Could Buildings be the New Smart Phone?

Head of Smart Buildings in the UK and Middle East, Matthew Marson ponders how far a rethink of offsite modular buildings could go in the world of smart technology…

Offsite construction isn’t new, but it has an affinity with smart technology, which is often made elsewhere and brought to you in the form of a consumer device, be that a phone, laptop or TV.

We’re used to technology having both physical and digital components – the latter being inherently offsite, because they’re in the cloud. For example, the Citymapper app relates to the built environment and is delivering transport data to us everywhere but has no physical presence.

I like the concept of offsite because it makes me think my home can be more like my smartphone.

My phone is made in a factory somewhere and comes with a set of capabilities. We all start with the same base hardware. Once it’s mine, however, I can customise it by adding the apps I like. So, while pretty much everyone has a similar smartphone, they can all be using it for different things. We all bring different meaning to them.

Imagine if buildings came like that – the same basic stuff, but the potential to choose from the infinite configurations smart tech can put on top, from security to entertainment.

The types of technology that could do this for homes may be easier to install in an offsite modular construction setting than a traditional construction site – though, as with smartphones, everybody’s vision of having smart tech at home is different.

Imagine say, returning to a home that can switch on the lights, draw the blinds, lock the door behind you and play Heather Small’s ‘What have you done today to make you feel proud.’ That’s all possible by writing a set of commands on a piece of software that makes all the devices in our homes, work.

If we’re honest, that’s possible right now, it’s just not particularly streamlined (as the mess of converters and gateway boxes in my home shows).

But what if offsite modules could be designed with a neat smart panel to provide a base of technology – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, zigbee and so on – plus anything else you want, in a way that can be easily swapped out as the technology evolves, just as we upgrade our phones?

When you consider the longevity of buildings and the speed of technological development, the need to design it to be more disposable seems reasonable.

People may tolerate a less streamlined version for now. But maybe it’s worth asking today’s homebuyer what they want.

After all, pretty much everyone’s got a smartphone these days – and they mean a lot to us.

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