Creating efficient, healthy and safe intelligent buildings

People gathered around tablet - Intelligent building design

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Security technology is a key piece of the puzzle in developing smarter and more intelligent buildings, writes Peter Boriskin, Chief Technical Officer, ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions Americas.

Thinking smart

There continue to be lots of conversations about the smart city, the smart building and the smart home, especially as digitalization and innovative advancements have hit the market at an ever-faster pace in recent times.

However, at their roots, these really aren’t new concepts.

The smart city idea emerged decades ago when analysts began using technology to collect and interpret images and data to help improve civic services, protect against disasters and improve citizens’ lives.

The smart building movement has been in motion for more than 30 years and buildings have been getting smarter and smarter ever since.

In fact, it was the smart building that was the major influence behind advancements for smart homes as technology made its way from the government space to the institutional space and on to the commercial world and, ultimately, into residential.

Smart and/or intelligent buildings?

While the more common parlance is “smart” building, there’s increasing buzz about the intelligent building.

So, what’s the difference?

Typically, a smart building has sensors, video cameras, access control and other integrated security solutions, as well as autonomous decision-making capabilities.

In other words, it’s able to become aware of changes in its environment based on the data it receives from its sensing and security devices and then does something with that awareness.

A smart building with motion sensors, for instance, knows to turn on the lights when someone walks into a room or office.

When no people are around, the lights turn off to save power. That’s smart.

However, it’s not exactly “intelligent”. What if a building can learn when it should adjust HVAC settings based on the occupancy of a space?

Say it recognizes there are 12 employees in an office area and has learned that a low speed fan setting is all that’s needed for comfortable conditions for that size of a group.

As more people fill the space, it kicks up the air flow or makes changes to the chiller.

That’s a nuanced autonomous decision that demonstrates another level of intelligence.

By using big data captured from sensing and security systems, coupled with machine learning and AI, we’re starting to gain a more granular level of detail that will soon yield greater opportunities for soft logic and algorithms to make more perceptive beneficial inferences.

Over time, this can help buildings improve their own rules and autonomous decisions and make them more intelligent.

Think about door operators that open and close in office buildings throughout the day in a city like Chicago, where summers can be hot and humid.

When AC is running at full capacity and cold air is descending the column of a building, this can put outward pressure on doors, causing them to crack open, cold air to escape and warm air to infiltrate, increasing the load on HVAC systems.

In the winter, it’s the reverse scenario. Hot columns of air rush up through a building’s elevator shaft and can cause a change in pressure that sucks a door inward, potentially making a door harder to push open or even bounce back and hit someone in the face.

An intelligent building can adjust how that door operates and provide an assist, so a person doesn’t have to fight the negative or positive pressure.

Intelligent buildings tied into a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) API would know if a tornado or windstorm is approaching.

They could then decide to put a door that’s in free access mode into access-controlled mode, so it doesn’t get blown open or slammed shut.

These are just a few examples of potential ways to use intelligence to make openings safer and more convenient.

You could even use the analogy that machine learning is to AI as the smart building is to an intelligent building.

It’s about getting much more out of the data that smart technologies like door security solutions are able to generate and share with building management and other systems.

New intelligent opening security solutions

When it comes to access control, there’s exciting news in biometrics.

Now, facial recognition can give us a touchless, seamless user experience for unlocking and accessing openings from a distance in smart offices and multi-resident buildings with electric latch retraction or electric strike and maglock hardware.

Think of the convenience of walking up to a facial recognition reader in your building with your arms full of groceries or work-related items and an intelligent opening immediately lets you in without the need to pull out a badge, fob, card or mobile phone to present credentials.

When additional authentication is required, a combination of facial recognition plus a card, PIN or mobile credential may be necessary.

This is a parameter a building could have the intelligence to request when a doorman or security person is no longer on duty after hours.

Besides doorways, facial recognition can be integrated into barrier types such as turnstiles to help security throughput and make access control more convenient and efficient at such sensitive points of entry.

There are additional access controller technologies that provide long-range reading capabilities like UHF readers that identify RFID parking tags on cars for activating lot entrance and exit gates.

Personally speaking, it’s a friendly and frictionless experience to be able to walk up or drive up to a building and feel like I’m already part of it.

Another intelligent way to recognize people

As mentioned earlier, there’s also a new voice and video intercom solution that is particularly applicable to visitors, delivery people and service contractors who need access to locations such as multi-family housing units, office buildings, K-12 main entrances or other secured locations.

The person approaches the building’s voice/video intercom door station and chooses the tenant or contact they’d like to speak with using the keypad to call them from the building’s exterior entrance.

The tenant sees the visitor’s live image come up on their apartment or office indoor screen and can have two-way communication.

Once they confirm the delivery person, repairman or guest is someone they’re expecting, they can then use the intercom’s unlock function to let the person into the building.

If the tenant or employee happens to be away, they can use an app for the intercom system on their mobile phone that gives them the same ability to see who’s at the door, communicate with them and unlock the door remotely if all’s well.

Other smart benefits

Intelligent buildings not only feature the latest access control innovations that make life seamless and safer, but they also give us tremendous insight into the everyday operations of a facility.

Along with analytics that can help better manage comfort, lighting, the number of people in a space and who has access, these data-driven insights can identify patterns and anomalies to improve scheduling of spaces, support loss prevention, monitor occupant wellness and help with real estate decisions when considering how we use buildings today.

Intelligent buildings come from intelligent planning

Making a building intelligent also takes intelligent building, which comes from not only planning spaces to include smart technological solutions but also what goes into the building from an environmental and health transparency standpoint.

It’s important to know that the building materials aren’t going to cause off-gassing or otherwise make a work or living space unhealthy.

Considerations include whether the product is manufactured responsibly, its lifecycle, its material ingredients and whether they are recyclable.

The other side of the health equation involves how people are using the building.

When we know how many occupy a space for a duration, we can increase fresh air and natural light and adjust HVAC comfort levels.

We can uncover where retrofits may be necessary to make sure energy efficient products like electrified locks, electronic access control, door closers, gasketing and thermal breaks are in place.

Mining the data and intelligent security

What’s encouraging today is that with the explosion in machine learning and AI that’s underway, we can now mine the data from electronic access control and other security solutions in more cost-effective and efficient ways to derive intelligent meaning from it.

We’ve captured a lot of data over the years, but it hasn’t always been easy to make smart use of it; you needed a data scientist to understand what was there.

Now, it’s becoming much easier to separate the signal from the noise and use this valuable information intelligently.

Understanding the importance of the relationship between physical and cybersecurity is also important in creating and maintaining intelligent buildings.

It’s critical to protect the physical security at all points, including individual server cabinets and technology at the network edge, even in the field.

Simultaneously, you must manage the security of any device connected to your network.

Segment the physical security network from the operational network, use adequate encryption between all devices and look for products with proper testing and certification.

The interoperability and integration of wonderful technology like door security solutions can create powerful, positive user experiences, but we also need to be mindful about tying all these systems together.

An intelligent building is only as safe and smart as the least secure device on the network.

Final points

As you can see, many things go into creating intelligent buildings – from the security, seamless user experiences and operational benefits they can provide to ensuring they’re built upon the smart building blocks of efficiency, health, convenience, safety, security, transparency and sustainability.

While we’re still in the early stages, the future of smarter and more intelligent buildings looks like it’s going to be brilliant.

This article was originally published in the April edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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