Engineering the Internet of Things, ‘climate responsive’ tech and serendipity

Entrance to Microsoft Redmond Campus

All tech giants seem to be redesigning and creating newer, smarter campuses. Google, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo have been undergoing changes to their employees’ work spaces by engineering a ‘smarter’ work environment that could increase creativity and productivity. “Smart buildings will become smart cities,” Microsoft’s Darrel Smith says. “And smart cities will change everything.” Many companies rely on what is called ‘living buildings’ having designed the structure in order to promote as many chance meetings as possible in order to promote creativity. Others rely on green, sustainable tech or even ‘data blankets’ used to analyse environments through sensors.

Berlin’s flughafen fiasco

Just a few weeks ago the new airport in Berlin experienced technical faults when it was forced to deal with a fire emergency. Some of the country’s biggest companies including Siemens, which is both tech and energy orientated, were involved in building this airport. Basically they found over 20 000 defects ranging from faulty fire protection, mislaid tiles and not even being able to find out how to turn off the lights.

They didn’t know how to manage what they have. It’s important because not knowing how your work space environment works you can not only tarnish your company’s image as a tech or engineering leader but maybe more importantly, miss out on potential productivity.

Better building management with the ‘Internet of Things’

Darrel Smith, Microsoft’s director of facilities and energy, and a team of engineers have been gathering data points of more than three years using around 30 000 sensors to track heating systems, fans, lighting, etc. of 13 Microsoft office buildings. These data sets bring greater insights and diagnostics for ‘more intelligent decision-making’ in designs and engineering and is processed by the newly developed smart-campus software.

Microsoft has just released a multi-part documentary series titled 88 acres on the current state of and development of its smart Redmond in Washington D.C. The company noted that it has “saved energy and millions in maintenance and utility costs” but more importantly “the company now is hyper-aware of the way its buildings perform.” Basically it’s trying to apply big data to the ‘Internet of Things’ which will help people manage their ‘things’ or buildings in a smarter, more efficient, way. This software could also help, as in Microsoft’s case, save energy and other utility costs.

Job’s idea for sustainable ‘climate responsive’ headquarters

Just four months before his death, former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs revealed the plans for the new Apple Campus 2 project in Cupertino to accommodate 12 000 of Apple’s employees. This campus would have ‘40-foot, floor-to-ceiling panes of concave glass’ and a circular building housing 6 000 trees. According to Bloomberg the budget for this project has since ballooned from US$3-billion to almost US$5-billion. Most of the expenses would go to the green tech.

Jobs, though, wanted to rely on a system of aesthetics, but also sustainability. He wanted the building to generate its own energy and to only resort to the grid in cases of emergencies. ‘Climate responsive’ technologies that include ‘window treatments that automatically open or close to let in just the right amount of light, wind and fresh air to maintain a comfortable temperature’ would account for much of the budget. Some critics may question the doughnut design of the building though, saying that it would isolate teams and the workforce.

Engineering serendipity in Silicon Valley

A recent New York Times article discusses how companies like Yahoo and Google have tried to design their offices in order to increase “the mysterious means by which new ideas enter the world.” It’s mentioned how a M.I.T study has found that office employees who are out of sight, are tend to be out of mind and that the further people are working from each other the less likely they are to be stimulated. In February, Yahoo announced that its employees are banned from working at home in order to back this theory of engineering serendipity.

As mentioned in this Silicon Valley Business Journal article, discussing Google’s Googleplex, ‘many of the company’s perks are designed to get Googlers out of their cubicles and talking to one another.’ The design of the Googleplex which is in Mountain View, is much like that of a college where people eat free food in cafeterias and either commute via bicycles or shuttles. Similarly, Facebook also spoils its employees with perks in order to maximize productivity. The design of the campus is much the same. Colorful road signs are at the corner of every street and free bicycles are parked under every tree. Check out more of the perks of both Facebook and Google’s campuses here.



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