Smart Buildings of the Future

By: Mark McComb


The term “Smart Building” is used quite frequently to describe a facility that is energy “conscious” and can adapt to the changing needs of the occupants as well as the changing availability of the required energy to operate the building. By definition, a truly intelligent building should be able to vary its state or action in response to fluctuating situations, changing requirements, and past experience. This is the future of smart buildings, and it relates to much more than just utility usage. As future technology is incorporated into the building systems – enhanced usage, flexible areas, and greater collaboration will be available to the occupants of the various spaces. Smart Buildings of the future will incorporate an awareness of various situations and be able to adjust the environment, functionality, and services related to the following major areas:

  • Space Usage
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Physical Security
  • Building Systems

Smart Buildings of the future will be exciting places to work as they adjust to the needs and uses of the occupants and provide unique means of accomplishing our day-to-day tasks.

Space Usage

people-looking-at-screenBuildings are designed to provide various spaces for the occupants to utilize based on different needs such as workplaces, gathering locations, relaxation areas, learning sites, rehabilitation spaces, collaboration sites, research and development/lab areas, warehouse/storage, procedure rooms, factory space, retail environments, etc. A smart building will be able to evaluate the needs of the occupants and adjust its configuration to easily support various utilizations moment-by-moment, as well as incorporate more permanent changes based on utilization trends. Flexible and modular spaces will allow facilities to change the configuration of various spaces as needs change (such as changing huddle rooms into offices or storage spaces).

For instance, remote teleworkers will utilize shared “hoteling” space when they are in the office. Touch signage in the core areas will allow a method to select which space they would like to use for the day. Digital name signs at the stations will provide name recognition of who is currently occupying the space for improved communication and employee interaction. The hoteling phones will allow for configuration to provide the teleworker’s extension. Docking stations will allow for laptop and tablet devices to connect into the office for multiple monitors, keyboard, and mouse functionality.

In addition, the quantity of hoteling spaces will adjust based on utilization trends over time that are tracked by the building systems.

Additionally, various conference spaces and impromptu tables will provide locations for workers to meet and gather. Work cafes will provide locations similar to coffee shops where workers can gather in a relaxed atmosphere. Huddle rooms or open collaboration spaces will provide a location around a display for small groups of workers to meet. These spaces will all have digital scheduling touch panels, power (including wireless power at the table surface), wireless LAN connectivity, collaborative display technology, and possibly background music. Technology will allow for easy access to information specific to each user and project team. Simply setting a cellphone or security access badge on an electronic table will bring personalized and team information to the space. This will allow information that a user has on their personal wireless device will be easily sent to the collaborative display. The displays will allow for comments on the information so users can notate changes or ideas for proper meeting documentation.

Another example of smart building space flexibility includes classroom and training spaces that will be easily adjusted based on the specific learning needs of the occupants and teaching methods of the instructor. Automated electronic partitions will easily adjust the room size based on the number of people that have accepted the training invite. The room layout will be adjusted for various types of training, from computer based training, to standard presentation, collaborative training, or even “flip-the-classroom” environments. The ability to present, collaborate, and annotate on any wall or various table services will be supported in training spaces of the future.

Hospital environments provide unique challenges in their space usage. As the cost of technology and medical equipment decreases, various rooms can support multiple uses, such as the patient room that could be flexible and utilized as an ICU, med-surge, emergency or recovery room. Procedure rooms could also be designed in the future to support multiple uses and various procedure types. As the medical record systems track the historical information on types of patients and procedures required, the spaces can be adjusted for the new needs of the hospital.


Smart buildings will also provide appropriate communication throughout the various spaces. Since facilities are occupied by so many difference user groups in so many different situations, an intelligent building will “know” where each person is and the most appropriate means of communication at each moment. Three typical building environments provide examples for how this communication will work: corporate office buildings, healthcare facilities, and university campuses.

