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Artificial Intelligence In 2017: The Year Buildings Started Thinking For Themselves

Traditionally, in order to manage the use of building systems, facility operators relied on technicians walking around with clipboards and the complaint logs from building tenants. These were used to manually generate a report on equipment performance, energy use and building comfort. This approach was time and labour intensive and consequently very expensive. The facility management industry has since progressed in its use of technologies, such as computerized maintenance and management (CMMS) platforms and computer assisted facility management (CAFM) platforms, to deliver services. Now the industry is on the cusp of another transition as advances in control software for building automation systems, such as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for predictive analytics, are poised to disrupt the traditional way of doing things. Is artificial intelligence still the purview of science fiction? Let’s take a look and see.

To start, yes, there is a lot of hype around AI, but one should keep in mind that buildings that think for themselves are still a ways off. AI is slowly being piloted to optimise specific aspects of building operations, such as predictive maintenance and building system controls.

In 2016, there was approximately $1.5 billion invested in companies developing artificial intelligence software. Investors included venture capitalists, investment funds and technology giants such as Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Tesla and Uber. But, are these investments delivering tangible products or services?

Well, in December 2016 the hotel chain Wynn announced that every room in its Las Vegas Hotel will be equipped with an Amazon Echo, a voice controlled speaker equipped with AI, by the end of 2017. This amounts to almost 5,000 rooms that will be equipped with AI to enable guests to control aspects of their rooms, such as lights, temperature and audio-visual devices. The next step will be the introduction of Amazon Echo personal assistant functions to further improve guests’ experiences within the hotel. One can imagine the devices learning the habits and preferences of frequent guests to anticipate service requests.

Global facility management firm ISS World has partnered with IBM’s Watson unit to deploy its AI across 25,000 buildings within its portfolio. The goal is to use technology to provide building owners and users with more intuitive and user-friendly building experiences through better optimised services, such as predictive maintenance to maximise the uptime of critical building systems.

Edge control and automation is the next evolution in building automation – following on from centrally controlled pneumatics in the 80s and distributed direct digital controls (DDC) in the 90s. AI is slowing finding its way into our buildings through every nook and cranny – helped along by the embedding of algorithms within individual pieces of equipment, such as HVAC units, to continuously monitor and adjust operations, in real-time, based on current and predicted factors such as building occupancy and performance of other building systems.

An example of the development of AI at the edge is the partnership between global elevator manufacturer KONE and IBM Watson. KONE will use IBM Watson to monitor and optimize its portfolio of elevators, escalators, doors and turnstiles in buildings across the globe. The aim is to eventually open the edge devices up to third-parties to develop expanded services such as pre-ordered elevators or software to increase the efficiency of emergency evacuations.

AI encompasses many solutions, some such as predictive analytics and voice recognition, are more applicable for buildings than others. These solutions are best used as a tool by existing facility staff, as AI systems may not identify all root causes of issues, such as a heating system without water. One of its advantages will be the automation of past and predicted data analysis to optimize the performance and experience of buildings. Building and people management, planning, maintenance and equipment installation will still be performed by internal or external facility management staff. Developers of AI-based products anticipate developing a solution that will be a valuable tool for building owners and managers to improve the overall experience of being within a space.

For more insight into how the market for real estate, energy and facilities information management solutions will evolve in 2017, tune into our upcoming webinar: Predictions, Risks And Opportunities: What Should Real Estate And Facilities Software Executives Watch Out For In 2017?