Autonomous buildings ‘adapt, respond’ to human needs, behaviours


Sustainable movement leaves ‘much lighter environmental footprint’

AUTHOR: JENNIFER O'BRIEN


Think buildings are just static steel and concrete? Think again.

“Buildings continue to evolve,” according to Ecosystm principal analyst, Michael Zamora, who’s an expert in future of work (FoW), proptech, smart cities, corporate and commercial real estate.

“They’ve developed from static physical spaces to smart, dynamic, complex, digital structures,” Zamora explains.

Welcome to the transformative and sustainable world of ‘autonomous buildings’ - code-named Property 4.0 - a powerful movement reshaping the property and construction industries and disrupting every aspect of the traditional property lifecycle.

At Your Service

Fascinated by the topic, Zamora says buildings are becoming super smart and self-aware, developing into ‘dynamic ecosystems’ that can begin to “anticipate the needs of the occupants,” and are adapting their behaviour to the preferences and needs of the people and the environment - a thrilling scenario that offers many benefits.

“They’re beginning to govern some of the systems themselves, based on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. This is the direction for an autonomous building. It will enable the multiple building systems to operate and interact more effectively,” Zamora says.

“It will also make it easier for the occupant - as it will become transparent to them - and will make it easier for the building operator to more effectively and efficiently run the building and the portfolio,” he says, explaining a ‘smart building,’ on the other hand, still requires a building operator to monitor, assess and adjust accordingly.

Additionally, autonomous buildings deliver advanced analytics and an AI engine that augment the building’s mechanical and electrical systems to unlock hidden insights, optimise performance, support predictive maintenance and enable a future of autonomous adaptive control, according to a newly published Lendlease/Podium whitepaper, ‘A new category: Autonomous Buildings.’

In particular, the timely gathering, analysis and interpretation of data will lead to increased efficiency, optimised decision-making, and better customer experience in the property and construction industries, the report says.

Digging deeper, Zamora says some of the transformative technology underpinning the push towards autonomous buildings includes digital twins (a virtual model of a process, product or service, and a key cornerstone of the movement), IoT, advanced sensors, machine learning, AI, and data analytics.

“Technology will continue to evolve and have new applications for people, buildings and space,” Zamora says, explaining this will provide “an incredible opportunity to shape the work environment and the city, in order to provide a better quality of life to work, live, learn and play.”

It's all about generating positive impacts for both the community and environment, he explains.

“A building and its space can influence how a person works and how effective a company can be based upon the effectiveness of its workers,” he says, explaining occupants are more collaborative, productive and healthier (see an improvement in mental and physical wellbeing and enhanced experience), and enjoy healthier and sustainable work environments.

Digital Revolution

So, what’s driving the ‘autonomous buildings’ movement? According to the Lendlease report, “Property 4.0 is here,” and making ‘seismic waves’ in the property and construction industries – most notably for providing ‘unprecedented’ access to data insights and clarity, driving important outcomes in experience, wellbeing and sustainability.

“With the next phase in the evolution of buildings underway, we can see it’s not architectural nor material – it’s a digital revolution,” the whitepaper explains.

“By combining digital technology, data and expert domain knowledge, autonomous buildings will unlock the previously untapped value of the built world.”

What’s more, autonomous buildings “adapt to changes in the supply chain, environmental and market conditions, pricing, and enable improved speed and quality of decision-making processes,” the report says.

4 Essential Phases

So, can you now imagine this world of autonomy? Not so fast – there’s four key phases – following the property lifecycle - that need to play out, according to Lendlease, which include:

  • autonomous design (automation of land identification, design and development processes);
  • autonomous assembly (automation of planning and risk assessments);
  • automation operation (automation of buildings operations that improve efficiencies, comfort and sustainability); and
  • automation experience (automation of processes and responses to human needs and behaviours).

In fact, if well-accomplished, these four critical phases will bring a host of benefits including: improved physical and mental well-being; increased profits; reduced risk; increased speed to market; substantial cost savings; increased safety; improved customer experience; and the achievement of environmental sustainability metrics and social outcomes, to name a few.

Collaboration Calls

Certainly, the successful transition to ‘autonomous buildings’ requires work on many fronts – for starters, it needs collaboration and engagement with developers, builders, owners, operators, tenants and the broader community, Lendlease explains.

Other necessary work involves: establishing digital aspirations, objectives and goals early in the asset lifecycle; ensuring systems and processes are seamlessly integrated; and ensuring an intuitive and easy-to-use interface for occupants and operators to access experiences, services and information, Lendlease says.

At the same time, typical for new innovation roll out, Ecosystm’s Zamora says there could initially be a cost for the technology.

“That could be a hurdle for many developments. For developments which understand the user and operational benefits, and the possibility of higher user satisfaction and rental rates - which equate into increased building value - that could outweigh the cost,” Zamora says.

“In time, as is typical for technology, the cost will decrease and the new approach of Property 4.0 will become the new standard. It’s similar to how most new developments have some type of green sustainable rating. It has become the new standard.”

Undoubtedly, “a new era is before us” as we move from industrial, to smart – and now onto the promise of ‘autonomous buildings’ and highly connected and efficient environments, Lendlease says.

“People want buildings that do no harm to the environment, provide optimal comfort and superior air quality and that enable them to be the best version of themselves, to be effective, curious and creative, to collaborate, feel good, follow their purpose and have an impact.”

For more in-depth details, analysis – and fun facts - about the ‘creation of a better built world’ with ‘autonomous buildings,’ download the whitepaper, ‘A new category: Autonomous Buildings,’ or visit www.lendleasepodium.com for more real-world examples.

Article written by Jennifer O’Brien, founder of Stories Ink, a content creation and event hosting business that connects through the power of 'storytelling.' Analyst commentary by Ecosystm principal analyst, Michael Zamora.