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Facilities Management has always had to adapt to new challenges like updates in materials, advances in techniques and tools, increasing green practices, the list goes on and on. But with the rapid development of technology, industry conditions are changing faster than ever before. Those businesses that aren’t proactively changing their practices will be left in the dust. But where exactly will the biggest changes come from in future?
One evolving concept that looks set to completely overhaul not only our industry but the entire professional environment is Artificial Intelligence. AI is everywhere, in places you may not think of; if you’ve ever asked Siri a question, chosen a film Netflix suggested for you or even let Google finish your sentence, then you have been interacting with Artificial Intelligence.
AI technology will soon turn buildings into self-sufficient systems that take care of cleaning, maintenance, waste management, security and even their carbon footprint 24/7. It may sound like science fiction, but it’s actually already happening. What does this mean for the future of built environment and the industries surrounding it?
AI increases the energy efficiency, environmental impact and overall productivity of building management.
Sealed Air have developed scrubber, vacuum and sweeper/scrubber robots that can clean a 10,000 sqft (930 m2) area in one hour, and their batteries last for four hours. Imagine how much time this would save if you had a team of them at home! For the moment, though, these cleaners are only suitable for education, retail, healthcare and manufacturing facilities.
They provide output reports so that any technical issues or productivity drains can be rectified. They use up to 85% less water than conventional cleaning and filter the air as they work. So it’s better for the environment and better for us.
The University of Nottingham is developing an AI sensor system to clean food manufacturing equipment more precisely, which could save £100m a year for the UK industry alone. Food and drink manufacturers have to over-clean equipment to keep in line with safety standards, as the only other option would involve disassembling and then reassembling the equipment on a daily basis.  The proposed AI sensor system would be able to move through the equipment, sensing where it needs to clean, ensuring accuracy.
One of the major problems for building maintenance is the time it takes for breakdowns or technical issues to be noticed and the time it takes for these issues to be repaired. While equipment is broken or faulty, it cannot be used which means productivity loss is unavoidable. Now that artificial intelligence is becoming more available, equipment can actively record and optimise its own output and identify potential problems before they even occur.
Verdigris have developed a smart sensor and metering system that measures the output of each individual electrical appliance in a building, in real time. It automatically optimises building controls, predicts future breakdowns and sends users reports about energy usage. This saves time in identifying breakdowns and organising repairs. If you have a kettle that squeaks or a light bulb that flickers in your workplace, for example, the sensor will figure out why and tell you what to do.
And for those of us who just want to come home to a bit of warmth, only to arrive and find that we’d be better off outside, our luck may be changing. Leanheat have started to develop and provide AI systems which analyse energy services in Multi-Family Houses and District heating systems to prevent wastage and technical failures. According to Leanheat, 10-15% of all consumed energy is used to heat apartments and up to 75% of multifamily buildings’ heating systems are inadequately balanced. 10-20% of this could be saved by avoiding overheating and by reducing imbalance between apartments. We’ve put the heating on, only to get too warm and knock it back off. Leanheat are looking to provide a solution.
Their AI learns and adapts to the distinctive behaviour of buildings’ HVAC systems. It improves living conditions, minimizes maintenance work and saves 10-20% in energy consumption within a short payback period.
Air pollution has a profound effect on our health, and since we spend the majority of our time indoors, it’s an area that is often neglected in Building and Construction. But as green building becomes more cost-effective, the impact of the working environment on employees is becoming a major priority.
According to the World Health Organisation, by reducing air pollution levels, countries can reduce the burden of disease from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. 
Harvard has conducted research that concludes air pollution affects our cognitive function; meaning that workers in a green environment were 97% better at responding to crises than those in a typical environment. Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment said “These results suggest that even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers.” Think of the impact this could have on workplace accidents; faster reaction times could save lives. 
Air-conditioning has long been available to give workers safer conditions indoors, but how can this be carried over into the great outdoors?
Elegant Embellishments have managed to produce pollution-fighting panels that can be attached to the facades of buildings. They combat the effects of air pollution by absorbing smog as they’re made using carbon-negative material made from atmospheric CO2. The panels turn air pollutants into harmless amounts of carbon dioxide and water.
Not only are they good for the environment, these panels look great! They also draw light, even in shadier areas, so attaching them to a building that doesn’t catch much sunshine could lead to them becoming massively popular in the real estate industry. The other great thing about these panels is they can be attached to existing buildings which means that they can be fitted retroactively, so there’s no excuse not to use them.
Considering the speed of development so far in AI technology, these changes will likely be introduced across the board sooner than we may expect. Currently the technology is dispersed throughout pockets of Facilities Management. I expect that soon these products and systems will become integrated which will drastically improve the productivity and green efficiency of our sector.
When it comes to technology, there will always be those who are anxious about what the future holds. People hear AI and think we’re all about to be out of jobs.
But considering the fact that AI technology has to be developed, produced, supplied and maintained, we feel sure that Facilities Management will adapt as it always has.