Digital transformation
  • 28 May.2021
  • 4 min read
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Autonomous Buildings: Is it a Futurist’s fantasy or close to reality?

by Sumit Nawathe

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Honest confession! If I have to choose one product launch event that I would do anything to attend every year for the rest of my life then it must be Tesla’s product launch. After following all of their previous launches one thing I can confidently say that Elon knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat and make you Impatiently anticipate his favorite line ‘and there is more’ 

Besides his unconventional presentation and communications skills, there is something else that makes people fall in love with these events. I believe it is the combination of his humanitarian vision, path-breaking ideas, and quirky features that he manages to get into his cars. He gave the world Bioweapon defense mode, Ludicrous mode, and the one that has been followed widely across the automobile industry – The autopilot mode.

Although Elon wasn’t the first one to march toward vehicle autonomy, he accelerated the growth and created enough room for regulators and consumers to consider the possibility of autonomous vehicles in the future.     

How is it related to buildings and proptech in general?

Let’s think about it, how the smart building ecosystem has been evolving in the last couple of years. The entire building management value chain from sensors to data processing, storage to analytics has expanded vertically and horizontally. Tenants and occupiers and even investors are expecting far more from today’s buildings than they used to get 10-15 years ago.

What do we expect from our buildings: 

  • Tenant/occupiers: Higher work Productivity, Pleasant and safer environment, Better connectivity with teams.
  • Facility Management: Uninterrupted operations, Quick troubleshooting (Asset Uptime), Energy & Operational efficiency.  
  • Property owner: Tenant retention rate, Maximum ROI on real estate portfolio, Achieve sustainability goals.

Now there are the desired outcomes we want from any investments in buildings. Any piece of technology that helps the specific persona to take one step up the ladder of his expectations can be considered for evaluation. 

But, one has to consider the fundamental rule of any tech investment: that, technology is a means to an end and not the end itself. When you build upon multiple use cases based on different or stand-alone technologies it creates anarchy of meshed networks and interdependencies shoots up.

This is where autonomous buildings as a principle approach come into the picture.

What is an Autonomous building?

A building that adapts its behavior to the preferences of tenants and occupiers. A Building that encourages a collaborative work environment, while safeguarding people from external impurities. A Building that provides a 360-degree operational view to every stakeholder from tenant to O&M team to the property owner.

In simpler words a building that is not just smart but adoptive and empathetic towards the occupants.

According to Michael Zamora, principal analyst at Ecosystm, “Buildings have moved from being a static physical space to smart, dynamic, complex, digital structures.” factors like comfort, scalability of digital solutions and building resilience have made us think upon an entirely new set of buildings. Buildings that will make occupant’s life easier by bringing in transparency in every interaction with the built environment and add a smile to the facility management teams by helping them identifying real-time asset issues and recommending corrective measures.

You can think of an automated building as a superset of 

  1. Buildings management applications such as BMS, EMS 
  2. Workplace management tools
  3. Resource & logistic management applications such as ERP, CAFM
  4. Asset Maintenance & Planning (advance analytics, Digital twins)     
Why autonomous buildings are getting traction?


All the aspects that can make an autonomous building a feasible reality are getting inlined now.

Market demand: Verdantix report suggests that Overall smart building software market expenditure will grow at A 7% CAGR to reach $8.5 Billion by 2025. Also, the type of data sources and granularity will increase o capture every small detail of the building interactions. And to respond to the growing demand players like Honeywell has already started to expand their service portfolios

IoT and Sensors: The facility manager has unprecedented access to building data collected through IoT devices. Facilities can now take advantage of machine learning technologies to transform the way they operate their buildings. Market veteran likes Oracle believes that with the technologies like Machine learning autonomous buildings are close to reality now.

Sustainability: People are far more conscious about their carbon footprints now. They do not want to spoil the environment with their habits and actions. For buildings, that’s an indicator of sustainable design, local material sourcing, and being operationally neutral – negative to carbon emission.

Internet of behavior: An interesting case and the term coined by Gartner top strategic technology trends 2021 came to the picture during the covid times, an application with a computer vision was determining whether employees were complying with mask protocol, and speakers were used to warn people of protocol violations. Later this behavioral data was collected and analyzed by the organization to influence their workers.

“By combining digital technology, data, and expert domain knowledge, autonomous buildings will unlock the previously untapped value of the built world.” _ Michael Zamora

What is the Path to autonomous buildings?

For a building to transform into an ‘autonomous building’ would require a lot of work based on its current system and data maturity levels. Similar to SAE’s 6 levels of driving automation for self-driving cars there can be few stages to measure progress towards Autonomous buildings. While autonomous buildings should be an end goal for a newly developed commercial building every step towards it should be well planned and executed to remove the redundancies. 

The final stage is where buildings automatically adapt their behavior to the preferences of each occupant and stakeholder, with that in mind Landlease has suggested 5 different steps one has to propagate towards complete autonomy.

  1. Creating a baseline: To perform the diagnostic assessments on existing data, processes, people and to set up expected outcomes
  2. Connect data assets: Identify all the critical sensors, process data, develop connectors and bring it to a central location.  
  3. Smart technologies: Plan and implement different pieces of technologies across the building to improve the performance of assets eg. HVAC, utilities, elevators, etc
  4. Semi-autonomous – Phase where the facility is partially operating without human intervention (some part of  the operations like workflow management, helpdesk, etc.)
  5. Fully Autonomous – final stage where the entire expected facility anticipates and adapts on its own to all the changes.

With these steps, we can self-evaluate where do our current buildings stand on the evolution of autonomous buildings. Currently, there are only a couple of buildings that have attend partial or fully autonomy. However, the building analytics market is getting ready to add another milestone toward a better, sustainable and prosperous future. 

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