Smart Buildings

How Far We Really Are From AI-Enabled Smart Buildings

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a symbol of futuristic technological development since the mid-1950s but for the vast majority of that time it has been limited to the imaginations and research of academics and science fiction writers. In the last 10-years, however, our increasing computational capabilities have begun to lay the foundations for practical applications of AI technology in the real world. In our commercial facilities, numerous new use cases for AI have arisen to drive hype and early adoption towards this revolutionary technological shift… but how far are we really from AI-enabled smart buildings?

“AI is now starting to deliver on its long-promised potential and its benefits for businesses are becoming a reality, proving its value and becoming increasingly embedded into day-to-day processes and solutions,” states our recent report – AI & Machine Learning in Smart Commercial Buildings. “The application of machine learning for smart buildings is an area generating a significant amount of research, with thousands of papers published each year since 2017. But AI is also graduating from being a purely academic discipline, with a cluster of solutions emerging from the lab and progressing into commercialization for several smart building applications.”

The report estimates that the market for AI & Machine Learning in Smart Commercial buildings already generated total revenues of $1.11 billion in 2020, and forecasts that market will grow by 24.3% CAGR through to 2025 nearly tripling in value to approx. $3.3 billion by 2025. While COVID-19 has gripped the world for the past 18-months, driving down building occupancy and challenging almost every company in the world, our brand new research has found that the pandemic has actually accelerated the path towards AI-enabled commercial spaces. In fact, AI is already demonstrating its potential as an invaluable tool to support the safe and healthy return of employees to the physical workplace.

“Virtually every AI company we have assessed during our research for this report has adapted their offerings in some way to respond to the behavioral and market changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have invested in new technologies and developed brand new targeted offerings, while others have sought to rebrand or tweak existing offerings to better serve changing market demands,” the new report explains. “Solutions are branded with monikers such as “COVID safe”, “New Normal”, and “Return to Work. They typically bundle together a series of offerings from the categories shown below, many of which are enabled or can be enhanced through AI or machine learning (ML).”

AI is far more than just a pandemic support technology for buildings, of course, but while presenting answers to the challenges of the crisis AI has had the opportunity to show its vast array of building applications to a captive audience. Lured by the promise of being among the first and safest places to work during the continuing pandemic, building owners and managers are discovering the tangible benefits of AI for energy performance and the unquestionable potential of AI-enabled security applications. From there, building owners and managers begin to see the potential of adding a layer of AI to all building systems to bring greater intelligence to all processes within the facility.

“AI is integrated with building systems and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, it has the potential to improve occupant experience, increase operational efficiency, and optimize space and asset utilization. Although cost-control measures and flexibility remain key objectives, creating compelling, emotionally rich experiences is the new frontier,” reads an IBM paper on AI in buildings. “Thanks to AI, building systems are now able to autonomously integrate the proliferation of data from IoT devices and occupant behavior to apply learning, optimize performance, and improve environmental efficiency.”

Since the pandemic began, many buildings have been solely focused on how to enable a safe return for existing occupants and how to promote their COVID-safety credentials to prospective new tenants. Those facilities that had already developed IoT infrastructure and smart building systems found themselves with a competitive advantage in the AI race. AI alone cannot change a building, it feeds off real-time building data, so those with the most comprehensive sensor networks are now best positioned to benefit from AI systems that will be well-fed from the outset. AI, therefore, is not about making buildings smart but about making smart buildings smarter.

“Comparing the buildings of the present to what they were even a few years ago will show massive changes. Modern buildings are more than just four walls and a roof. In fact, building walls now even have ears and eyes, all thanks to digital technologies,” says Naveen Joshi, founder and CEO of customer experience solution provider, Allerin. “The fusion of sensors, cameras, actuators, and other IoT devices have made buildings smart. But, AI is what makes smart buildings ‘smart’ in the truest sense of the word. In addition to reduced operational costs, enhanced tenant experience, and improved asset utilization, smart buildings promote energy conservation as well.”

AI creates the opportunity to increase the value divide between smart buildings and the rest, and in doing so, AI can be a catalyst for the IoT and smart buildings as a necessary step for those buildings lured by the buzz around AI. In reality, AI is just another evolution of the smart building, albeit one that brings significant benefits across all building systems and applications. There is little doubt that AI makes smart buildings smarter, the real question now is when we will begin to see AI-enabled systems proliferate in buildings across the world.

“While the market for AI in smart buildings is really starting to take off, our interviews with key industry stakeholders as well as published indicators demonstrate that the technology is yet to become truly mainstream,” states our in-depth report. “Where there is more near-term potential, however, is in the scaling of AI enabled solutions beyond individual buildings, particularly in the field of building energy management. Here credible research is being undertaken to enable a kind of swarm or hive intelligence over a portfolio of buildings and at an urban scale.”

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