What makes a building intelligent?

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 / 12. September. 2017

When do we feel comfortable in a building?

We spend most of our time in buildings, in the working context as well as privately. Decades of research in the area indoor environment quality (IEQ) show that a building’s characteristics can influence and also impair our health and well-being. These characteristics include unpleasant temperatures or noise in open-plan offices [1]. Characteristics of the environment also influence our mood. Therefore, modern living and working environments have to be geared towards the needs of inhabitants and employees. The IEQ research allows to derive necessary knowledge about these needs. One concrete parameter is, for example, the temperature. It has to lie in a pleasant range, which can not be expressed simply by a degree because it depends on many factors – such as personal preferences, clothing and outside temperature. In order to be able to concentrate, a certain volume should not be exceeded. The threshold value here is dependent on the type of noise, among other things. The lighting conditions in buildings are very important for health and well-being aspects as well, the closer they are to the natural conditions, the better. This supports the natural circadian cycles. Also air quality, cleanliness and interior design are not to be neglected, to mention only the most important aspects. As already shown by the example of temperatures, there is not a static nominal condition for each parameter. Rather, personal preference and the current situation must be taken into account – which activity or task are present,  what the inner state of the person looks like and much more. For example, a lower temperature is required for strenuous physical work, and the work context requires quite different lighting conditions than relaxation in the evening. In the development of intelligent buildings, those factors that change dynamically are particularly interesting. First of all, sensors are needed that are capable of measuring the current state, and then a concept for calculating a desired state and how this is to be achieved by actuators.

Modern sensors and actuators open up new possibilities

The trend in recent years towards increasingly small and more and more common “wearables” allows the determination of physiological parameters more comfortably and less obtrusively, as a supplement to more widely used sensors such as temperature and brightness sensors. This also makes it possible, for example, to recognize high stress levels, which represent a serious health risk [2], and react to them. This could be done, for example, by switching off unimportant notifications [3]. An intelligent building is characterized primarily  by the fact that it reacts to changing circumstances, autonomously and in the interest of the user [4]. It therefore has to include well-networked sensor technology and be able to build up a model of the current environment from individual measurements. In order to react adequately to a situation, not only the appropriate actuator system is necessary, but also a concept for processing the information and determining the desired state. The intelligent environment includes sensors, actuators and intelligent software. Present concepts for the design and control of such systems are, however, still in their infancy. Intelligent solutions must be developed and put to the test [5].

What is the goal of an intelligent building?

Networked environments are getting more and more into our daily lives. The buildings in which we live and work in the future should not only operate energetically best possible, but also be optimized with regard to the needs of the people living in them. A potential challenge is to find a balance between energy optimization and need orientation. Additionally, data protection and security and stability of the system are not negligible as requirements. A further key point, also for the acceptance of the buildings, will be the subject of control. The increase in automated functions of intelligent buildings entails the risk that the control of the individual is diminishing and the staff or residents may feel patronized, which would lead to dissatisfaction and stress [4]. There must therefore be actual control possibilities, superordinate to the algorithms of the building, not only in case of malfunction of the system. The development of intelligent buildings therefore has to fulfill numerous conditions and requires an interdisciplinary cooperation of the fields of expertise, from architecture through psychology to computer science.

[1] Kim, J., & de Dear, R. (2012). Nonlinear relationships between individual IEQ factors and overall workspace satisfaction. Building and Environment, 49, 33-40.

[2] Muaremi, A., Arnrich, B. & Tröster, G. (2013). Towards measuring stress with smartphones and wearable devices during workday and sleep. BioNanoScience, 3(2), 172-183.

[3] Healey, J. A. & Picard, R. W. (2005). Detecting stress during real-world driving tasks using physiological sensors. IEEE Transactions on intelligent transportation systems, 6(2), 156-166.

[4] Reijula, J., Gröhn, M., Müller, K. & Reijula, K. (2011). Human well-being and flowing work in an intelligent work environment. Intelligent Buildings International, 3(4), 223-237.

[5] Schröder, L., Pörtner, A., König, M. & Hoffmann, M. (2016). Überlegungen zu Multi-Sensor-Aktor-Systemen und Kontrolle in intelligenten Arbeitsumgebungen. INFORMATIK 2016, 46. Jahrestagung der Gesellschaft für Informatik, Klagenfurt.

The author: Lilian Schröder (B.A., B.Sc.) is member of the IoT-Lab and the Research Institute for Intelligent Buildings at the University of Applied Sciences Bielefeld. Furthermore, she is working on her master’s degree in Computer Science. Before studying Computer Science, she received a degree in Linguistics and Psychology, and since then she is particularly interested in human-machine interaction and intelligent buildings.