Intelligent building

From Academic Kids


General concept

The concept of an intelligent building is, and will probably remain, ill-defined. In its most general sense it should mean a building that in some way can sense its environment, reach decisions about the state of that environment and communicate those decisions. In practice this should mean that a building can adjust some aspect of the interior or exterior environment in response to a change in some other aspect of that environment.

With this general definition most existing contemporary buildings are to some extent “intelligent” already. The simplest example of such intelligence would be the thermostat in an HVAC system. It senses the thermal environment, compares the temperature to a set point and communicates to a device that either adds or removes heat from the internal environment (a furnace, boiler or “air conditioner”). That this function is provided by a simple mechanical device (often a bimetal strip opening or closing a circuit) doesn’t detract from its intelligence as we’re defining it. A smoke detector sending an alarm to a fire department would be an example of a device affecting the external environment.

This type of activity is not normally considered as intelligence within Architectural Engineering. What distinguishes an intelligent building in practice is a more complex order of sensing, deciding and communicating. Probably most important is that there is more than a single input variable involved, that there is more than a binary decision possible, or that more than one building system will be affected by the communication.

Current work in intelligent buildings

Most work in intelligent buildings is concentrated in a particular subsystem of the entire building. Building component manufacturers eagerly adopt the phrase to almost any improvement in a product. We thus have intelligent materials, intelligent structural systems, intelligent boilers all advertised.

Office buildings

In the design community (engineers, architects, interior designers) the phrase is often restricted to a particular building type: the office building including extensive telecommunication capabilities, designed to allow rapid reconfiguration of the interior layout in response to changing client needs.

Mechanical and electrical systems control

Another common use of the phrase, particularly in the engineering community, is to address the use of computer programs to provide coordination of the many building subsystems involved in the regulating the interior thermal environment of the building (HVAC) and providing power to all building systems. The goal is usually to reduce the operating cost of the building while maintaining the desired environment for the building occupants. Because of the many subsystems contributing to the energy costs of operating a building these computer programs can be extremely complex. They can extend well beyond the current Building Automation Systems (BAS) that typically address issues of energy savings by reducing system control of unoccupied spaces, and shedding loads to prevent electrical utility demand charges.

Opportunities for integrating other subsystems into the overall Mechanical and Electrical Systems intelligent building include:

  • Active control of traditionally passive elements such as glazing or wall thermal transmission
  • Anticipatory strategies – e.g. incorporating weather forecasts into control strategies or incorporation of utility cost or demand forecasts into the operation.
  • Adaptive learning – continuous learning from the building occupants and adapting control strategies.
  • Individual occupant tracking – tracking building occupants and adapting the building systems proactively to their demands.
  • Fault detection, notification and adaptation for equipment, particularly critical equipment in the mechanical and electrical systems.

Beyond these energy-focused applications of the intelligent building concept there are many other possible uses for similar strategies. Some possibilities include:

  • Building Security
  • Usage charges for building facilities
  • Wayfinding within the building
  • Lighting customization to provide different moods
  • Preventive maintenance tracking of building materials

See also

  • BACnet -- One computer networking protocol used to implement networks within intelligent buildings
  • LonWorks -- Another protocol

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