WRITTEN BY LARS HELLSTRÖM
Lars is responsible for strategy and business development at Helvar, encouraging customers and the building ecosystem to create brighter spaces with intelligent lighting control solutions. He has over 20 years of experience in the ICT industry and holds dual master’s degrees from the University of Kaiserslautern (TU), Germany (M.Sc.) and Aalto University, Finland (MBA).
Greetings from the future. As a building alive and kicking in the year 2030, I am happy to tell you a bit about my conception and current activities that make my occupants, caretakers, and owners happy.
I am Smart. Smart building.
I am an evolution of traditional buildings with little to no automated solutions as „brain and senses“.
As a „smart building“, I am offering an inspirational experience that allows for individual and collaborative productivity and health and wellbeing. Helvar, one of my key system providers, calls it ‚Brighter Spaces‘. I keep my users safe and secure, both physically and digitally. I am built sustainably and allow for operational monitoring of, for example, electricity and water consumption and cost-efficient operations, including remote maintenance and optimisation and yet I am futureproofed – even ten years after conception.
Who are my ‘users’? All the people who benefit from my brighter spaces, primarily tenant companies and their employees, visitors, facility managers, owners and investors.
I am blessed with a great body – great exterior design (some judges told me, not only by the looks but also by the regenerative sustainable design concept utilised), modular constructed, sustainably built with a lot of wood, net-zero (or even negative) carbon produced concrete and steel, and even some parts are re-used from another office building (“my grandfather next door”).
I am also blessed with my nerve system of seamless, integrated sensors, smart meters and devices. They are linked to my brain, i.e., my analytical platform, through a hybrid, wireless and wired, network. Here I perform my predictive and prescriptive capabilities mainly based on artificial intelligence for scenario planning, pattern identification and trend diagnostic.
My “parents”: The building owner, architects, specifiers and particularly the master data integrator behind my brain and nerve system made my conception a dream.
My owner understood that while in real estate, value is most often determined by location, size and materials. In the future, reducing cost and enhancing efficiency will also belong to asset management – and it certainly does in 2030 because of the technology installed that generates increasing savings from efficiency, interaction, integration, and automation. They understood that tapping into the data generated by buildings provides actionable insights too big to ignore.
But while being built, I had to observe quite a journey in the real estate industry: The property industry has been one of the slowest moving, most cautious industry sectors in existence. Moving fast to disrupt and expect results was out of the question. Protecting buildings and the occupants inside was and still is paramount. An Ernst & Young survey from 2021 found 43 percent of PropTech providers are struggling to get widespread adoption of their tools across a client’s business, with 35 percent seeing a lack of scaling. A shocking 39 percent of survey respondents were yet to adopt even a single technology tool. – But that changed in the last years!
My digital “me” and its link to the planet
There are already test sequences available that enable the certification of many parts of DALI-2. Today this covers control gear: LED drivers, relays and switches, and control devices: application controllers and input devices such as sensors and push-buttons. The DALI Alliance is continuing to develop test sequences to enlarge the certification program. This work program is agreed upon by the member companies who provide experts to participate in technical working groups.
About ten years ago, a pandemic and a rising focus on climate change forced human societies to quickly adapt to digitalisation and care for our planet.
According to the Embodied carbon call to action report by World Green Building Council, 39% of all global carbon emissions were related to buildings, 11% embodied carbon, and 28% was related to the operational stage, making building assets a significant contributor to climate change.
Hence, according to Ramboll’s 2021 sustainable buildings market study, 70% of respondents saw net-zero carbon buildings as a strategic business priority, and 62% had defined targets for reducing their carbon footprints or plan to do so in the near future. Nearly half of respondents who considered circularity in the projects embed circular principles in the project execution, and 30% embed circular principles in their tender material.
Sustainability was becoming an additional cornerstone to smart buildings. Digitalisation was already for a longer time a hot topic in the real estate business.
End-to-end holistic approaches covering the entire building life-cycle management, from design to operations and maintenance, are still high in demand today. The usage of BIM as part of a digital twin is a cornerstone for virtual simulations that I am running in real-time to offer the best conditions in a space for my users. These simulations allow me real-time building performance optimisation that enables my users and owners to reach sustainability targets.
The backbone for the digitalisation among others, was the master data integration, both on-site and off-site of the building.
