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A building that turns off lighting and HVAC systems automatically when a room empties is pretty smart. One that creates an individual environmental bubble around each occupant, which then follows them as they move through the building – well, that’s another level of smart. That has become the reality for one foundation in Italy, with the help of Siemens and the Carlo Ratti Association.

The Agnelli Foundation is focused on economic, scientific, social and cultural studies in Italy. With the introduction of this new technology they claim their Turin headquarters is “the first building in the world that interacts with people,” while their strategic partners are hoping this will be the new normal in smart buildings around the world.

German building automation giant Siemens created the indoor positioning system at the Agnelli HQ. They placed hundreds of sensors around the facility to gather information on everything from temperature to CO2 concentration, meeting room occupancy to the smartphone-synced “three-axis indoor positioning system” that tracks people.

“Intelligent devices generate huge amounts of data every day, every hour and every second,” said Federico Golla, president and CEO of Siemens Italia. “Real time geo-localization of people moving inside the complex means the building’s AI can manage lighting, heating, space allocation and air conditioning as and when people move about.”

Occupants define their lighting, temperature and other preferences via an app. Then, once set up, a “thermal bubble” can – for all intents and purposes – follow them around the building maintaining individual preferences for each occupant in their immediate vicinity. When the individual leaves a given space it will quickly return to “standby” or “energy-saving mode”.

“With the right digital tools, it is possible to leverage the data and interact with the environment as never before. The concept of Carlo Ratti Associati for Agnelli Foundation is an ideal [project] for us,” explained Golla, referring to Italian MIT professor and smart technology leader, Carlo Ratti’s Italy based association.

Ratti believes that a building’s smartness is about more than just imposing efficiency on its occupants, he sees a much more organic relationship between humans and machines. “Distributed decision-making unleashes possible synergies between human and machine intelligence, opening the way to the promising prospect of natural and artificial co-evolution,” Ratti told Memoori in an interview last year.

Not to suggest that efficiency isn’t important, in fact energy saving is a centerpiece of the project, and is accomplished by harnessing this human-machine relationship. “By synchronising energy usage and human occupancy within buildings, we can create a more sustainable and responsive architecture – theoretically slashing energy consumption by up to 40%,” said the Agnelli Foundation.

The Agnelli Foundation are not the only organization pushing the boundaries of the smart building. Consulting firm Deloitte’s Amsterdam headquarters, also known as The Edge, is widely reported to be the world’s smartest building. Like Agnelli’s HQ, The Edge tracks and identifies occupants by their smartphones and allows them to control elements and set preferences using a custom designed building app.

The Edge will identify people as they arrive; those driving will automatically be directed to best parking spot, for example. Once in the building, the smartphone app will show you to your desk, there are no defined desks at The Edge, just optimized hot-desking that chooses a workspace based on your preferences and schedule. Similar to the Agnelli HQ in Turin, occupants at the Edge can expect their environmental preferences to be applied wherever they settle.

Deloitte’s Amsterdam headquarters might be the smartest building for it’s human interaction, but when it comes to greenness and energy saving, it seems that data centres – that require energy-intensive cooling – are at the cutting edge. In Frankfurt, Citigroup’s data center has been the recipient of multiple green awards, the building incorporates vertical walls of plants that reduce overall CO2 emissions while blending in with the surrounding natural environment.

Unsurprisingly leading internet firms such as Google, Apple and Facebook, are increasingly turning to renewable “clean” energy to serve their ever increasing demand. While Microsoft gets the prize for innovation with its underwater data center; Project Natick is piloting a data center that can be cooled by the surrounding seawater and has the potential to be 100% powered by tidal or wave energy in the future.

With 40% of all energy consumption coming from buildings, making energy hungry facilities more efficient and greener is a fundamental step in reducing overall energy consumption. In order to achieve this without sacrificing occupant comfort we will need to use smart strategies like those employed by Siemens and Carlo Ratti Associati for the Agnelli Foundation headquarters.

By considering the relationships between building technology and the humans it serves, we can create facilities that can even make us more comfortable, more productive and even more healthy.

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