Smart buildings can transform a city and its citizens

Given the anticipated rise in urbanisation in the coming decades, cities are expected to transform to a place where many different people and companies collectively work to make lives better and more sustainable. The shift to smart buildings has begun

Published: 09, Mar 2015

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During the course of my 10-day vacation, I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten to switch off the bedroom lights before I left home. This realisation kept gnawing me throughout my vacation. I really wish there was some system which could automatically detect my presence or absence and control the lights and other electrical equipment at home accordingly. The capability to intelligently detect and respond to the surroundings is one of the key promises that smart buildings can offer you.

Smart buildings are those where information technology is used to integrate all aspects of the building, like lighting, comfort and security, and provide an enhanced living experience for the occupants. Smart buildings are an inevitable component of smart cities as they a go a long way in improving the quality of life of the citizens, which, in turn, is the crux of smart city creation. Read on to understand more about smart buildings and their relevance in the context of proposed smart cities in India.


Following are some interesting facts and figures about buildings:

  •    India is expected to emerge as the world’s 3rd largest construction market by 2020 by adding 11.5 million homes every year.[1]
  •    Worldwide, buildings consume 42 percent of all electricity—more than any other asset [2]
  •    Commercial buildings lose as much as 50 percent of the water that flows into them[2]

Why is it necessary to make buildings smart?

Buildings are complex entities with multiple interconnected systems such as control and maintenance systems, heating, lighting and cooling systems, and security systems. These systems need to communicate and coordinate with one another for the buildings to work efficiently. In most of the traditional buildings, these systems exist in silos, leading to lot of energy wastage. It is possible to convert these buildings into smart and energy efficient buildings by infusing sensors, actuators and CCTVs that sense and respond intelligently to the needs of the building occupants. Smart buildings have been found to help save up to 30 percent of water usage, 40 percent of energy usage and thereby help reduce building maintenance costs by 10 to 30 percent. The Smart Building Management Systems market is around $621 million and is expected to reach $1,891 million by 2016[1]. Hence the adoption of smart building concept by the various smart city projects in India will help boost the economy of India.

Now, let us look at the various systems present in smart buildings:

  • Security and surveillance systems: Security sensors for windows, doors, motion and smoke detection can provide critical security information about buildings. IP-enabled security and surveillance cameras are very important for ensuring tight, unbreakable and impenetrable security for buildings. The camera feeds can be analysed to take proactive and reactive security measures. Video analytic technologies, which have the capability to generate real-time alerts when specific objects of interest are identified in camera feeds, are now available in the market. These video analytic technologies will go a long way in providing proactive security capabilities to buildings, which are equipped with CCTVs. Another important aspect of security for smart buildings is access control mechanisms that can be customised according to the type of area in the building. For example, occupants can be given smart cards to access specific floors in the building as per their identity.
  • Heating, Ventilation and Cooling (HVAC) systems: It is a very critical component of any building as it makes it healthy and comfortable for its occupants. For a smart building, HVAC systems should be able to automatically detect and respond intelligently to several aspects such as weather conditions, time of the day, occupancy of the building and so on with the help of sensors and other data gathering equipment. For example, HVAC systems in smart buildings should be able to automatically switch off lights in the room of the building where there are no occupants or adjust temperature of a room automatically as per the prevalent weather conditions and the number of occupants in the room.
  • Water management systems: These systems use smart meters to automatically regulate or stop water supply to various parts of the building based on occupancy data obtained from other building systems.
  • Parking management systems: These systems automatically detect empty parking slots in various parking areas and guide vehicles appropriately to optimise time for occupants.


These are only some basic elements of smart buildings. Nowadays, many of the features required by buildings are provided by an integrated software called Building Management System (BMS), instead of disparate systems that communicate with one another using diverse protocols. However, the technology which forms the foundation of present-day smart buildings is Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is a technology that is used to interconnect embedded objects / devices such as sensors, mobile devices and so on and facilitate communication among them without the need for any human intervention.

The increased proliferation of smart phones , rapid advances in IoT technology and emergence of 6LowPAN (a  standard for low power wireless networks) will enable networks of sensors and actuators natively to use Internet Protocol V6 and allow smart buildings to rapidly go to the next level of automation. In the next level of smart buildings, following could be some of the interesting features:

  • Automatic functioning of various components in the kitchen such as coffee maker, toaster and microwave oven based on the time of the day and food patterns of the occupants. Food patterns can be uncovered by tracking and analysing the data generated by the kitchen equipments.
  • Automatic watering of plants in the garden based on the water content present in the soil and the surrounding weather conditions.
  • Automatic mood-based adjustment of lighting in the rooms that will detect the mood of the occupants and adjust the intensity of light accordingly. This is done with the help of communication between the wearable used by the occupant and the sensors present in the building.
  • Automatic adjustment and volume control of various electronic gadgets in the room based on various situations of the occupant. For example, if the occupant receives a call on the mobile phone, the television volume will get automatically reduced until the mobile conversation is over.


Smart buildings have already seen some level of traction in a few Indian cities. In order to ensure the success of the smart building concept in India, it is important to ensure that the government supports smart building initiatives by providing tax subsidy. It will, in turn, reduce the total cost of ownership of smart buildings, making it a lucrative option for the common man.  The government should also provide special funding schemes to attract a lot of public-private partnerships for smart building projects.

The role played by buildings in the everyday lives of people is getting redefined. They are no longer mere physical structures but are slowly starting to define the quality of life of the citizens and the entire city. Given the anticipated rise in urbanisation in the coming decades, cities are expected to transform to a place where many different people and companies collectively work to make our lives better and more sustainable. The shift to smart buildings has only just begun, and will now accelerate very quickly if we make the citizens aware of the benefits of smart buildings and also make it a cost effective option for them.

References :

Anupama Raman is the curriculum architect and lead – Smarter Cities, Smarter Commerce and Curam Client Success Education and Enablement team

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