Get to Know Your Building: It Knows You

Jul 19, 2016 · 4 min read

by Steven A. Kelley, Principal |Founder

Even before Jennifer arrived, her office building was already at work making her day more comfortable, and even more productive. Equipped with an intelligent building management system (BMS), the building pairs with user profiles to adjust comfort settings to preferred individual and collective settings.

Jennifer had previously created a unique profile with her preferences for basic indoor comfort levels, such as temperature, lighting, and ambient noise that correspond to her different work modes. Results from a personality test further informed her profile. Over time, the building system has learned more about Jennifer’s work modes, routines, and schedules to make accurate adjustments for her particular needs.

When she enters the building’s lobby, a sensor detects her mobile device and pairs her with the building. Her profile, like those of other occupants, maps to the building management system (BMS), which adjusts comfort settings to optimal individual and collective settings.

Today her work requires focused concentration. Her usual workstation is located in a more social part of the office prone to distraction. So she opts for a workstation in a quieter part of the office, which she reserved in advance using the reservation app on her mobile device. With the same app, she reserved space for two meetings scheduled for later in the day.

Power over Ethernet offers an integrated power and connectivity grid for LEDbased lighting, enabling programmatic and adaptive control of lighting as well as control by individual employees of their personal work space.

As Jennifer settles in, the light brightens over her workstation to match her preferred settings for that particular work mode. Controlled by an LEDbased Power over Ethernet (PoE) system, each lighting fixture is equipped with a sensor that precisely localizes light levels. On occasion, she uses the dashboard on her computer to override her default settings, but the system is accurate most of the time. The BMS features “follow me” intelligence that applies her preferences to whatever space she is occupying or mode she’s working in.

Progress of Data Capture Technologies

While this scene sounds like a faroff science fiction future, technologies that capture data through sensor networks already exist and are advancing toward this reality at a staggering pace. There are few environmental conditions that can’t be captured with today’s technologies. These sensors, like all microchip technologies, are getting smaller, more powerful, and cheaper every day, and the ability to deploy a robust sensor network is growing.

Individual sensors are sometimes referred to as nodes or motes. These can be deployed as standalones or as a dispersed, connected array, commonly referred to as a mesh network1 . When configured into a mesh network, the individual sensors communicate data with one another. The application of mesh networks to security, industrial processes, and inventory control is well established2. It is inevitable that mesh networks will find their way, in some form or another, into the buildings we occupy in our daily lives.

The most obvious application of this technology is the optimization of built environments for energy consumption and occupancy, resulting in direct environmental and cost benefits. Secondary applications focus on human wellness and environmental health. For instance, mesh networks can monitor a building’s CO 2 or volatile organic compound (VOC), and if these levels rise above prescribed health standards, the system can take corrective action to lower levels within safe parameters.

User-Facing Intelligence in Buildings

Perhaps the least explored application of mesh networks is to the places we work, learn and live, to semiautonomously adapt our spaces to our individual and collective preferences. No two people are the same. Varying tolerance for acceptable levels of comfort is inevitable. A more collective intelligence model is the solution to debates over thermostat settings.

Comfy , is a recent startup that has developed a user-facing technology that enables users to indicate their individual comfort preferences for a precise building location. Based on realtime and historic user feedback, the building’s mechanical system adjusts to an aggregated comfort preference.

How Personal is Too Personal?

At one point do we go too far in applying realtime adaptive systems in our places of work, learning and healing? Those who place a premium on privacy may find disconcerting even a simple home thermostat that senses and learns the patterns of their daily routines. How might someone improperly access this data for malicious intent? It stands to reason that the more technologies advance, the potentially more invasive they become. Introduced into the workplace, these technologies may present an unwanted threat without appropriate security controls in place. Whether a truly anonymous, yet individualized system can be realized remains to be seen, but it would ultimately seem a necessity.

The example of Jennifer’s work day prompts us to consider how far technology enabled adaptive systems centered on occupant satisfaction and productivity can and should go. Nevertheless, it can go further still before it’s gone too far.

Originally published at on July 19, 2016.

(MK)Think Pieces

Publication on data-driven spatial intelligence through architecture, design, innovation, strategy


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Intelligent Places |

(MK)Think Pieces

Publication on data-driven spatial intelligence through architecture, design, innovation, strategy