By Megan Bozman

IBM and WIRED Brand Lab recently held The Cognitive Building Forum to “examine how IoT is shaping the way we design, construct, use, maintain, and experience the buildings around us.” Video of the Forum, embedded below, opens with an introduction in a style that is as ubiquitous in the tech world as the company description, “A leading provider of…” However, it contained one phrase that was demonstrative of the innovation and unique creativity of IBM, “Buildings will become more orchestrated.” A lovely expression. After describing the connectivity tech, the video asks, “But who is listening? And who will conduct the orchestra?”


Excellent questions. And ones that need to be asked.

The Forum opened with David DeMaris, AI Scientist, Hanson Robotics, acting as a DJ playing music based on notes generated from live sensor data from several buildings.


Well played, IBM, well played.

Moderator Guy Raz stated, “In many ways, buildings are like organisms. They have respiratory systems. They have circulatory systems. They need energy to function. They discharge waste. They grow, they change, they evolve. But they don’t think. Or at least they haven’t ever before. So the question we’re here to ask today is, ‘What if they could?’”

Mr. Raz continues to explain that cognitive computing is a capability that allows for enormous amounts of data to be processed and understood. It finds music in the noise of IoT sensors. The application of cognitive computing to smart buildings represents an entirely new business model with wide ranging applications and implications.

The Most Sustainable Building in the World

The event took place in The Crystal building in London. The first speaker was Martin Powell, Head of Urban Development, Siemens. Mr. Powell stated that The Crystal is the most sustainable building in the world. It was designed around a technology core, which is flipping building design on its head. 3,500 data points are collected and sent to the Siemens Navigator platform to manage, control, monitor, and continuously optimize the building. The Crystal consumes 70% less energy and resources than an equivalent building. Mr. Powell concluded that as buildings continue to reduce energy use, data and digital technology will lead this transformation.


Claire Penny, IBM Watson IoT, Worldwide Industry Leader, stated, “The cognitive building space allows us to get back to the user and control preferences at the desk level.” Which brings smart offices with features that enhance the human experience to mind.

John Cohn, Fellow and Chief Scientist, Design Automation, IBM, explained that cognitive computing actively learns and continuously adapts based on that learning. Buildings should anticipate the needs of building owners and occupants. It should be easy and predictable to adapt things like temperature through natural language or gestures.

Peter Halliday, Head of Building Performance & Sustainability, Siemens Building Technologies, reiterated that the explosion of data and devices today, which will grow, provides huge opportunities to optimize buildings, identify productivity improvements, and implement predictive maintenance.

Implementing Cloud-Based Energy Management Platform

Navigator is Siemens’ cloud-based energy management and sustainability platform. Siemens recently connected one building and uploaded 37 million data points to identify profiles and analyze data to look at opportunities to make the building more sustainable. In addition to traditional data such as HVAC, Siemens may incorporate a wider variety of data, such as traffic patterns, to make better decisions moving forward.

Data uptake will explode as more and more systems come online. Siemens has 60,000 buildings connected today. The company is partnering with IBM to incorporate some of their analytics into the Navigator platform, which will allow dramatic expansion of that 60,000. As buildings come online, Siemens will be able to take them to the cloud and provide analytics so they perform better.

Obstacles to Implementing Smart Building Systems

Further insights from panel discussions included that cost is an obstacle to the implementation of many smart building systems. This is partly due to the fact that it’s difficult to materialize the intangible. Additionally, rather than putting data scientists into the role of building manager, smart buildings will leverage machine-to-machine cognitive learning, so humans will no longer be required for tasks like Identifying anomalies.

Finally, comments from Pierre Liautaud, KONE Executive Vice President, West & South Europe, Middle-East & Africa Region, sum up the advancement of cognitive buildings. “It’s not going to be just about saving costs for facility managers. It’s about creating new experiences based on information.”

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