As a Smart Nation aspirant, Singapore is planning to make buildings not only smarter, but also people- and environment-friendly.

We know that ‘smart’ buildings are designed to reduce energy consumption and wastage, maximize the use of natural energy resources, and be constantly ‘aware’ of any area of the building operation that requires adjustment and/or maintenance.

The use of connected sensors (IoT sensors) is extremely critical in achieving the ‘smarts’. However, the immense amount and type of data generated can be a challenge to manage and utilize, particularly in scenarios where smart buildings need to communicate with each other to form a ‘smart’ nation.

In order to break new ground in the area of smart building technology, one university in densely populated Singapore is embarking on research to facilitate data exchange between smart buildings. The goal is to keep such buildings healthy, sustainable, and people-centric.

Using the BRICK schema

The National University of Singapore’s School of Design and Environment (SDE) has announced a research project in April 2021 that will use machine learning to accelerate the conversion of Internet of Things (IoT) data into a communications model that helps smart buildings talk to one another to achieve wider benefits that take environment and people into consideration.

Consider that every smart building is unique in design and implementation, so its thousands of sensors generate immense amounts of data that is formatted differently from those of another smart building. When trying to facilitate communication among hundreds of smart buildings, the sheer variability and formatting differences of the big data make it difficult to find common ground to work on.

This is where the open source communications model called the BRICK Schema can help. The schema defines a set of rules for processing and storing different types of smart-building data so that humans can now manage whole groups of buildings holistically, with ease and at low cost.

With the establishment of a consistent data ‘schema’ across buildings, the industry will be able to take into account environmental and social needs, thereby improve overall wellness for users of more than one building. Said Professor Chen Tsuhan, NUS Deputy President (Research & Technology): “As Singapore advances its whole-of-nation movement on sustainable development, NUS is ready to seize the plethora of opportunities through our digital innovation activities and strategic collaborations to drive the future of urban solutions,” and “co-create people-centric smart building systems to bring about impactful and radical changes to the lives of people in Singapore and the world.” 

The university’s dean of SDE, Professor Lam Khee Poh, said: “Our research will contribute to the built environment sector’s need for rapid digitalization and enhanced collaboration across the entire industry value chain. The status quo is that each building speaks its own language when it comes to IoT. With this research, we seek to create a type of ‘translation engine’ to convert these individual languages into the BRICK schema. This is a critical piece of enabling technology for Singapore to develop future-ready solutions for sustainable cities in line with Singapore Green Plan 2030.”

Leveraging industry collaboration

As it is a labor-intensive process to merge existing disparate types of data schemas into the BRICK framework, the project team has engaged the help of the Johnson Controls OpenBlue Innovation Center housed at SDE, which was built in September 2020 as a testbed for new breed of customizable, contact-free applications built on the OpenBlue digital technology suite by Johnson Controls.

According to the firm, OpenBlue is a suite of connected building management solutions that use AI for remote diagnostics, predictive maintenance, compliance monitoring, advanced risk assessments and other industry needs. Through the collaboration, SDE intends to set up a machine learning competition to crowdsource solutions to find the most accurate approach for melding each building’s existing labeling methods into the BRICK schema.

The research will focus primarily on four buildings in the SDE, with the possibility to expand the scope to include other buildings across the NUS campus.  

Said Alvin Ng, Vice President, Digital Solutions (Asia Pacific), Johnson Controls: “NUS is an important partner in our journey to transform the urban built environment, especially with the focus of ‘build back better’ in the recovery from the long pandemic. Tapping on the talents from both sides to research on artificial intelligence, sustainability as well as smart experience and wellness, we can innovate and scale from this NUS living laboratory. Singapore’s larger regulatory environment is also conducive for adoption of technologies to ensure our built environment is healthier and more sustainable.”