In my physical world, hundreds of sensors collect data throughout every floor coordinated through a sensing platform. In my digital world, building engineers and AI-powered intelligence are analysing and leveraging that data to produce actionable optimisations. Bridging the gap between the physical and digital processes was one of the biggest challenges for smart buildings.
The core to bridging the gap was the normalisation of data collected by connected resources, adding the correct information (qualifiers, meta-tagging etc.) to ensure context and allow at minimum to be descriptive. The better data can be routed and tagged, the better aggregation and intelligence work at the application level. Adding either human or artificial meaning to it generates knowledge for diagnostic and discovery, i.e., what could be done better. By synthesis, wisdom is applied either as a prediction or prescription, ultimately allowing for dynamic adjustment in real-time.
The standardisation for the first level of normalising data was a key breakthrough for me as a smart building as it allowed interoperability. PropTech was meeting IoT and existing building automation, including my beloved lighting control. The push and pull between vendors selling HW to a site and vendors selling Cloud solutions were interesting to observe.
Instrumental for linking the physical with the digital world were application programming interfaces (API) that allow smooth communication between different computing clouds (both on or off-site) and collect real-time computed data from the edge, e.g., in the luminaire at the ceiling or application controller at the wall.
With much joy, I experienced the cleaning of my ceilings (and walls) from my youth phase when I had “ceiling acne”- like mushrooms expanding and duplicated single source sensors. I was so ashamed of my ceilings. The Owners and Specifiers realised that a single sensor network based on the available lighting and lighting control system provides high-density fusion sensors, thus avoiding duplication.
The core was the early data integration planning that ensured the right normalised data transmission between the lighting control-based sensor network and other building services.
Lighting Control as a natural contributor
As you might have recognised by now, my favourite part of the building is the lighting and its lighting control – an often-under-emphasised contributor to the user’s comfort, safety, and productivity. The smart building lighting system, in effect, helped raise the standards of building designs.
Intelligent luminaires integrate and imitate the natural environment by using sensors and various lighting systems to adapt to natural light. An intense, smart lighting system is friendly to the user comforts and prevents related diseases such as fatigue and eye strain caused by bright lights. By adjusting the light intensity, the users can set the lights to suit their comfort levels. As referred to before, the lights can also interact with the room’s temperatures and humidity control. In fact, with intelligence in the lighting control, spaces can be quickly re-utilised, changing the ambient surroundings. In addition, Human-centric circadian lighting supports occupants natural sleep/wake cycle, which results in many benefits to the end-user.
Building certifications are another driver for the uptake of smart buildings. In a simple way, they allow promoting the benefits of a building to potential users while ensuring a continuous improvement process.
I am proud to present to anyone who may want to own me or decide to use me that I am a certified smart building – recognised by the global leading certification bodies such as LEED, WELL; GBC, SmartScore, SRI and so on. This always makes me feel smart and at the tip of my toes – at times, I have to remind my caretakers to run upgrades, put a few more HW in to match those certificates… Fortunately, after years of existence, they see this as a value-enhancing task – much like the humans going to their health checks.
So, what do I do day-in and out? I observe how humans behave in those Brighter Spaces; I guide them to the best conditions for experiencing wellbeing, being more productive, and being kind to the planet with their energy consumption. At the same time, I allow them to “talk” to me – interact in an easy way.
One way to improve occupants’ comfort is through personalisation, whereby rooms and devices react to your needs. For example, when you walk into your building, the sensors will detect that it is you as they pick up data from a pass or smart device, and this will automatically add you to the on-site register. A notification will ping up on your phone to indicate which meeting room you will be in today. The room booking register will be notified that the meeting has started. The HVAC system will turn on in advance to generate your preferred conditions. The ‘presentation mode’ causes the blinds to close and the lights to dim down…the possibilities are endless.
At times, however, I do need to correct human inputs as they lack the context to their actions. At other times I let them override my brain as I learn with them. Those humans often show illogical behaviours, so predicting them can be a difficult task – at times, it is better to adapt fast than continuously predict.
Greetings from the future – I am looking forward to my next phase in my life – always learning, always adapting, and always generating Brighter Spaces.
Read more about how lighting control solutions and digital services can support wellbeing, bring intelligence into a space, and ensure maximum efficiency in monitoring and maintenance.