The data making our buildings smarter
Andrew Hunter, Technology & Solutions Director at Chubb, explores how merged technologies and greater availability of data are making buildings smarter.
There is no denying that buildings are getting smarter – and at a rapid pace. The smart buildings market is now on a healthy trajectory and is projected to grow from £68.5 billion this year to £279 billion in 2029, according to a recent analysis by Fortune Business Insights.1
So, what are the key factors driving this growth? Largely, it is the demand for lower operational costs, improved productivity, enhanced energy efficiency, and better security. Furthermore, the emergence of 5G technology and the rise in smart city projects are expected to create lucrative opportunities within the smart buildings industry in the coming years.
A greater availability of data
Ever-faster broadband connections and increases in processing power have expanded the possibilities in the protection and management of buildings. Through the use of sensors or cameras, smart building systems can collect, analyse and respond to data quicker than ever before. And not just that, but when deployed intelligently they allow multiple systems to ‘talk to each other.’
Whereas in the past HVAC, lighting, and security systems have been disparate from one another, we are noticing a shift. Two things are happening.
Firstly, the push and pull of data mean that we have access to more information about the condition of our buildings available at multi levels. For instance, currently, we are looking at an intruder alarm that will have both the added capability for fire detection and flood detection. Where we have previously had separate systems, we are now seeing the merging of technologies so one alarm panel is able to perform multiple tasks.
Secondly, we are seeing increased availability of data, which has been made possible by the development of applications to monitor and evaluate the condition of different building systems. Data no longer just sits dormant for building owners, or facilities managers, to review as they need to. They can set notifications to their mobile devices to check the air quality in the lobby, for instance, or the results of a recent fire alarm test. And unlike an SMS message, this data is far more robust – it is not open for interpretation, which means recipients can review and assess the situation with no risk of confusion.
In addition to receiving information, it is now possible to push alerts as well. If a building manager wants occupants to know they should no longer be using a floor or warn them of scheduled maintenance, they can send an alert to everyone concerned.
Ultimately, with the convergence of these once disparate systems, building owners can optimise environments to boost productivity and employee satisfaction, achieve greater energy efficiency, and improve safety.
Smart buildings need smart objectives
With smart buildings comes the need for smart objectives. As a building owner or facilities manager, you first need to know what your primary objectives are, to ensure you implement the best combination of technologies to achieve those objectives.
Identifying the criteria that are most critical to you and your building and ensuring that they complement each other will give you a solid foundation.
Fuel, for instance, has become a massive subject for everybody. Most businesses will have long standing carbon footprint targets they are striving to meet. Having smarter buildings that control energy consumption and keep levels to a minimum is even more important to businesses now with the soaring fuel prices.
Of course, the objectives you set will vary depending on the type of building you have. Do you have a commercial building or a residential building? Do you have an urbanised building or a semi-rural building? They are all going to have different wants and needs that should be considered in order to achieve ultimate optimisation and ensure that the building performs at its best.
Emerging security technology
One of the security solutions is a video management system (VMS) that brings ultra-smart technology to buildings. The way it works is by taking a variety of video elements and sitting them on a platform that has multiple plugins, or analytics.
For instance, if you have automated number plate recognition (ANPR) on a building, it might open the garage to employees, residents or logged guests, so that only the right people gain access to park. It might be that as well as ANPR you want facial recognition so, if a car turns up and is parked, you can check that the driver of that car is an employee or another known person.
Facial recognition has been around since the mid-1960s, but where it has been approximately 70% accurate in the past, today it is virtually infallible. According to recent research by CSIS2, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, modern facial recognition systems are now 99.97% accurate.
You could grow a beard, change your hair colour and wear glasses and facial recognition systems would still identify you, because the algorithms have been immaculately refined to recognise all matter of things, including the length of your nose, the depth of your eyes, and the width of your mouth. It takes hundreds of measurements from all over your face to map you and identify who you are.
With our VMS you can take the facial recognition plugin and place it on the same platform as your ANPR plugin. By adding multiple plugins and layers of intelligence and contextualising them, you by definition enrich your data – this greater insight is what helps create a smart building.
One of the trial sites we are using for our pilot study is a power plant. They have areas which are restricted access and where PPE equipment is mandatory, for example rooftops. If you have cameras up there, the VMS is perfectly capable of identifying an unauthorised person – someone that is not wearing a hard hat or a high visibility vest. It can then deliver by PA a voice command to alert the person to vacate the roof immediately, otherwise, an alarm will sound. It is a highly intelligent system that can be programmed with a series of smart rules and deployed almost anywhere within a building.
< Ensuring high quality analytics
That said, the analytics is only as good as the image it receives. If you have an old camera that produces a furry image, it is not going to be able to measure your face with the preciseness it needs for facial recognition, or whether your hair is red or black, or whether you are wearing a high visibility vest. For analytics to work effectively it needs a high quality IP image. A new camera will operate effectively virtually anywhere, even in lower light levels, but not even the newest of cameras support ‘no light’ – so if you have really badly lit areas, analytics is likely to struggle.
Where an old intruder alarm system will sound an alarm when someone is breaking in – it won’t say who is breaking in, or which window. In contrast, a VMS system will identify both who is breaking in and the exact location, for instance, the third window on the first floor in the canteen – it is all about enriching and contextualising data.
The future for smart security
In 2019, IHS Markit3 predicted that there would be 1 billion surveillance cameras by the end of 2021 – and that London would be among the top 10 surveilled cities in the world with 127,373 cameras for 9,540,576 people; that is 13.35 cameras per 1,000 people.
Although we are some ways behind China which takes the number one spot with 540 million cameras for 1.46 billion people (372.8 cameras per 1,000 people), the UK is still a driving force in the development of smart building security.
Looking ahead it is likely we will see more of what we have but better – better pictures, delivered quicker and cheaper, and in more areas. Video and video packets will also be used a lot more in the future.
We are living in an age where consumers want to stream data repeatedly to their mobile devices, which has been enabled by the move from 4G to 5G. The world is increasingly demanding simple, instant video commands and visual alerts that leave no room for misinterpretation and this applies to security technology.
Where do 5G and 6G take us? It takes us to the constant moving of data, instructions, and commands via the web and keeps us connected – connected to other people and connected to our smart buildings.