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More than science fiction Artificial intelligence is moving ever closer to changing profoundly the way we design, build and work, claims Chris Hoar


Artificial intelligence (AI) is already an everyday feature of our lives, for example in the form of ‘personal assistants’ such as Siri on our phones and Cortana on our PCs. We might not even know it exists, but it is there. This is still, however, a long way from the scenarios that some scientists have portrayed of ‘actroids’ (, or humanoid robots, taking over routine tasks. There is a more immediate and pressing need to consider those changes that are occurring now and likely to become more apparent in the next few years. How in particular is the advancement of AI going to affect the built environment?

Retrofits & new build First, we need to make a distinction between our existing built environment and changes or additions to it. There will be significant challenges in implementing AI in existing buildings, despite reasonable expectations as to its long-term benefits. 3 0   m arc h / apri l 2 0 1 7

Retrofits are often difficult and might not realise the intended benefits, or those benefits may be outweighed by the costs. Even so, this balance between benefits and costs will tip in favour of the former over time. The new built environment will be designed with AI developments very much in mind. For example, it will be easy to implement floor layouts that take into account the use of actroids or other autonomous machines for cleaning and catering by removing obstacles and being conscious of the way in which they move. It will also be easy for environmental systems to generate large amounts of data that are collected and automatically processed and actioned. This process has already begun because energy costs and those of other scarce resources are forcing the pace.

AI areas What types of AI are going to have an impact on the future built environment? Some of the key areas are as follows. bb Cleaning: autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) could be used for internal cleaning; drones for external windows would have significant operating expenditure. bb Waste disposal: AGVs and automated collection

same may soon apply to smart infrastructure as well.


points for them could reduce costs. bb Security: apps, drones, AGVs and high-definition or thermal imaging cameras may be relatively costly upfront, but will save operating expenditure and also reduce risk to personnel. bb Mechanical and electrical services maintenance: apps, AGVs, cameras and 3D-printed parts will streamline work, although they will require good management of planned preventative maintenance. bb Catering: AGVs and actroids could serve food and clear utensils and waste. bb Reception and helpdesk: actroids and apps could provide such services. bb Condition surveys: drones and thermal imaging cameras could survey facades, roofs and structural framework, reducing risks to inspection personnel. bb Logistical support: AGVs and actroids could manage deliveries and porterage. Implementing measures such as these presents a significant challenge in terms of the built environment’s physical structure and organisational culture. But that can be overcome when refurbishment or other major changes are to be carried out. We already have to introduce higher levels of thermal performance and other environmental measures into buildings when seeking approval to refurbish, and the Image © iStock

Opinions differ on the timescales for the implementing AI in our sector. Development is accelerating almost exponentially, so predictions vary. Our own investigations – through the consultancy Artificial Intelligence in Facilities Management – suggest that the tipping point might come within five to seven years’ time when there is critical mass in terms of both the hardware and software to implement full-scale building projects with a high level of AI. The implications are likely to be profound. One significant impact will be the need for a complete overhaul of working practices with consequent loss of jobs, as well as a change in the supplier landscape as more IT companies seize the opportunity to move into facilities management. They have the know-how and capital – unlike service providers offering cleaning and waste disposal, which have to survive on cash flow alone. From an owner’s or operator’s perspective, where is the financial argument for pushing expenditure into the operation and use phase when more and more technology, including AI, can be capitalised? With the new built environment and its innovative designs, implementing AI will be easier and the benefits more immediate and obvious. The challenge will be futureproofing the design of buildings to accept newer, replacement technology and ensuring a balance between AI and human operations. C Chris Hoar is Founder, Artificial Intelligence in Facilities Management

Property Journal March–April 2017  

This issue brings together all kinds of everything concerning sustainability in the built environment, from the changing face of buildings i...

Property Journal March–April 2017  

This issue brings together all kinds of everything concerning sustainability in the built environment, from the changing face of buildings i...