How close are we to creating autonomous properties?

There is no need to highlight the progress construction has made in becoming a digital sector over the past few years, what we must pursue however is the intelligent use of data generated from these digital processes.

Construction has moved at such a fast pace in less than a decade that it can be difficult for us to keep up. Whilst we may not have full adoption of all digital construction processes, what is certain is that there is no going back to an analogue world, as year-on-year we continue to progress at an impressive rate.

As an industry, we have already started to think and develop platforms to use the digital information available to us. Until recently, this has been considered for use from a FM perspective only, to add value to asset management, but now we incorporate digital construction methods in all stages of the design and build process.

And this in turn allows us to collate valuable data, on the building itself, the building materials and outputs, to influence the buildings performance once complete and in operation.


The data challenge

The biggest challenge with gathering huge amounts of data is working out what to do with it and how it can add value.

There are many who have trodden this path before us - for example, Google were gathering huge amounts of data over many years before knowing what they were going to do with it. Now they have a tremendous amount of data about the world we live in, who we are, what we do, our behaviour, what influences us and so on. We can use the data from a building in exactly the same way, to inform choices relating to the building  and its future maintenance.

 As data grows the uses become clearer, Google use their information for many commercial platforms such as our individual shopping habits and I'm sure there are many ways information about us is being used without our knowledge (I still find advertising pop ups a little scary!).


If properties could think for themselves?

In construction, we can use this data to allow the buildings to start thinking for themselves and tell us for example, when the filter in the air conditioning units need replacing, just like we may get an email from one of the supermarket giants to say that we haven’t ordered milk in the past three days and we must be running low!

If we consider, once complete, a building then becomes a ‘property’, we can see that the Property Technology (PropTech) sector isn’t that far behind retail, and is increasing in momentum with a growing number of entrepreneurs looking at ideas as to how they can use this data for commercial benefit. It is important we keep this captured information alive.

The end of construction is not the end of the journey. This is where we need to increase our use of sensors to provide real time data which will provide dynamic information.

With this information, we are able to make more informed decisions which will ultimately lead to better efficiency and outcomes for our properties.

As we gather this data we need to consider how we can use the advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AR) so that our properties can think and make decisions for themselves. Properties need to be able to respond and adapt to their environment in real time.

The nearest analogy is the Tesla car. The Tesla monitors the cars and roads around it and makes decisions such as slowing down, speeding up or applying the breaks. It brings in traffic information to inform decisions and learns from where it has travelled previously for future journeys.

Why not use similar approaches in our properties so we can make them think for themselves, therefore becoming more efficient.


People, places and their environment

The final dimension to develop – which in my opinion would significantly benefit from major investment -  is how we link people to their environment. We all have a mobile device so it is possible to track individuals and monitor their needs. Linking this dynamic data with the digital environment offers huge potential, for example, we could change particular conditions in a hospital to suit an individual’s specific requirements for their rehabilitation; we could use AR to help the emergency services identify the location of an occupant in their home; offices could adjust conditions for specific people to suit their preferred environment and so much more.  

With more thought, there are thousands of potential applications which will move our properties from being static to being dynamic. Always changing, always growing and always improving.

And don’t get me started on the need to integrate smart buildings with smart cities…much of the technology and data is already available, we just need to connect it!


Rob Charlton, CEO – Space Group


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