In a typical corporate office building, there are normally three different user groups: the company employees, outside guests, and facility personnel. Each of these groups have unique communication requirements of a smart building. The company employees will easily be able to communicate with other people within the facility as well as outside the building using a variety of different devices, and it won’t matter where they are located for this interaction to happen. Based on the employee’s location, the existing devices assigned to each person, and the person’s availability status – the technology system will know the appropriate communication method. For example, when located in a private huddle room with no other people present, the system will automatically transfer calls into that room for the user (assuming they have set their status to “available”). If another person is in the room, the call would be forwarded to voice mail. Possibly, the user is waiting on an important call and would like to be interrupted, so the system would transfer that specific call into the room. On the other hand, if the user’s location does not have built-in audio support, the call would be transferred to the user’s personal communication device (which might be a cellphone, wireless phone, lanyard device, or even a small in-ear communicator). With so many possible scenarios, building systems must be created with a simple user interface and truly be intelligent, learning each user’s habits, desires, and requirements.

Healthcare facilities are some of them most complicated spaces designed, and the communication needs are just as complex. Proper workflow and processes are imperative for patient safety and recovery. A smart building will support these processes through understanding the specific workflow and knowing the exact location of every patient, staff member, medical equipment, visitor, etc. The building will be an active participant in the process, providing important information and feedback to the various individuals. For example, a patient will be tracked through each stage of a procedure (i.e. pre-operation, operation, post-operation, etc.) and the family members will be able to know the exact status of their loved one. The facility will know which stage based on the location of the patient and provide this information to the family members through various forms of communication (video wall boards, wireless devices, personal smartphones, etc.). Additionally, a nurse may need a specific medical equipment device and the system will easily locate the nearest one. Possibly a health system desires to implement guaranteed hand hygiene throughout their facility, the system can know if a person enters (or exits) a patient room without using the hand sanitizer and will notify the person via their smartphone. As with the corporate building, there are countless processes that the smart building will support in the various healthcare settings.

On a university campus in an emergency situation, the building system needs to notify all personnel on the campus of the situation and the appropriate action to take (i.e. evacuate, drop and cover, hide) and the action is typically location dependent. Various sensors will be incorporated into the smart-building-of-the-future so the facility knows of fires, utility failures, gas leaks, hazardous material spills, tornados, earthquakes, active shooters, etc. in addition to manual input for other situations such as medical emergencies, bomb threats, impending hurricanes, etc. Based on the rules provided to the system, including the location of the incident and the location of personnel, the smart building will notify users via audio paging, video paging, personal device communication, reverse 911, text, e-mail, social media, and other methods. Communication will also be sent to all interested parties such as emergency personnel, staff, family members, nearby community members, and others.

For all these new forms of communication to happen, the smart-building-of-the-future will require many intelligent technology systems. Some of these systems will include:

  • Ubiquitous Wireless LAN throughout the building which will allow employees and guests to support various mobile devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones, other personal devices, etc.)
  • Phones which will have headsets and video cameras. They will also support wireless connectivity to allow for access when a worker is not in their office.
  • Electronic signage throughout the facility for visually communicating to users.
  • Building, zone, and room paging that will allow for appropriate communication to individual people or groups of people.
  • Real time location systems that will allow the facility to know where every person, and asset is located for appropriate decision making.
  • Enhanced sensor technology for various situations.


One of the most important aspects of the workspace of the future is the ability to easily collaborate. As the work environment changes we must consider the new requirements of the millennial generation and their need to work together in a more relaxed setting. Smart buildings provide innovative ways to share information and work in partnership with each other. Some of the technology systems that will be incorporated into the facility to support this requirement include the following:

Students Relaxing In Lounge Of Shared Accommodation

All meeting rooms will have large format displays for room collaboration that will also double as electronic art and signage. The signage will provide meeting scheduling, allowing for end-of-meeting notice, room availability for extending the meeting, emergency notification, etc.

Meeting room displays will provide interactive capability for whiteboard function and annotation on collaborative material. Meeting participants will have laptop/tablet devices that also provide interactive capability for collaboration through the room display. The content will be “swiped” from your laptop, tablet, or smartphone wirelessly to the display. Remote collaboration with participants in another room, office, or off-site location will also be available.

Eventually, display material will develop to allow for collaboration and interaction on the full wall or table (including curved surfaces), allowing multiple windows with far end participants, video, documents, and whiteboard content simultaneously on the same surface.

Video cameras and audio microphones/speakers will be located in meeting rooms and offices to allow for audio and video collaboration, including relaxed huddle room spaces and multi-use rooms with the technology located in the ceiling for inconspicuous integration.

