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MIT
Blaine Brownell explores emergent teleoperation and telerobotics technologies that could revolutionize the built environment.

Design practitioners have become familiar with an array of evolving technologies such as virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), building information modeling (BIM), and robotics. What we contemplate less often, however, is what happens when these technologies are combined.

Enter the world of teleoperation, which is the control of a machine or system from a physical distance. The concept of a remote-controlled machine is nothing new, but advances in AR and communication technologies are making teleoperability more sophisticated and commonplace. One ultimate goal of teleoperability is telepresence, which is commonly used to describe to videoconferencing, a passive audiovisual experience. But increasingly, it also pertains to remote manipulation. Telerobotics refers specifically to the remote operation of semi-autonomous robots. These approaches all involve a human–machine interface (HMI), which consists of “hardware and software that allow user inputs to be translated as signals for machines that, in turn, provide the required result to the user,” according to Techopedia. As one might guess, advances in HMI technology represent significant potential transformations in building design and construction.

Tokyo-based company SE4 has created a similar telerobotics system that overcomes network lag by using AI to accelerate robotic control. Combining VR and computer vision with AI and robotics, SE4's Semantic Control system can anticipate user choices relative to the robot’s environment. “We’ve created a framework for creating physical understanding of the world around the machines,” said SE4 CEO Lochlainn Wilson in a July interview with The Robot Report. “With semantic-style understanding, a robot in the environment can use its own sensors and interpret human instructions through VR.”

Developed for construction applications, the system can anticipate potential collisions between physical objects, or between objects and the site, as well as how to move objects precisely into place (like the “snap” function in drawing software). Semantic Control can also accommodate collaborative robots, or “cobots,” to build in a coordinated fashion. “With Semantic Control, we’re making an ecosystem where robots can coordinate together,” SE4 chief technology officer Pavel Savkin said in the same article. “The human says what to do, and the robot decides how.”

Eventually, machines may be let loose to construct buildings alongside humans. Despite the significant challenges robotics manufacturers have faced in creating machines that the mobility and agility of the human body, Waltham, Mass.–based BostonDynamics has made tremendous advances. Its Atlas humanoid robot, made of 3D-printed components for lightness, employs a compact hydraulic system with 28 independently powered joints. It can move up to a speed of 4.9 feet per second. Referring to BostonDynamics’ impressive feat, Phil Rader, University of Minnesota VR research fellow, tells ARCHITECT that “the day will come when robots can move freely around and using AI will be able to discern the real world conditions and make real-time decisions.” Rader, an architectural designer who researches VR and telerobotics technologies, imagines that future job sites will likely be populated by humans as well as humanoids, one working alongside the other. The construction robots might be fully autonomous, says Rader, or “it's possible that the robot worker is just being operated by a human from a remote location.”

Building Design + Construction
Generation Z learns and connects in unique ways. As they move from higher ed to the workplace, companies that depend on the productivity of a youthful workforce should take note.

I came to Hanbury in 2017, after designing and managing workplace interiors projects for more than a decade. So naturally, I've observed the higher ed students we design for through a slightly different lens—not just as students but as the next generation of knowledge workers. I can't help but think of how their unique behaviors and preferences will shape the workplaces to come.

COMMUNICATION AND CONNECTION
Generation Z is heavily influenced by technology. Technology, although cultivating broad social and cultural connections through social networks, also sometimes creates isolation. In the learning environment, face to face interaction is key in developing a sense of commonality, purpose and learning. Collective learning, where students are taught to learn through group engagement helps to create a sense of community and adds to diversity of thought and experience. In keeping with this trend in the education sector, collaboration has also become the preferred method of working. Physical engagement and the "making of things" has become the foundation of educational process. Students gather with their peers in groups ranging from clusters of three to five and sometimes larger. When in large group learning, the group sizes ebb and flow as members break off into clusters to focus and engage, creating spontaneous interactions and opportunities for engagement, periodically rejoining the larger group for discussion.

