The coronavirus pandemic has made clear that there is a range technology available to buildings that serve different building constituents.
“Smart building technologies are built upon connectivity among building equipment so they’re the individual components under a broader ‘building IoT’ ecosystem,” said James Tu, chairman and CEO of Energy Focus. “Some degree of connections and communications among building equipment has been in existence for decades. That said, over the past 10–15 years, there has been rapid advancement and cost reductions on electronics, sensor and software.”
Energy Focus is a sustainable LED lighting technologies and solutions provider based in Solon, Ohio. Tu said that cloud computing has vaulted smart technologies for buildings and infrastructure upward.
“These developments had together contributed to an explosion of new crops of really smart building technologies that embed computer vision, artificial intelligence, machine learning and even robotics to provide real-time data collection, analytics and automation to help dramatically improve building performance,” Tu said.
“For example, today a building could easily reduce 50% or more energy usage and carbon footprint, improve 20% or more in space utilization and significantly improve human comfort and productivity through lighting that syncs to people’s circadian rhythms. That simply was not possible or commercially accessible a few years ago,” he said. “And the evolution of smart-building technologies is only going to accelerate from here because the underlying technologies are expanding exponentially.”
A discussion of smart building would not be complete, however, without mention of the advancement of biometric technologies. Biometrics are not new; they have not been fully adopted. Now with rising health concerns against the broad uncertainty of COVID-19, biometrics and new monitoring tools are of interest to existing buildings and new construction.
“[Biometric security] started on our phones and now it’s moving into our homes and businesses,” said David Vranicar, managing partner and founder of building and structural security firm FBS Fortified and Ballistic Security, Boca Raton, Fla.
“It is possible to walk up to your home, unlock and open your front door without touching a single thing. There’s an added benefit of using social distancing, such as having automated systems, that allow for less touching of common objects.”
Niraj Patel is the senior vice president of artificial intelligence for DMI, a Bethesda, Md., firm that provides mobile solutions for business. Patel says that additional capabilities can be added to existing smart building solutions, including automated social- distancing tracking.
“When two employees come within 6 feet of each other, they receive an alert,” he said. “The person entering the user’s safe zone does not have to be running the app. The application can also provide contact tracing for employees who opt in. If an employee reports a possible infection, a designated COVID-19 safety officer is notified immediately with the ability to view a report to see if other employees came within 6 feet of the infected user. An alert is sent to any user who met the infected individual providing protocols for potential exposure. No names are shared, and employee privacy is maintained.”
While companies may benefit from biometrics for access and possibly health and safety applications, this could be problematic if contact is required, said attorney Brian Weinthal, partner and member of the labor and employment group at law firm Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella in Chicago.
Weinthal cautions that using biometric technology is regulated at the state and local level. In his state, for example, he said those who request, receive, record and store biometric identifiers must exercise extreme care, as the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act requires that any company receiving this information must first obtain the written consent of the individual whose biometric information is collected.
Where a facility monitors entrants or guests by recording biometric information by using facial recognition technology at a security desk, the company responsible for administering the technology is theoretically responsible for obtaining consent before such measures are deployed.”
Smart building solutions will continue to improve their utility and effectiveness. Electrical contractors will discover new products to install, maintain or integrate. As buildings get smarter, so must the electrical contractor in understanding their capabilities, complexities and limitations.