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Digital Building Technologies: shaping our future as Human Sensors

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Digital Building Technologies: shaping our future as Human Sensors

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Digital Building Technologies: shaping our future as Human Sensors

Digital building technologies are developing faster than designers, users, and other stakeholders are used to assimilating.

We ask questions about the future of digital building technologies and how the concept of a smart building is shifting from static to dynamic. Two top specialists from Siemens share their vision about these topics.

Since the 1960s, digital technologies have developed exponentially, faster than humans’ capacity to adapt, according to Moore’s Law. Thus, when we talk about smart buildings, we probably don’t grasp the entire picture of what buildings can do for us. We are likely familiar with energy-saving systems, dynamic digital control, or the BIM (Building Information Modeling) environment in design. 

PropTech is still a new concept, defined as using technology to design and manage real estate, just like FinTech focuses on using technology in finance. This emerging set of tools makes buildings intelligent, enabling them to communicate with each other, their components, and contained objects. They automatically collect data about their users, aiming to improve their performance. 

The most far-reaching tool in this field is Digital Twins: Technology that creates a virtual representation of the physical assets, from buildings to contained objects, facilities, and interacting users.

We talked about this to two experts in PropTech and Digital Twins from Siemens: Elisa Rönkä, Head of Digital Market Development Europe; and Kevin Bauer, Business Development Manager, and Building SMART Certified Trainer.

For Rönkä, “we are talking about PropTech anytime we apply information technology, IoT, or any emerging technology in the built environment, creating more value. Using IT in buildings and using recent and emerging tools to create more value for the occupants.”

The deployment of IoT and digital workplace solutions has increased massively. What we see with all our customers is that those who invested in PropTech before the crisis, were much better equipped to react to the crisis as well.

“With PropTech,” says Rönkä, “we can use the same technology for different purposes, like in office spaces and hospitals. We see very different use cases in these two verticals and very different benefits that technology brings. What is crucial in both cases is that, despite less or more space needed in the future, it will certainly be a new way of working and using buildings. And a fresh way of working will require the technology to enable the fluctuation of people making use of the space.”

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, says Rönkä, “we see a great acceleration in interest in office buildings, because it had an immediate worldwide effect. And hence, the deployment of IoT and digital workplace solutions has increased massively. What we see with all our customers is that those who invested in PropTech before the crisis, were much better equipped to react to the crisis as well: The technology that was already there, in sensors, or applications deployed for different reasons before the crisis, eventually helped during the crisis. This is a very interesting phenomenon and shows how you can future proof buildings with the technology because you can adapt much quicker to the new use cases and the new needs.”

Speaking of PropTech tools, Digital Twins are now starting to appear as a tool through using IoT in the design, construction, and management process of buildings. 

Kevin Bauer sees Digital Twins as an “overall data model, based on semantic data, which connects everything, integrating data from the planning to construction into the operation into a lifecycle point of view, enabling the next generation of buildings, which is self-adapting buildings.”

Most of us are familiar with the “static” use of the digital twin, which is BIM design: a 3D representation of the building, including all its services, used in the design and the construction process. But a digital twin is more than that. A real digital building twin connects the dynamic data from the IoT with the static BIM to create extra value for the building operation. To enable this, the building automation discipline needs to get integrated into the BIM process. All sensors, actuators, and controllers need to get integrated into the models. Thanks to IoT, we are witnessing today the shift to a more dynamic tool, integrating data from the users’ devices and data about the users themselves: the human sensors.”

Siemens is developing a set of instruments to take the step from the static digital twin that is BIM to the dynamic model focused on building management. We already have platforms that collect data from human sensors. At Expo 2020 Dubai, scheduled to open on October 1, 2021, and described as “a blueprint for future smart cities,” Siemens, as infrastructure digitalization partner, is introducing a PropTech tool called MindSphere: a leading industrial IoT as a service solution that uses advanced analytics and AI to power IoT solutions from the edge to the cloud.

MindSphere is a cloud-based app design to enhance the user experience and digitally control the energy and water spending on the Expo premises by collecting data from the static and mobile devices on the exhibition premises.

Many smart buildings are testing labs for emerging technologies. The challenge is in communicating with different devices. Take, for example, the Aspern Smart City, in Vienna, where Siemens developed prototype “translators” to avoid having to standardize the buildings’ language.

What’s important to add, says Rönkä, “is the importance of the human sensor: we have overlooked the human sensor for quite some time, and how we can capture data from the human sensor. Any interaction that humans have with technology in a building is always a data point. It’s also always contextual: we are dealing with contextual intelligence of buildings for making use of data that makes sense and creates value.”

While this is still in its infancy, says Rönkä, “the thing is that we always have a human way to look at things from the status quo. So we look at it from the existing processes, from everything that everyone’s so used to that they don’t even question it anymore.”

Speaking of 5G, adds Bauer, “we could enable a lot of robotics on the constructor side, but before we make robot operators, we should really think about what operators do for us.”


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Carmen Popescu

Architect, urban planner, tourism development advisor. Based in Barcelona, focuses on sustainable cities and new urban life styles and trends.

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