TV systems will allow for new entertainment and educational videos, as well as other relevant content to be distributed throughout the building. Digital signage systems will be prevalent in various areas of the building including: lobbies, café, lunch rooms, elevators (and elevator lobbies), breakrooms, etc.

Network and wireless based audio-visual transmission will allow for connectivity of rooms, video conference, audio conference, all-hands meetings, president announcements, social gatherings, and other events to all displays within the building, including workstation displays and personal mobile devices.

Physical Security

collage of security camera and urban video

Smart buildings also need to provide a safe work environment, even for facilities that are meant to be accessible by the general public such as hospitals, schools, or libraries. New technology systems will support this effort through access control, video surveillance, and intrusion detection systems.

Mass Entrance Systems will replace electronic turnstiles which will utilize medium range readers to sense card/badge access without the need to swipe. Biometric readers with facial recognition will be used to authenticate the card with the person. Notification will be provided to the person entering, as well as the reception/guard personnel, if invalid access has been attempted (and secure doors/elevators can be closed). Additionally, automated access control will be provided at ANY location where a manual key has historically been provided (even down to the office).

Guest registration/visitor management systems will be supported for employees online, remote guests, or local guests within the lobby. Disposable access badges will be provided upon arrival to the building, or access will be provided via personal devices. These systems will also provide a QR code for directions to the various meeting spaces that the visitor will be attending.

Near Field Communication (NFC) on smartphones will also be used for access where nametag image badging is not required. Users never forget to carry their smartphone, so this helps with the problem of lost or forgotten credentials. NFC can also be utilized for payment at corporate cafeteria, company store, etc. and for access to information required when on-site in various spaces.

Network based security cameras will be widely deployed for a safe working environment with analytics incorporated to notify security personnel of unusual situations. This also allows for solutions to unique problems in various environments such as allowing access to clean room spaces where staff can’t wear badges or touch anything to access the space.

Finally, intrusion detection will be enhanced to provide notification when there is unauthorized access to a space during or after work hours. These systems can sense intrusion via access detectors, motion sensors, noise sensors, video analytics, or other methods.

Building Systems

Smart buildings will also provide the various utility and building services needed to operate a facility at the lowest cost with the least environmental impact. These systems will adjust as needed for the most productive work environment.

Engineering automation building designing. Construction industry technology

Utility Management Systems will be integrated into the building to provide control and management of the power, lighting, audiovisual systems, HVAC, water, waste, etc. As part of reducing usage, climate control and lighting will be automated prior to meetings based on the planned occupancy (i.e. a room will be appropriately cooled just before a meeting starts).

Sensors will be deployed throughout the building to sample the air quality (temperature, humidity, CO2, particulates, etc.) and make adjustments with fresh air as needed.

Automated lighting will activate only in the portions of the building that are occupied. Electronic tinting windows and electronic shades will allow daylight harvesting to provide natural light as appropriate.

Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) will provide full cellular coverage within the building for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and corporate phones, tablets, and devices. It will also provide commutation support for emergency and maintenance personnel.

Automated wayfinding will be supported via real time location systems-RTLS (which track where a person or equipment is located). This will allow for live directions to be provided on nearby displays, projected floor images, guided corridor lighting, personal devices, or other methods. Parking spot wayfinding will also direct drivers to the nearest open parking spot or to the appropriate entrance based on the destination within the facility or on the campus. Eventually, the parking lot (or car) will automatically park the vehicle.

Finally, interaction and feedback from the users of the facility will provide an appropriate environment based on specific desires of different users. The intelligent building will “learn” each user’s desired environment and automatically adjust the building settings in the specific location of the user. Additionally, touch panels, buttons, or smartphone apps will allow for notification of facility issues (i.e. bathroom needs attention, kitchen supplies, printer problems, etc.).


Through enhanced technology systems and intelligent learning, smart buildings of the future will have amazing spaces that adjust to the various needs of the users. They will allow for ubiquitous communication throughout the facility and provide unique and enhanced methods to collaborate. They will also provide safe working environments that operate at a low cost with the least impact on the environment. The intelligent future of our workspace awaits.