Spaces that support this transitional collaboration require flexibility to turn large spaces into small spaces, and to connect small spaces into larger spaces. These amorphous spaces work best as casual environments that empower people to move and use furniture in ways that suit their particular needs at that moment.

Companies should consider furnishing office workspace with groupings of comfortable and easily movable pieces that can accommodate both smaller clusters and large groups. These spaces should also have plenty of opportunities to plug in as these gatherings often gravitate to where power is available. Depending on the nature of the work, places where clusters of people can mock up, prototype, and test their ideas might also be useful.

SEAMLESS TECHNOLOGY
The education environment today is both physical and virtual. In universities today, I would wager that most students would consider YouTube as their secondary learning environment. Online classes and supplemented learning is increasingly common. Recent graduates are accustomed to taking their digital preferences and work progress with them from device to device, from office to car to home. Due to easy access to digital information, continual learning and augmented learning of class material outside the classroom is the norm. Just as students are learning everywhere, the young knowledge worker will have a fluid relationship with where work is done and information is acquired.

The cloud and the Internet of Things (IOT) are increasingly important to young workers. Hoteling desks feel instantly personalized when lighting, chairs and other connected devices automatically adjust to their pre-set preferences. As technology continues to improve, interconnected devices that read one's preferences, condition, location and interest will become ubiquitous in the work and home environment. Access to information from different devices and sources, untethered to a physical space, creates new opportunities for learning.

PLACES TO THINK AND PLAY
Turning inward for reflection, alone time and even recreation is part of the Gen Z culture. In large open spaces, students use headphones and goggle monitors (for Augmented Reality) to provide private focus in public environments, either for work or play. While accommodating the gaming preferences of young staffers may not be appropriate in a work setting, privacy is important. Small spaces separated by glass provide privacy and noise reduction while allowing a visual connection to what is happening in the collaborative spaces.

Work life balance is a driving force for Generation Z. The office is looked at as a place to gain autonomy, learning, social engagement and purpose. The trend to create spaces of play is being substituted with places of creativity, where making things and collaboration are promoted. Corporate recreation lounges of today may become less and less attractive as younger employees look to their offices a
Civil + Structural Engineer
Data Center Powerhouse ScaleMatrix has a Message for the AEC Industry: Bring it On.

Foreseeing the time when AEC firms will face data management issues caused by the mainstream implementation of AI and machine learning, California-based ScaleMatrix says it will be ready.

Mark Ortenzi and Chris Orlando, the high-performing masterminds and co-founders of ScaleMatrix, have invented a hybrid air/liquid cooled cabinet built to house virtually any hardware needed for an organization’s computing needs. With built-in logic, the cabinets are efficient, high-density, closed-loop, and fully modular. And compared to the installation of a traditional data center, ScaleMatrix can reduce the deployment time by as much as 75 percent, a deployment that is measured in days, not months or even years. If this cabinet is the meteorite, the old data center systems are the dinosaurs.

The ScaleMatrix cabinet has the ability to scale from 1kW to 52kW of workload, and it can handle anything an AEC firm can produce, especially as the industry has yet to employ AI and other cognitive technologies on a meaningful scale. However, with AI technology expected to boom in the coming years, that will probably change as engineering firms follow the lead of more progressive segments of the economy.

In a nutshell, data growth leads to compute and density increases – more processors – which leads to more power outputs, and thus increased heat, which leads to heightened cooling requirements. In the old days, the raised floor, the wind tunnel, and the chilled room were sufficient. Ortenzi and Orlando know all about it, because it was in the data center industry where they cut their teeth and made their names. But even as they flourished in that industry, they also saw the need for disruption.

“I wanted to invent a better mousetrap,” Ortenzi said.

Or, as Orlando likes to say, “If you want a cold beer, you don’t put it into a cold room. You put it in the refrigerator.”

