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Smart buildings, one of the best bets for sustainability

Smart buildings, one of the best bets for sustainability

Houston, we have a problem

I'll admit it, I think there's indeed a planet B.

Discussing why climate change is important is a complete whole topic by itself, but we cannot cover it on this post. However, I'll give you my personal point of view: we shouldn't protect Earth just because we live here. We should protect it because we need to learn how to live in any planet without destroying it.

That's the key for our survival as humanity.

So, we are doing some bad things to our home, aren't we? In particular, we are emitting all those greenhouse gases that act as a container of UV rays. Capturing UV rays increase the planet's temperature, which leads to defrosting poles, unchaining a butterfly effect over the complete ecosystem.

Buildings are accountable for almost 40% of all energy-related CO2 emissions and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions, which mainly stem for construction, usage, renovation, and demolition.

Therefore, even little improvements of building's performance have huge impact on the ecosystem.


Let's be honest here, if you ask 10 different people what sustainability is, you will get 10 different answers. So, what's it really?

Sustainability means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of our future generations to meet their own needs. It requires an holistic approach that takes into account ecologism, economy, and usability (social integration).

Thus, a building is only sustainable if it, at worst, doesn't harm the planet, and at best, takes care of it; if it's economical viable to operate, generating benefits for their owners; and if it is comfortable for their users, otherwise no one is going to use it.

All those characteristics must be maintained over their whole lifetime that may be more than 100 years.

Landing 21's century

It's not a secret that we build almost the same way we did a century ago. Even though digitalization has been evolving since 90's, thanks to the world wide web, construction industry has kept many processes totally analog, pencils and blueprints were kings.

Lately, concepts such as BIM has become crucial. Briefly, BIM is a management system for the construction process, i.e. covering from the design phase (digitalized blueprints), through material selection, execution of the project, and financial management. All this, integrated in a unique interface that, whenever a change occurs, it is spread over all the different aspects of the project.

However, BIM has a particular focus on the construction, hence what happens with the day-to-day management? Despite the fact 80% of contamination comes from the utilization, it's still a pending topic to digitalize.

Maintaining a building requires the participation of different entities: cleaning team, space managers, maintenance technicians, etc. It becomes a complex environment with different dynamics, interests, and tools.

All of them must work over programmed schedules, since it is very difficult to synchronize and align their tasks. This generates a lot of inefficiencies that translate in higher consumptions and, hence, huger.

But, what if we could register what is happening every particular moment and take decisions more intelligently based on the real-time behaviour? We could improve management and a better management tends to remove waste.

Is your building smart enough?

Smart means doing something difficult quickly and in a clever way. That's why our smartphones are so smart: there's an app for every task in our daily lives so we can do them effectively and efficiently.

As in the case of smartphones, for becoming smart we need several technologies to work together:

  • Internet
  • 4G/5G
  • Cloud computing
  • Artificial intelligence / machine learning
  • Electronics (sensors & chips)

Migrating from bricks to microchips, bringing internet and computing technologies, making the architecture more electronic and transforming buildings in centers of data processing, will make them become really smart.

It implies a whole new market that hasn't been created yet, where new functionalities can be developed by anyone and can be implemented instantly. A building will get to interact better with its environment, i.e. cities and towns, and satisfy complex needs of users and stakeholders, e.g. electricity suppliers.

Imagine entire cities being managed by these distributed computing centers where decision such as electricity generation and distribution, waste management, people allocation, among others, are done automatically without human intervention.

Less consumption, means less demand, which leads to lower prices and at the same time to more affordance. Cost optimization will allow public entities to invest in more interesting areas, such as education or infraestructures. And buildings intelligent control will generate people to be more productive and comfortable inside closed spaces.

We can conclude smart will make buildings more sustainable.

Migrating from bricks to microchips, bringing internet and computing technologies, making the architecture more electronic and transforming buildings in centers of data processing, will make them become really smart.
click to tweet.

Getting down to work

As mentioned before, there's the need of implementing several technologies. In this section, we'll take a quick look over different technologies and their jobs to be done inside the smart environment.

  • Internet of Things (IoT)
    Internet of Things is the concept of connecting any device to the internet and to other connected devices.

    Connecting devices to internet and among them pursues collaboration, synchronization and information flow. Basically, we want to monitor what's happening in our world, boost automatization, and create a new whole set of services and ways to interact with our surroundings.

