house,” the Georgia Tech paper says, highlighting that buildings are human environments. By sensing the built environment, smart technology is not just improving energy efficiency, productivity and comfort, it is creating a new interface between the human and digital worlds. This interface will be different from the more manual, screen-based interfaces we are used to; it will go beyond the emerging voice recognition technology to sense our needs and desires without prompting but this can only happen with better IoT integration.

Unconnect Building Networks 

“Buildings systems already incorporate proprietary networks of sophisticated sensors and devices in the form of energy systems, security systems, and smart home devices, albeit with limited inter‐system connectivity or exposure to the larger networks of IoT devices,” the report clarifies. “These smart building sensor networks represent potential platforms for the deployment of more generalized IoT networks, and are sources of occupancy and space that can provide significantly enhanced value to new IoT systems.”

The building must think as one in order for the city and grid to think as one, this is the basis for the IoT and fourth industrial revolution. And as simple as it may sound, the elevator speaking the same language as the air conditioning unit is the beginning of that whole process. The responsibility is not with the vendors competing in a free market but with the standards agencies to set guidelines that are best for the sector as a whole.

“Greater cooperation among standards bodies, corporations, city governments, and other stakeholders is needed so IoT and existing smart-building technology can work together to deliver the full potential of smart cities,” suggests the report. “In this report, we propose a strategy and preliminary framework for building-level IoT semantic models and open data strategies,” says Pardis Pishdad-Bozorgi, leader of the team that developed the report.

“The IoT has had a transformative effect on smart building automation and control in recent years, disrupting long-established business models and offering significant new opportunities to improve the efficiency of buildings, raise employee productivity, as well as helping to stimulate the development of innovative new services,” states our comprehensive report – The Internet of Things in Smart Commercial Buildings 2018 to 2022 exploring the current disruption and what we should expect in the coming years.


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