AI in Building Management: Here Come the Smart Buildings

by | 01 August 2017

Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on one square inch of integrated circuit will double every year. Recently, I thought of this 1965 observation by Gordon Moore about the exponential speed of technology advancement when considering the root of several developments in the real estate industry. Everything from phone-home dumpsters to app-based working is the result of exponential digital growth.

The commercial real estate implications of some advancements — like driverless cars — are more clear than others, but they come together to create an incredible new ecosystem within which to conduct our personal and professional business.

THE RISE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Recently, I’ve started to think more about artificial intelligence (AI) as new developments catch my eye. For example, Facebook recently confirmed reports that bots in their AI projects have consistently drifted away from English as they talk to each other, instead creating their own unique languages on the fly. They aren’t rewarded for sticking to human language, so they gravitate towards the most efficient means of communication, which is usually symbolic expression to describe complex concepts.

Advancements like this remind me that in real estate, we’re typically a little bit behind the curve in terms of the latest and greatest tech as we often wait for innovations to mature before we deploy them across our portfolios. However, we are beginning to see the introduction of AI in commercial real estate, and I think this will only continue to grow.

The Colliers Service Center, our property maintenance management solution, leverages some AI-based concepts to predict equipment maintenance intervals and help prevent failures. There are also some systems emerging that lean towards letting buildings “choose” how to be most efficient. This is where AI gets exciting.

Smart building systems are here, though many still require human intervention to ensure systems interact seamlessly. Modern structures can track users, switch heating and cooling zones based on movement patterns, monitor weather forecasts and make environmental control adjustments. These types of adjustments can dramatically reduce operating costs, extend the life of mechanical systems, boost occupant comfort and far more.

Today, one of the biggest challenges facing engineers is making everything work together. After that, it’s optimizing all the different systems as they constantly adjust to new conditions. But as AI becomes more capable, it will be able to handle many of these tasks without intervention.

One day, your car may talk to the parking garage before you reach the gate, which could signal the air conditioning to cool your workspace and even brew a pot of coffee. Meanwhile, building engineers could stop focusing on application programming and instead create directives, leaving execution up to collaborating AIs. There are lots of exciting possibilities!

THE DEMANDS OF SMART BUILDINGS

While the applications of AI in commercial real estate are exciting, they won’t be a panacea for building management. AI likely won’t enable building owners to cut staffing levels in half or ask a digital Jarvis to fix a broken cooling tower. Some personnel will need to learn completely new skills to make the most of the new technology and there might be risks associated with having machines talk to each other in ways that we cannot understand. How do you fix a machine or computer if it works with a protocol that is impossible for people to read?

However, the possibilities AI opens up are impossible to ignore. While we have been working with disparate systems that operate in discrete ways, AI could be the thing that unites them and creates truly holistic, “living” buildings.

I, for one, am looking forward to working in an office that knows how I like my coffee and has it ready when I walk in the door!

A mentor, a real estate executive and a mom, Karen spends time all over the map. If she isn’t traveling, Karen is busy with everything from IREM to Virginia Tech’s Real Estate program. When she has a few minutes to spare, she considers it a personal mission to find new homes for all of Lucky Dog Animal Rescue’s four-legged companions. Keep up with Karen on social media @KarenJWhitt.