With important partnerships with leading companies like Hewlett Packard Enterprise and NVIDIA – ScaleMatrix is a select partner in NVIDIA’s DGX-ready data center program – and now with data centers in San Diego, Seattle, Houston, Charlotte, and Jacksonville, ScaleMatrix upped the ante with the recent acquisition of Instant Data Centers, a deal that adds ruggedized, micro-data centers that can function on the edge – near the action and in remote locations, like a mine.

Even though the technology behind what ScaleMatrix does is perhaps dizzying, the philosophy is quite simple.

“Everything we do in this business is power and cooling,” Ortenzi said. “Next to labor, power is the biggest expense. It takes so many amps to cool so many amps. It takes so many watts to cool so many watts.”

The cabinets have built-in logic that responds to usage requirements, making the variable system “one big, breathing animal that modulates based on requirements,” Ortenzi said. The ScaleMatrix design includes full cooling support, redundant power supply, fire suppression, and integrated network support. When one cabinet gets filled up, just add another one. While ScaleMatrix at first offered cloud and colocation services, it has since added another distinct business line, the DDC™ cabinet for companies that want them for their own data centers.

While the reaction from the market has certainly been favorable – ScaleMatrix had 2018 combined sales of about $20 million and employs 52 people – it wasn’t necessarily instant and overwhelming.

“That’s a great novelty, but who needs that?” Ortenzi said, referring to the initial reaction he and Orlando got when they introduced a system that could handle such a heavy workload.

But all that changed about two years ago, when AI and machine learning came in from the fringe and entered the mainstream. Seemingly overnight, companies were dealing with more data than ever, and ScaleMatrix started fielding calls from all across the country, and even the world.

“All of a sudden, two years ago, all hell breaks loose and no one knew what to do,” Ortenzi said. “We’ve set ourselves up to be in a position to help people. Where else are they going to go?”
DamienGeso/iStock, David von Diemar/Unsplash]
In a broad new set of sustainability commitments, the company wants to use its tech to develop tools to monitor and find insights in environmental data.

In 2012, before declaring your company “carbon neutral” was de rigueur, Microsoft committed to that standard across its operations. Since then, Microsoft has continued to take steps toward cleaning up its own act, purchasing enough green power to equal its electricity consumption, investing in reforestation projects, and setting the target of reducing its emissions 75% by 2030.

Even though Microsoft has worked diligently to advance sustainable practices, its approach, says Lucas Joppa, the company’s chief environmental officer, has remained fairly internal. “We’ve been so focused on reducing the environmental footprint of our own operations–that was really the traditional focus,” Joppa says. Now, the company feels that it’s time to expand its its approach. Through a new set of sustainability commitments, Microsoft wants to turn its sustainability efforts outward, through making its artificial intelligence and tech tools more widely available for use in environmental research, and through new research and advocacy efforts in the environmental field.

“The reason we’re doing this is almost perfectly correlated with impatience,” Joppa says. “The reality shows that no matter how successful we are, sustainability actions inside of our own four walls are entirely insufficient for moving the world toward an environmentally sustainable future.” The same logic applies across the corporate world: No matter how much an individual company works to achieve personal sustainability goals, it’s not going to create the kind of large-scale change we need to combat climate change.

Microsoft’s plan is to turn what it does well–technology and AI–outward to support climate action. It will aggregate and host environmental data sets on its cloud platform, Azure, and make them publicly available (it’s also using AI to make its Azure data centers run more efficiently). Those data sets, according to Microsoft, are too large for researchers to use without advanced cloud computing, and hosting them on Azure should ease that issue.

The company will also scale up the work it does with other nonprofits and companies tackling environmental issues through a data lens. Microsoft has already worked in concert with the water management company Ecolab to develop a tool to assess and monetize a company’s water usage, and how much they would save–both in financial and environmental terms–by driving down their consumption and waste. They’ll also work with The Yield, a company that uses sensors to assess weather and conditions for farmers, to improve the operations of their tools and equip them with AI that will help them predict weather patterns and soil conditions in advance. And they’re equipping SilviaTerra, a startup that uses AI to monitor global forest populations, with the tools it needs to store and analyze vast amounts of data.

