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How IoT and cognitive computing make buildings better

We spend most of our lives in buildings — the places where we live, work, socialize, shop and relax. It is not surprising, therefore, that their design and usability so significantly affect the performance of their users. For example, experience tells us that everything from poor air conditioning to bad coffee can lower productivity and morale in an office environment. On the other hand, a friendly, service-centered building can give a huge boost to wellbeing and help to drive everything from sales through recruitment to staff retention.

Buildings also affect the planet: They use about 40% of global energy, 25% of global water, and emit approximately one-third of greenhouse gasses.

It is therefore critical that we implement technology that can make buildings better.

Luckily, advances in new technologies can help.

The first is IoT, which is digitizing almost everything, feeding us data about events and phenomena that were never before quantifiable. According to IDC, there were already 9 billion connected devices in place in 2015, set to grow to 30 billion by 2020 and 80 billion by 2025, and set to become the biggest source of data on the planet. Sensors are being integrated into the very fabric of life — into the walls, walkways, doors, windows elevators, pipes and lights of the buildings where we spend so much of our time — in offices, hotels, airports, shopping malls and, increasingly, our homes.

But there’s something that is making IoT even more powerful: cognitive computing.

Cognitive systems can ingest enormous amounts of data — as disparate in form and content as motion and thermal sensor readings, images, video and weather forecasts — and use it to turn the data into insight about how people use buildings. A cognitive system uses machine learning and natural language processing to generate hypotheses and recommendations to help people make better decisions — be they doctors, financial advisors, call center operators or building owners.

A cognitive building will be one that interacts with people better — both the people that use them and the people that service them. A cognitive building will help us to figure out how to keep people moving, increase productivity and reduce attrition by ensuring buildings are the kind of places we want to be — not just need to be. A cognitive building will use less energy, food and water. It will also communicate with other buildings, traffic systems and automated cars, easing commutes and helping to counter the jams that result when a big event ends.

Take for example, ISS — one of the world leaders in facilities management and one of the world’s largest private employers. ISS has over half a million staff managing everything from concierge to cleaning, catering to technical maintenance for thousands of high profile clients including Rolls-Royce, Nordea, Novartis and Royal Air Force in the UK. ISS is using the power of cognitive computing to transform the services it provides to building owners and users around the world with the goal of making buildings more personalized, intuitive and user-friendly. ISS has started by fitting its Copenhagen HQ with hundreds of sensors to understand more about how people use its building and to transform key functions such as room bookings and catering.

Also, KONE — one of the leading providers of elevators, escalators, turnstiles and automatic doors — is using cognitive IoT technologies to optimize its management and maintenance of equipment that moves more than a billion people in buildings and cities around the world each day. IoT is enabling KONE to implement condition-based maintenance approaches, helping to reduce costs and avoid downtime.

As with any promising new technology, the exciting part will be seeing the applications clever developers and entrepreneurs come up with. And by putting these systems and the insight they create on the cloud, there is no limit to what is possible.

We’ll no doubt see a lot of false starts along the way along with astounding progress. But this much is clear: cognitive computing and IoT will help us to create buildings that can sense, respond, self-improve and communicate, putting them in far greater harmony with humans and the planet.

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