Buildings Will Become the Consumers: Introducing Digital Twin Technology
Digital technologies have had a profound impact on the property industry over the past decade, but there are advances to come. Priya Kantaria speaks to innogy Innovation Hub about how digital twin technology is set to impact the building industry
“Buildings are the biggest consumers of energy today and with the convergence of technologies, our hypothesis is that buildings will be like autonomous cars – self-maintaining. They will be able to pay bills, control energy intake, trade – become consumers.”
Alina Prawdzik heads the ‘Smart and Connected’ portfolio at innogy’s Innovation Hub, which invests in construction and property tech for German energy firm innogy, as part of its accelerator and venture capital project.
Prawdzik’s team focuses on digital twin solutions in the building space – tech that uses a building’s data or provides a means to gather that data, which can create a “digital identity”. The digital twin can be used to run tests or make informed decisions using AI predictive tools.
A digital twin is like a “mirror image of the building in data” and from that image, Prawdzik says, “you know everything, like where the heating and pipes are installed, you know how it is operating and you know how it works.”
Is the industry ready?
The innogy Innovation Hub has nine startups in the Smart and Connected portfolio and 90 in total across the whole hub, which also looks at startups in IoT, AI and blockchain in mobility, manufacturing, energy and finance, in cybersecurity and in energy generation, trading, grid and retail. The idea is to encourage collaboration and diversity across the hub.
“ I think the technology is ready. It’s a question of: is the industry ready? ”
“Proptech is further ahead of the curve in accepting new ideas than contech, and I think that’s a legacy problem,” Annemie Ress, director and chief people officer at the hub says.
Prawdzik adds: “I think the technology is ready. It’s a question of: is the industry ready?”
“The convergence of technology is really fascinating. We came across a BIM solution that uses blockchain, so even the building industry is coming to blockchain.”
Smart, connected neighbourhoods and cities
Digital twin technology would be useful for property management by making it more secure and more efficient.
“At the moment a building manager has his own spreadsheet say to manage the building records, so the first step is digitising the building information in the digital twin,” Prawdzik explains.
“Data is the key. Already we’re seeing things delivered in a pragmatic way, because they need to solve the problems of today.”
The Smart and Connected team have an even bigger vision for buildings.
“ The idea is that buildings will form groups, so a smart city or a smart neighbourhood, because once they become a smart organism there can be more of them. ”
“The idea is that buildings will form groups, so a smart city or a smart neighbourhood, because once they become a smart organism there can be more of them. It can become really funny! Imagine five buildings that between them optimise their energy.”
She describes smart, connected buildings and neighbourhoods, even cities, that will be able to share data and intelligence about for example bills, utility providers and cost effectiveness, and can trade assets like energy with one another when a building uses or needs more or less.
Buildings will ultimately be able to maximise the wellbeing of their inhabitants, acting as artificially intelligent facility managers.
Smart and Connected startups
Buildots is one startup under the wing of the innogy hub that uses image recognition to harness building data.
It uses 360 degree images taken from a camera on a hard hat, worn by anyone on a construction site. From the images, the Buildot software recognises what progress has been made since the last images were taken and can locate electrics and utilities built into walls and floors.
“It’s useful for the digital twin because its gives all that data that can then be used in the future,” Prawdzik explains.
It can even be used to check progress and accuracy during the construction.
“ The hope, one day, is to build smart cities and create buildings that function like living organisms, able to maximise liveability, efficiency and trade like consumers. ”
The innovators behind Buildots are Israeli ex-military. They were familiar with image recognition tech from their army days and spent months on building sites to work out how they could apply their knowledge to construction.
Another startup working with the hub is Finnish SkenarioLabs, which digitalises a building’s data from spreadsheets and blueprints and all formats and has now started using the data for predictive maintenance.
The tech can predict when the heating will break or electricity will go down. It looks at data about when a property was built and its insulation and heating capabilities, for example, to make its predictions.
It can also predict on property values based on the state of the building and applying data from buildings nearby or from ones that are similar.
The hope, one day, is to build smart cities and create buildings that function like living organisms, able to maximise liveability, efficiency and trade like consumers.
This can happen with the help of a digital twin of our buildings and neighbourhoods and innogy’s focus and investment here brings this future a step closer.