Alongside these partnerships, Microsoft is also working to prove that these types of data-driven projects can deliver enormous benefits to both the environment and the economy. Through research conducted with PwC, Microsoft looked at how AI could be applied across four sectors with implications for the planet: agriculture, water, energy, and transportation. “Even just for a few different sectors, and a few different levers in those sectors, a rapid adoption of AI-based technology has the potential to not only make significant gains for the environment, but also for the GDP overall,” Joppa says. Microsoft found that advancing AI usage across those four sectors could boost global GDP by as much as 4.4% by 2030, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 4% in the same time period. “We need to get past the idea that acting on climate will slow economic growth,” Joppa says.
Dudek
For contractors and developers that are on a tight schedule and need to map large swaths of land or expansive projects, sometimes the only thing better than the convenience and insight that unmanned aerial system (UAS), or drone, imaging provides is getting the shots back in a few hours versus days. Engineering and environmental consulting firm Dudek, which provides drone imagery services to contractors, has found an effective solution for turning around image projects for construction clients fast.

Dudek provides mapping, inspection and construction project monitoring services across the U.S., including Hawaii, where its drone operations are based. The company began using drones several years ago through outsourced services, but brought the function in-house almost two years ago. Brian Nordmann, Dudek's chief information officer, told Construction Dive that the firm now has eight full-time pilots as well as a “supporting cast” that processes data.

Dudek counts both public agencies and private developers among its drone imaging clientele, and the company's construction-related work includes pre-permitting mapping and monitoring of large infrastructure, utility and power plant projects.

For example, the firm captures drone images for the California bullet train project that has been whittled down to a $15 billion to $16 billion segment through the state’s Central Valley.

With a growing roster of drone imagery clients and most of its data processing work done at its Hawaii office, the system Dudek was using was becoming inefficient. In the case of a large development, Nordmann said, a drone flight could encompass many acres of land. After the flight, a team would upload images and data collected to a workstation and then run a series of applications to process the information into the finished product for the customer.

“The big part of that,” he said, “ is essentially stitching together all these photos that it takes into a huge map.”

Garrett Rowland
The next generation of intelligent buildings offers promise for unseen levels of energy efficiency, optimization, and occupant health and productivity.

Buoyed by a surge of high-tech innovations and several years of robust U.S. construction markets, AEC teams are working on ideas for “smart buildings.” Since the mid-1980s, a new generation of products, technologies, and analytical tools has transformed the building landscape. The benefits of “smart” technologies and operations for design, construction, and ownership/operations are now inescapable.

Prior to the 1990s, the notion of intelligent buildings focused on controls and automated processes for building operations, mainly in HVAC, lighting, and security systems, says Joachim Schuessler, Principal with Goettsch Partners. “Then, about 15 to 20 years ago, we started working on buildings that optimized controllability and comfort for the users,” he says. By the late 1990s, tools like building information modeling were making built projects a digital extension of the architectural/engineering and fabrication processes, with valuable impacts on downstream operations such as facility management.

The latest definitions of smart buildings embrace a much broader, more futuristic outlook. Schuessler and other experts describe the new paradigm as buildings and building portfolios created and operated using technology systems that aggregate data, make decisions, and continuously optimize operations with ongoing predictive feedback, including from building systems and occupants.

David Herd, Managing Partner with BuroHappold Engineering, asks: “Do the building’s design and systems anticipate programmatic change over time? Is it a ‘well’ building that helps keep people healthy? If it’s smart, today’s thinking goes, it can accomplish these goals, and more.”

Tech-enabled properties transcend time and place, too. “Smart buildings can also be defined as connected buildings,” says Marco Macagnano, PhD, Senior Manager, Lead: Smart Real Estate with Deloitte Consulting. They are “the product of an omni-channel approach focused on generating meaningful information to support decision making through data analysis.”

