There is hardly any other area where safety and security are as fundamentally important as within one’s own four walls. On the outside, they have always repelled intruders or even wind and weather. Inside, they delimit rooms. Until now, however, walls have merely stood around the interior and, in addition to safeguarding the statics, served primarily as passive supports for utilities and useful ingredients such as electric, gas or water pipes, light switches or bathroom fittings. In the future, however, walls will be able to feel, and the saying: “walls have ears” will take on a whole new meaning with a smart building. 

A Smart Building Will Think in the Future

In the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) is finding its way into smart buildings even before they are entered by their users. IP cameras for surveillance, biometric readers for access control or thermostat sensors  that control the room temperature depending on the number of people present are just a few examples of networking options that make a smart building really intelligent. Data from business processes are linked  with those of the building on a building management platform, so that the AI can make suggestions for optimised use or maintenance even before a repair is necessary. This not only saves time, but also inconvenience and money. This is already a factor that can turn a smart building more and more into a so-called cognitive building. 

Trend-Setting Smart Buildings in Germany

In the northwest of Cologne, one of the showcase buildings of future-oriented smart buildings, The Ship, was built last year. Commissioned by the Cologne-based start-up Fond Of, the building’s owners claim it is “Germany’s most digital office building” and uses an app to guide visitors to the person they are talking to, for example, or automatically adjusts the brightness of the occupied room according to the natural lighting conditions outside the smart building. The Cube was opened on Washingtonplatz in Berlin in February 2020. The ten-storey cube with an edge length of 42.5 metres and a glass facade that folds inwards on all sides contains 3800 sensors for intelligent control and use via app. The Hammerbrooklyn area in Hamburg is scheduled for completion in 2027. A pavilion with visions for the Digital Campus can already be visited there. Europe’s largest innovation quarter is to be built in Frankfurt am Main. Intelligent buildings will form an entire smart city there under the name SpringPark Valley. 330 residential units for around 6000 people, mainly in the form of serviced flats, will create a pleasant proximity to the planned 8000 workplaces. A neighbourhood app will efficiently guide users through time and space, always allowing them to find the room that best suits their registered needs. This is the plan for the smart buildings, which are to be built on 90,000 square metres and a gross floor area of approximately 242,000 square metres.

Federal Government Releases Funding for Smart Solutions

Despite the aforementioned giga-projects, builders are still hesitant about smart buildings in Germany. The Global pioneers are China and the United Arab Emirates. Since the beginning of the year, the German government has been trying to change this with the Federal Promotion for Efficient Buildings (BEG). From January 2021 onwards, 8 billion EURO are expected to help the development of smart buildings. The Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) also funds smart city projects every year. In 2016, the Federal Government established the Smart Cities Dialogue Platform, which promotes national and international exchange on urban development policy issues related to digitalisation. In 2021, 300 mEuro are planned for this. 

Is Our Data Safe?

However, this development also raises the question of the other side of the coin of a smart building, because no matter how many euros, dollars or yuan a smart building costs, it is ultimately paid for with only one currency: the personal data of human users. A McKinsey study from 2018 describes technology in smart cities as a factor in increasing the quality of life in cities. For example, the study predicts a 20-30% decrease in commute time, with accompanying significant improvements in time management and air quality . “Data-based crime prediction and residential security systems” can reduce crime by up to 40%, according to the study. On the other hand, this brave new world in symbiosis with AI only works if people are willing to reveal their most personal likes and dislikes, habits and peculiarities , right down to biometric data. Who guarantees that this data will not be sold on to insurance companies, advertisers or authorities by those who collect it?

A Cyber Security Strategy is Imperative

The international consulting firm Drees & Sommer in Stuttgart, which is active in the construction and real estate sector, gives the all-clear. For example, security gaps in the system of a smart building could be detected by applying hacker methods through so-called penetration tests. If the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and German law were observed, it would be impossible to draw conclusions about individual behaviour patterns. Finally, according to the consulting firm, anonymisation and pseudonymisation of data provide further security. In this context, a data protection officer is indispensable. Drees & Sommer and magility considering a comprehensive Cyber Security Strategy to be absolutely necessary for every owner, portfolio holder or investor in the field of smart buildings. At magility we implement Cyber Security Management Systems (CSMS) for the construction and housing industry. 

Outlook Into the World of Cognitive Buildings

It started with sensors for temperature measurement and automated control for shading, ventilation and lighting systems. This has developed into a comprehensive ecosystem of sensors and actuators.

The self-optimizing control loop

The sensors record data, so to speak, as a “sense organ” of the Internet of Things (IoT) of e.g. rooms and their state. In a smart building, this data on conditions such as room temperature, air quality, doors and windows is transmitted to a gateway via an IoT communication network. There, it is consolidated with other data from mobile devices or from other IoT networks and forwarded to an application server, which assigns and interprets the master data and processes raw data. Algorithms and AI as well as deep learning systems (DL) are used here before the data is stored in the database. In addition, a control command is sent in real time to the actuator technology (drive, control and automation technology as well as mechatronics application), i.e. the command to the device to be controlled. Then it is the turn of the sensors again, and so a self-optimising, self-learning control loop is created.

Cognitive buildings, smart districts or the smart city are no longer just about a single intelligent building and its automated control. No, it is much more about the control of entire building clusters. Big data analytics and cooperation with trades such as energy suppliers and municipal utilities play a crucial role in this.

Control of entire building clusters

If the control loops of the smart buildings are in turn networked with the control loops of other intelligent devices and buildings as well as with the existing data of trades by means of cloud or platform applications, a higher-level control loop is created in which vast amounts of data come together and an entire fleet of buildings can be intelligently controlled. Exciting new applications are emerging that can contribute to overcoming current challenges, e.g. the climate crisis, which can be mitigated also by reducing the CO2 footprint over the entire building life cycle. Solutions to challenges related to the Corona crisis can also emerge through the intelligently managed organisation of new forms of work and the associated digitalisation. In addition, there are opportunities for new business models and for sustainable, cost-reduced building operation or sustainable facility management. In the future, the networking of devices and sensors will probably take place predominantly via cloud services and platforms. All existing unstructured data must be analysed and interpreted, and learning must take place from the data. Current data can already be compared with historical data from the IoT devices and used to control the control loop in real time. This may also lead to the discovery of as yet unknown correlations, which will help to gradually develop intelligent buildings into self-thinking, i.e. cognitive building complexes. The developments remain exciting.

We at magility are on top of the new possibilities and trends and are working together with start-ups that are intensively dealing with the further development of smart buildings into cognitive buildings and promise exciting high-tech solutions. Feel free to contact us if you are interested in more information on this exciting topic that touches us all.