Autonomous Buildings: What Happens When Buildings Run Themselves?

  April 5, 2018

By Greg Zimmerman

Some time during the next decade, the number of internet-connected devices will surpass the number of humans on this planet. That’s mind-boggling, if you stop to think about it. In commercial buildings, connected devices as part of the building internet of things are growing exponentially as well. Humans simply don’t have the capability to sift through all the data these connected devices create. Thankfully, as buildings get smarter with machine learning and artificial intelligence, buildings will be able to practically run themselves.

They may seem like a scary concept to a facility manager whose job really is to manage a building. What does she or he do if the building manages itself?

Like the rise of driverless cars, the notion of autonomous buildings is gaining steam. At a recent Siemens Building Technologies media and analyst event held at its software research and development hub in downtown Chicago, president David Hopping offered some insight into how autonomous buildings will shift the roles of facility managers, but also how they’ll be beneficial in terms of energy savings.

“Buildings are brimming with data,” Hopping explained. The Internet of Things, machine learning, and artificial intelligence can help facility managers shift a building from a cost to an asset. “Facility managers can spend more time on occupants, and less time running a building,” he said.

Of course, no building will be truly autonomous, so expertise for facility managers will have to change a bit to understand how to tune and manage these AI and machine learning systems. In an article in the April issue of Building Operating Management magazine, Rob Knight of Environmental Systems Design explains that “there’s no plug-and-play piece of software that just goes and tells you everything you need to know about your building. These tools are still complicated and need to be used by an expert to get the most benefit.”

So take a deep breath: The facility management profession isn’t going away. Like most things related to technology or that rely on technology, the profession is simply changing. And facility managers must be ready for that shift, and be willing and able to shift their expertise as well.

This Quick Read was submitted by Greg Zimmerman, executive editor, Building Operating Management. Read his cover story profiling Northwestern University’s vice president of facilities management, John D’Angelo.


Read next on FacilitiesNet