Connected systems should add practical value while protecting against hackers and other breaches. They can benefit O&M by tracking energy-use intensity (EUI) across multiple campuses or by alerting a facilities department that an escalator is in jeopardy of failing. Owners can use the cloud and the Internet to access existing systems to do more. Bring in the ability of Big Data to tap into worldwide reporting on facility operations, and building owners can suddenly identify patterns and trends that could lead to better design choices.

“The biggest difference with current smart buildings is that tech is the enabler of three primary pillars: sustainability and carbon neutrality, the well-being of users, and user-centered design,” says Jan-Hein Lakeman, Executive Managing Director of Edge Technologies and OVG Real Estate USA.
Amazon
With these smart systems and connected devices installed, your smart home can help take care of you in your golden years.

As we age, our homes can become dangerous places, especially if we live alone or have health problems. Fear of falling or being unable to carry out daily routines safely are often driving factors behind a decision to move out of a much-loved home and into an assisted living facility. Here’s where the smart home can help.

Smart security systems, connected sensors, and a multitude of other smart home devices can address many common challenges of aging, helping seniors stay safer and healthier in their homes for longer. By equipping our homes with this type of smart tech today, it's possible to create a space we can live in for (almost) all our tomorrows.

Here, we look at some of the technology you can install in your home, or the home of an elderly parent, to make it not only a safer home, but also a caring home.

"The number one technology you need in a home to help you stay in it for longer is a home security system," says Laurie Orlov, founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch. "Second, there should be some form of social engagement technology in the home, such as a smart speaker, so people are not isolated. And these both depend on number three, which is having some form of high-speed Internet access into the home."

Mesh WiFi Systems

The advent of Mesh WiFi—a system that uses multiple routers working together to channel high-speed Internet to every corner of your house—has made aging in place technology much more viable. It’s now possible to have connected devices that will work reliably anywhere in your home. Mesh systems from Samsung, Google, and Eero (now owned by Amazon) can all deliver this type of high-powered connectivity.

A benefit of the Samsung SmartThings WiFi system is that it doubles as a smart home hub, which supports a wide range of connected devices, including sensors that can help monitor movement in your home (or lack of it) to alert a family member or caregiver if there is a problem (see Smart Sensors).

Smart Security Systems

Safety, both from intruders and disasters such as fire and flooding, is a major concern for elderly people living alone. A smart security system like Abode's home security solution can be installed to monitor doors, windows, and motion—triggering an alarm that can notify authorities and/or caregivers if there’s a problem.

This type of system also works with smoke alarms, flood sensors, and freeze/temperature sensors. If a senior shares access to the Abode system with a caregiver, that person can check in via a smartphone app and know that the temperature is comfortable, all the doors and windows are secure, and they'll be alerted if a smoke or CO alarm is triggered.
Tracie Ching
In a roundtable with ARCHITECT, architect Paul Doherty, policy and sustainability expert Debra Lam, and author Anthony Townsend trade opinions and insights on what the buzzword really means, why the world’s largest companies want a stake, and how architects can step up to the plate.

MEET THE SMART CITIES EXPERTS
Paul Doherty is a registered architect, the chairman and CEO of the international company The Digit Group (TDG), an honorary senior fellow of the Design Futures Council, and a fellow of the International Facility Management Association. His past ventures include Revit Technology and Buzzsaw (both purchased by Autodesk), and TRIRIGA (purchased by IBM). TDG is currently involved in numerous smart city plans and real estate developments around the world.

Debra Lam is the managing director of Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation for Georgia Tech, and founder of the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge. Previously, she served as Pittsburgh’s first chief of innovation and performance, where she crafted the city’s landmark strategic plan, the “Pittsburgh Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation,” and she was a policy and urban sustainability associate and senior consultant at Arup. She sits on the MetroLab Network and Neighborhood Nexus boards.

