Thursday, 6 January 2011

Smart Buildings

Buildings are getting smarter! Just read an article on "The Economist Technology Quarterly" from December 11 2010 entitled: Superstructures - building "smart structures" with sensors.

Here's a synopsis including the Problems, Solutions an example and the future of smart Buildings.  What do you think?


  • cost
  • wires needed to provide data and power
  • even with battery powered wireless sensors how often do they need to be maintained/replaced? Robustness of the sensors will influence this.  Exposure to the elements including break dust in tunnels can have a detrimental effect.
  • Deflected and direct signals interfering with one another, increasing the time it takes for a node to join the network.
  • Fixing the sensors to the sensors economically and robustly - they sometimes fall of after several and have to be re-resined.
  • transfer time:  Golden gate bridge network takes 12hrs to transmit 80 seconds of data.
  • Solved to some extent by wireless technology and improvements in battery and radio technology.
  • solar, wind turbine (vibration?) powered sensors (perhaps for "sentry" sensors?  See below.)
  • employing "pipe-lining" in which a signal is passed along a network of sensors to reduce the maximum "jump".
  • software that determines locations of minimum radio interference (probably using advanced finite element analysis)
  • if sensors could do some of the processing of data themselves then that would reduce the amount of data that needed to be transferred, by prioritising and being selective about the data that actually needs to be sent off.
  • intelligent power management -  sensors only switch on when they need to process or transmit. Aplies the use of few "sentry" sensors which "wake up" the much larger network of remaining "sleeping" sensors in the event of significant activity. "Sleeping" Sensors are only receptive for a split second at given intervals to conserve battery unless prompted by a "sentry".
Case study:

Jubilee tunnel - sensors and conventional monitoring led to investigating the replacement of the tunnel lining.


Sensors that not only report but immediately fix the problem. (e.g. mass-damper systems in tall buildings that counteract oscillations caused by string winds or earthquakes) Need to overcome the problem of power cuts dissabling the actuators of such systems by deploying low power actuators supplied by new battery technologies (semi-active as opposed to passive - no power and active -high power).  Perhaps even the deployment of robots to fix defects once they are sensed.

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