    In order to achieve it, we require:
    • Low cost sensors: currently, sensors are very expensive making them not viable for most applications due to a low return of investment ratio. Without sensors we cannot measure the world and take decision based on that data.
    • Low-power Wide-area Networks: we need wireless communication technologies that allow covering huge distances. It is mandatory since current infrastructures cannot be easily updated, thus we should seek to deploy IoT devices without too much trouble. Some interesting technologies are LoRaWAN®, Sigfox, LTE-M, NB-IoT, among others.
    • Cellular communication: technologies such as 4G and 5G allow a fast communication between objects in the real world and decisions systems allocated in the cloud. Therefore, it enables responses with almost no latency.
  • Artificial intelligence

    Artificial intelligence, and in particular machine learning, has been a hot topic since prof. Hinton and his colleagues made some advances with deep neural networks on 2006 and 2012.

    But, why we do need machine learning? The response are decision systems.

    The process of gathering data, processing it, and generating an order or alert, is usually made by a decision system. These decision systems can be based on other technologies such as PID controllers, yet they must be customized for each new building.

    Accordingly, machine learning is the technology that has enabled us to design decision systems that are created once and deployed to different environments without worrying about how it fits every particular scenario. This is because, the nature of machine learning is to learn how the system behaves and predict based on the generated knowledge; usually represented as parameters.
  • Application development

    Development of applications is not a technology itself, but rather a set of them. Generally speaking, in order to develop an application we need
    • Server infrastructures, such as AWS, Google Cloud or Azure. They allocate and execute your code, taking care of scaling physical resources, e.g. CPU & RAM, to scale with users growth.
    • Software frameworks: these are the code tools useful for rapid development, at least ideally. Basically, are the frameworks with a good community participating for frontend and backend development, such as React/Vue for frontend or Laravel/Django for backend.
    • Other development tools: we are speaking of control version (git) and the related repository (github/gitlab), environment control (virtual environment, docker containers), databases (relational or non-relational), or monitoring tools for controlling throughput/latency/performance.

    Applications create an interface of interaction between people and digital systems.

Study of a real case scenario: Orpheus

Orpheus is a space management system for environment optimization; in plain text, it turns on and off things. The purpose of Orpheus is to improve space management so them can become more efficient, healthier, and comfortable.

In order to implement Orpheus in a building, we deploy LoRaWAN® sensors and actuators to gather data and execute physical changes in the building when it decides is necessary to. LoRaWAN® allows to send devices that don't need setup by the client, neither any extra infrastructure, making the solution almost plug&play.

Once IoT devices are deployed, they are supported by two suppliers: the first one providing cellular connectivity with M2M nets, so there's no need to worry about coverage; and the second one being LORIOT, which takes care of the LoRaWAN® Network Server (LNS).

Orpheus device
As in our particular case, it is important to find suppliers that count with API connectors so their functionalities can be integrated seamlessly within the application, hence increasing cooperation and avoid investing time in developing something that doesn't add value to your product.

The LNS works as a middleware between IoT devices and the application layer, in our case Orpheus. With the data arriving to Orpheus, it is processed and stored in our database. This allows Orpheus to show what's happening with the building in real time, generate orders to IoT devices so physical changes can happen, and other related service functionalities.

Orpheus is working as a monitoring and controlling system for buildings and as an interface for owners, managers, and users to interact with it. Further, it's the channel where they can express what's going wrong with their spaces and what needs do they have to be fulfilled.

Orpheus is then acting as a platform for creating, improving, and discovering new functionalities that boost sustainability. Everything, thanks to the stack of technologies already mentioned.

Orpheus team
With Orpheus, we have made buildings reduce their energy consumption up to 30%, and ensure more than 90% of the time good indoor environment conditions. Everything just by adapting the management to the real building's use.


Sustainable buildings are those capable of being efficient in their resource consumption, generate great benefits for their owners, and are excellent places for users to do their activities.

Making a building smart is the shortest path to make them sustainable. To make it smart, is necessary:

  • To use IoT devices that can be easily deployed in large spaces.
  • To integrate with infrastructure suppliers through APIs so you can boost you value delivery speed.
  • To develop applications, commonly called apps, that use gathered data to generate new services and functionalities related to buildings and cities.

Sustainable buildings are those capable of being efficient in their resource consumption, generate great benefits for their owners, and are excellent places for users to do their activities.
click to tweet.

At Orpheus we've created a space management system for smart buildings. We would love to meet you if you belong to the real estate sector and you think we can either implement Orpheus in your buildings or in your client's buildings.
Just send us an email to info@orph.eus with the subject "Let's become partners".

Massimo Angelini

Massimo Angelini