Anthony Townsend is the founder of Bits and Atoms, a smart cities strategy consultancy and planning studio, based in New York, that works with industry, government, and philanthropy on economic development, digital placemaking, and technology forecasting. He is also the author of Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers and the Quest for a New Utopia (W.W. Norton & Co., 2013). In 2001, he co-founded NYCwireless, a pioneer in the community and municipal wireless movement.

ARCHITECT: How do you currently define a smart city? I say “currently” because the definition has evolved as technologies have come and gone, and as experiments have failed or succeeded.

Lam: I think of smart cities as a process because it’s a change in local context and improvements in technology. It’s not an end state. You don’t suddenly declare yourself a smart city and then forget about it.

You’re starting out with a challenge, problem, or mission and thinking about what hardware, research, and processes are available in the toolkit. But it’s not led by technology and it’s not some sort of shiny object to just purchase and think you’re smart.

Townsend: There’s been effort over the years to formally define smart cities by the British Standards Institution, a variety of U.S.–based organizations, and some consulting companies like Arup. To me, it’s a movement that’s about using digital technology to solve the timeless problems of cities—
Amazon
Amazon just over a year ago launched its first in-home furniture brands, with private labels Rivet and Stone & Beam. This past fall, it began experimenting with a new, more visual way to shop for furniture and other merchandise with its Pinterest-like recommendation service Scout. Now, Amazon is venturing further into home furnishings with the debut of Amazon Showroom, a visual design tool that allows you to place furniture into a virtual living room, customize the décor, then shop the look.

The retailer didn’t formally announce the launch of Amazon Showroom, but a spokesperson confirmed it’s a recent test that’s now available on Amazon.com and in the Amazon mobile app.

You can access it from the “Accounts & Lists” drop-down on the web; the Home, Garden & Pets department on the web; or the Home & Kitchen department on the mobile app.

Currently, the new feature is focused on helping Amazon shoppers put together a living room. In a virtual setting, you can make adjustments to the wall color and the flooring, then swap out each item in the space with one of your own choosing — including the sofa, coffee table, chair, end table, lamp, rug and even the art on the wall.

To do so, click on the piece in question, then pick another from the right-side panel where a scrollable list of options are available, along with their prices. This selection can be filtered by a number of factors, as well, like price, style, color, material, brand and star rating.

Not surprisingly, Amazon’s own home furnishing brands are heavily featured here.

As you work on your project, you can save your room design to pull up later. And you can save more than one room design, if you’re trying to decide between different styles. When satisfied, an “Add to cart” button lets you place all into your cart for checkout with just one click.
NikolaVukojevic /iStock
Design leaders at Microsoft, Google, Ideo, Pentagram, Gensler, and more weigh in.

Everyone is overworked and unhappy. Digital platforms have sucked the last of our attention and sanity. If you read the headlines in 2018, you’d have every reason to feel pessimistic about the future.

But the design experts we talked to–from companies such as Microsoft, Google, Ideo, and Forrester–offer a glimmer of hope. As they look forward to 2019, they agree on one thing: The cold, corporate thinking that has defined the business world over the past several years doesn’t jive with how people want to live. In 2019, people will be more than mere data points; it’s a designer’s job to make sure of it. Here are nine key design predictions for 2019.

WE’LL FOCUS ON FOCUS

“Design has journeyed into uncharted territory. The impact of technology is more strongly felt than ever and at scales never seen before—some of it positive, but much of it negative. We’re distracted, depressed, and overwhelmed. The digital experiences that were once fun, delightful, and helpful now feel like a burden; an always-on state that we hope to escape.

“In 2019, I believe design needs to be the answer to that escape. We need to take a hard look in the mirror and hold ourselves accountable to the unintended consequences of rapid innovation. Do we need 1 million new apps a year? Do we need to design for constant engagement? Do we need to live in the corners of Dark UX? We do not. We need to be more intentional and design experiences that support cognitive sustainability for individuals, groups, and society. It’s time now for designers to take on this ethical responsibility. The biggest design trend will be a return to mindfulness and focus.” —Albert Shum, corporate VP of design, Microsoft