How Proptech is Rapidly Evolving (post) Pandemic
A changing landscape is emerging of how the built environment is adjusting to new work requirements; obviously safety is a high priority when dealing with the lasting effects of the recent pandemic. In the Dakota Safety blog post, How the Internet of Things is Changing the Construction Industry published prior to the pandemic, we noted that IoT (Internet of Things) or telematics had a slow start in the construction industry but has been picking up over recent years. Now technology in buildings is fast becoming more scalable and interspersed among the systems used within buildings. Driven by safety in a post-COVID workplace, businesses are studying how to return their employees and visitors carefully and safely from remote working back into an in-building work environment. A significant percentage of companies, though, are planning on continuing the hybrid work environment utilizing “hot desks” and “hoteling” and team collaboration areas to facilitate the new work environment. According to a recent survey by real estate technology platform, Kayo Cloud, 80% of companies are going to be embracing a hybrid model where employees will be in the office three days a week or less. This new work model will bring new safety challenges to contend with. Let’s take a look at some ways new technologies in the built environment will help address these new safety challenges.
What is PropTech?
Incorporating new technology and connecting the technology between the different systems within the building via internet is called property technology or PropTech. This convergence is now causing owners and planners to rethink their approach on building design especially when it comes to office space. PropTech relates to IoT because these components inter-connecting the building systems are internet connected. Examples of this would be access control systems to allow employees to gain building access via their wireless devices and the off-site monitoring of building environmental systems.
Integrated content management systems can support a variety of applications including COVID-19 screening on a touchscreen or remotely, using facial recognition to confirm the identity of the employee, and performing touchless temperature scans to make sure that this employee is within requirements as they enter the building. By utilizing pre-screening for building access, controlling access of who is entering a building is the first line of safety to protect staff within a building. These systems can be integrated to building operation systems for capacity control, building security, room access, environmental control, and real-time occupancy data analysis. Sensors that resemble smoke detectors can monitor where people are gathering or moving and can engage environmental systems to offset increased populations within different parts of the building. As an example, if a conference room is occupied for a certain period, a system could deploy to filter or decontaminate that room and the area around it. The building access system can also be tied to the human resources software platform for time clock use, time spent in facilities, and building or room access permissions.
Another rapidly emerging area of PropTech post-COVID is indoor environment technology or building wellness. This consists of thermal comfort, lighting, acoustics, and air quality. Since it is becoming understood that COVID is mostly air transmittable we will focus on two new technologies emerging to remove pathogens from the air and surfaces to make safe indoor work environments: advanced HEPA air filtration systems and air and surface decontamination systems. These types of systems help keep buildings safe for users because they work to eliminate the pathogens within the buildings. Medistar’s Monzer Hourani received ENR’s Innovator of the Year award for developing a “proprietary supped-up HEPA filter” that traps 99.99% of Corona virus. Air moving through the filter’s hyper-heated nickel plates allows the system to clean the air in a room or building. CASPR Group, an acronym for Continuous Air and Surface Pathogen Reduction, uses a patent-pending photocatalytic oxidation process (PCO) to convert oxygen and moisture in the air into low (significantly below OHSA guidelines) but effective levels of hydrogen peroxide that is continuously circulated throughout a building. The hydrogen peroxide actively reduces the pathogens in the air and when it settles on surfaces becomes a surface decontaminant. Both systems can be either installed in HVAC ductwork or used as stand-alone or portable devices. CASPR also has the “BLU Tile” that can fit into an existing ceiling tile system. These environmental systems can be interconnected to a content management system that monitors the building and activates the environmental and pathogen reduction systems when needed. They also reduce the use of these systems for energy savings when areas are not occupied.
Other advanced technologies including video conferencing systems to facilitate collaboration with remote workers, voice activated elevators, hands free light switches and anti-bacterial materials will become ubiquitous throughout buildings where we work. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being integrated into these systems to facilitate face and voice recognition and to automate building processes. Are these changes just short-term pivots for safe work environments post-pandemic? Probably not, as epidemics have long transformed our built environments. After the 1919 Spanish Influenza epidemic, building design changed forever. With a new understanding of the healing effects of light, air, and nature, modernist architecture in the 20th century included expanded use of terraces, balconies, and flat roofs. Already there is a move to include social distancing combined with virtual work as a design paradigm including “buffer seating”, or the “campfire meeting rooms” being implemented at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA and the plastic shielding installed this past year is not likely to be coming down anytime soon.
We are not at the point where buildings are basically a computer with floors, walls and roofs, but the post-pandemic need to address the safety concerns of a returning workforce is accelerating the adaptation and implementation of these emerging and converging technologies. The scaling and intertwining of these technologies within the built environment will be a rapidly evolving market over the next couple years. When we see the ability of these new technologies impacting safety in new ways, we’ll be providing periodic updates of what may be our “new normal.”
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