During his keynote address at the awards ceremony for the Buckminster Fuller Institute’s 2013 Challenge, architect and renowned sustainability expert John Picard explained how an engineer in California prevented a fire on Wall Street—using a light bulb. Before leaving the office for the weekend, an employee at a LEED-certified building on Wall Street discarded a charred bag of microwave popcorn in a receptacle in the break room. The high-performance office space was illuminated with sensor-equipped LED lights that collected and sent building information to a data processing and monitoring facility in California. Across the country, an engineer was giving his father a facility tour. While walking past a monitoring screen, his father noticed a fire warning flash across the display. The son initially discarded it as simply a test, but his father’s trained eye—he too was a building systems engineer—caught the signal’s time-stamp and confirmed that a network-connected light bulb in a New York City office was telling them that conditions were heating up—suggesting fire. They contacted the New York City fire department, which arrived and prevented a conflagration from overtaking the space.
While a disaster was averted, if a true emergency had developed, the networked sensors in the building would have provided first responders with unprecedented intelligence- enabling them to most effectively fight the fire and ensure personal safety. Sensor data could be used to create heat maps of the affected floor, as well as those above and below the fire. First responders could use these real-time visualizations to identify trends in the progression of the blaze, optimize their crisis-management strategies, and identify the safest evacuation routes. They could also program the building’s light system to flash a path directing occupants to the safest escape routes.
Intelligent systems are transforming building performance. Individual nodes operate autonomously to respond to real-time changes in occupancy, temperature and light. Aggregation of information from these nodes reveals trends and patterns that have previously been invisible, informing a second level of intelligence and enabling better decision making for system optimization. Technologies like this light bulb will increasingly make buildings “smarter” - enhancing benefits to building occupants as well as the entire system of building stakeholders.