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Smart buildings: Building blocks of a smart city

Without smart buildings, a truly smart city can’t exist, says Dave Hollander, Bluetooth Sig

Smart buildings help to build smart cities from the ground-up
Smart buildings help to build smart cities from the ground-up

Smart cities are layered and complex – they’re an ecosystem of various networks designed to make the urban environment more intelligent but at their foundation there’s a network of wireless systems setting these smart cities up for success, building by building, from the ground up.


As self-contained structures, smart buildings address the need for automation, control and monitoring, while serving as the building blocks of a scalable foundation towards the larger smart city. Without smart buildings, a truly smart city can’t exist.


The rise of smart buildings


Recent technology advancements, like Bluetooth mesh networking and new enhancements to Bluetooth location services capabilities, have contributed to an increase in smart building implementations that connect enterprises with public systems to create a better smart city while bringing value to owners, operators and occupants.


Perhaps the most prolific use of Bluetooth mesh networking is seen with lighting control systems, which serves as a key use case in creating large-scale device networks within enterprises, manufacturing, retail, and beyond.


A building’s lighting system provides a natural grid through which all devices in a mesh network can pass messages and establish whole-building control, monitoring, and automation systems within a facility. This solution can even be retrofitted to bring connected systems to existing structures and can also function as a platform to enable location services.


Location services solutions generally fall into two categories: proximity solutions and positioning systems. Proximity solutions include item finding solutions such as personal property tags, as well as point-of-interest (PoI) information solutions like proximity marketing beacons, while positioning systems include real-time locating systems (RTLS), such as those used for asset tracking, as well as indoor positioning systems (IPS), like those for indoor wayfinding.


New features now allow devices to determine the direction of a Bluetooth signal, thereby enabling the development of proximity solutions that can understand device direction as well as positioning systems that can achieve down to centimetre-level location accuracy.


Smart building infrastructure acts as a microcosm of smart city infrastructure


Location services are already being used across various industries and within major cities around the globe, from airports to stadiums to massive shopping and entertainment complexes, to power smarter buildings and cities. Such a location services solution was utilised by Gatwick Airport, which installed approximately 2,000 beacons in two terminals, creating an indoor navigation system more reliable than traditional GPS.


The system not only guides thousands of daily travellers through the airport, but it can also provide added benefits, such as real-time gate change and departure delay notifications and promotional messages for nearby passengers. According to Unacast Proxbook, 84 per cent of global airports will be using location services by the end of this year – connecting visitors to a city from the moment they touch down.


The “mini-city” model


The use of these smart building systems on a larger scale, such as with the Gatwick Airport, creates a reliable and scalable foundation for the smart city. Smart building infrastructure acts as a microcosm of smart city infrastructure, addressing the same problems such as energy, water, waste, lighting, connectivity, traffic, congestion, security, and emergency services.


With 4.3 miles of storefront space, Mall of America in Minnesota goes well beyond the traditional definition of a smart building; it is a city unto itself, encompassing 520 stores on five levels for more than 5.6 million square feet of coverage. In fact, the shopping destination attracts more than 40 million visitors annually, requiring expansive smart building systems structured similarly to those used to manage the citizenry of massive urban cities.


“We are truly a small city… Any logistical challenge you have in any city, we have"


One application within Mall of America is the use of Bluetooth-enabled Cisco Halo Beacons to support their network of location services, helping customers navigate one of the world’s largest entertainment and shopping complexes. Soon, their beacon infrastructure will even allow them to monitor the location and status of equipment, which can let them pinpoint items that in need of maintenance – something that could one day be employed in nearly every industry within cities across the globe to minimise repair cost and time.


Janette Smrcka, information technology director for Mall of America, says: “We are truly a small city…Any logistical challenge you have in any city, we have. Being able to leverage those types of things to help our facility operate more efficiently could save us thousands if not millions of dollars.”


As pressure on resources, utilities, and public funds increases, so too does the need for smarter solutions to effectively manage growing city populations. Large-scale device networks and location services are enabling the creation of smarter solutions and allowing them to reach their full potential by connecting large-scale venues all over the globe, increasing operational efficiencies and cost savings, and leading to more efficient and economical navigation of truly smart cities.


As technology continues to evolve, so will the ability of smart buildings in smart cities around the world to deliver on the promise of a safer, more efficient, and healthier environment for all.


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