15.07.2020 : Steve Perkins

Rethinking Priorities: Top 10 smart building technologies for COVID-19

Smart Buildings have an ever-increasing role in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. From contactless access controls to managing social distancing, there are a range of Smart Building technologies that building owners can consider, to enhance the health and wellbeing of all occupants.

Technology Tools to Reduce Transmission 

A common infection path in commercial buildings is touching an infected surface, followed by your face. There are a range of technologies that help building occupants avoid touching surfaces in their day-to-day usage of the building. Some examples include:  

1. Facial recognition systems: Building owners are investing in facial recognition systems as security access credentials at turnstiles. Lost RFID badges? No problem. Beyond the benefits of being contactless, building operators find administrative burdens reduced. ‘Opt-in’ programmes allow those comfortable with the technology to use it, while users uncomfortable with the technology can opt for other contactless credentials, such as smartphone apps.

2. BLE technology: Using smart phone apps and BLE technology built into most smartphones as your building security credentials, rather than traditional RFID cards. One less thing to handle regularly (and misplace!) 

3. Wave to Open: Sensors to activate public area door openers on manual doors. For energy conservation reasons, buildings sometimes opt to use push buttons to operate glass doors rather than motion-sensors. In situations like this, “wave to open” sensors would deliver both hygiene as well as energy conservation benefits. Doors that are manually operated now could consider this to reduce ongoing cleaning demands. 

4. Tenant experience platforms (TEP): Designing a contactless, yet positive tenant experience using smartphone apps as part of a tenant experience platform (TEP). TEPs connect traditional solutions which provide direct control over tenants’ personal environment – personalising lighting and space temperatures to their preference. They can also be used to control lifts, coffee machines and other high touch devices within the workplace environment. TEPs also provide users real time data on space occupancy levels to choose available work spots and less crowded community spaces. 

5. Demand-based cleaning systems: Cleaners generally service toilets on a pre-set schedule. But because cleaning needs vary based on usage, this manpower is not efficiently used. Demand-based cleaning systems can tell cleaning staff, in real time, when door handles need to be sanitised, and when washrooms actually need cleaning, via SMS and email to their phones. System inputs include: 

  • People counting devices especially in high-touch areas such as lobbies, entrances and washrooms 
  • Air quality sensors in washrooms to monitor odour 
  • User perception of cleanliness collected by the feedback touchscreen at the exit 
  • Historical data collected by the system used to predict the required cleaning schedule 

6. Motion-controlled bathroom touch points: Motion-controlled bathroom touch points such as soap dispensers, washbasin taps, and toilet flush valves. This is well-trodden ground here and COVID-19 might just nudge us towards a contactless and more hygienic bathroom experience.  

 

Technology Tools to Manage Social Distancing  

A number of smart building technologies are useful for social distancing management, especially as buildings start to welcome people back in a safe and measured way. 

7. Lift Destination Control: Unlike conventional lifts which registers specific floors after the passenger presses a lift button, destination control systems assign passengers to lift cars that will give them the shortest travel time. This is based on the pre-designated home floor on their security credentials that is read when they pass through the entry turnstile. These systems are now being used to limit the maximum number of passengers in a car to prevent overcrowding. They can also manage lift assignment so that split-teams that are not meant to come into close contact are not assigned to the same car. 

8. Smart Lighting and People Counting Sensors: Smart lighting and sensor systems using wireless communication and IoT sensors can be configured to gather detailed information on real-time space occupancy and send it to building users, to help them in their social distancing decision making. 

 

Flexibility to Reconfigure MEP Systems during Future Emergency Events 

The most important feature a building can have is the flexibility to modify its operation as required to respond to changing user needs or operational strategies. It’s important to modify the workplace over time as business needs change, and to quickly respond to an emergency event. The future will have events that we have never anticipated (who was expecting COVID-19?) and a core design strategy when we design new buildings is to be flexible as practicable to adapt to unexpected changes. 

9. Converged Data Networks: The use of a common, converged data network, instead of a large number of independent business data, BMS and ELV networks maximises the capacity of the installed network infrastructure. This also simplifies the future addition of new systems to run on this common infrastructure without having new, dedicated cabling and equipment. This enables building operations to easily scale beyond the physical confines of the building – supporting remote working and video conferencing, and virtual teams working collaboratively. 

10. Integrated Building Management Systems: These allow each subsystem to benefit from the knowledge of the others. For example, an air-conditioning system that understands room occupancy by talking to the smart lighting system can conserve energy during low occupancy periods. Designing building systems to enable data sharing, even if the use case is not yet defined, provides flexibility for future needs. 

Beca’s work in Smart Buildings and Smart Cities covers a broad range of built-environment applications including improving building and infrastructure operational efficiency, enhancing information and security system performance and providing users with direct control of their environment. We have prepared this top 10 list of smart buildings solutions based on our project work and engagement with leading vendors on emerging technologies. Our current clients include: 

These are just some of the Smart Building technologies that we see the commercial buildings market adopting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Building owners are also installing air conditioning system modifications to reduce airborne infection transmission risks, including air disinfection equipment using UV irradiation and ionisation technologies.  

About the Author

Steve Perkins

Senior Technical Director - Buildings

Based in Singapore, Steve is responsible for continuous improvement of the office's technical and project delivery practices. He also chairs our technical standards committee for building services engineering work. He is currently working on several smart building and smart cities projects in Singapore for public and private clients.

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