Innovations in PropTech
So, while everyone is sitting down; let me introduce you to the wonderful world of Construct//Disrupt. I’m sitting with a bunch of excited engineers and property developers who are wondering what the future of innovative technology will do to their industry and are ready to take the lead and embrace it.
Proptech is a really diverse market place
Property, like construction, sees the great value that start-ups can offer us; disrupting our industry to discover new value from the way we work. The important thing for startups, Wrightman adds, is that the industry keeps an open mind. There are massive opportunities that we can embrace if we engage the startup community; and we need to ask them- tell them that we’re open for innovation.
Savills introduces us to their research tool investigating what makes a city successful for tech innovation, measuring the following key statistics for each of the well known centres of technologies across the world:
- Quality of the technology sector
- Property cost
- Quality of life
- Time it takes to travel to work
- The cost of a flat white coffee!
Austin, it turns out, ranks top for tech cities across the global by the Savills index. Due to the University, the 1.2 millennial to boomer ratio (which is great) and the vibrant community the city offers. London came in at number six. However by understanding what makes tech cities great, we should be able to improve this.
You can take a look at the results of their research here:
Even if you look at the most conservative estimates, there’s going to be a massive increase in the demand for connectivity in cities and spaces across the globe. Sharing an anecdotal story, Newton underlines the importance of connectivity; an office where the air conditioning, food and sewer services went down- but it took a builder cutting through the internet connection before everyone walked out!
People are demanding and expecting a different interaction with their environment
It seems accept that VR and AR will completely change the way we work- we don’t know how, but we do know that it’s going to require increased connectivity. This means people will need and demand better network coverage and capacity. We can already see this, now, where landlords are starting to make connectivity a main requirement of their properties.
There are a whole variety of new technologies emerging to solve this problem- LiFi (wifi by light) is Newton’s favourite. But more fiber optic capacity is needed in the short term; until we get cheaper satellites or drone access points this is becoming our bottleneck and Newton warns ups that it’s important to invest now.
Finally Newton introduces us to his product, Wired Score, which works as an independent (but London official) way of measuring the connectivity of buildings and structures online. His aim isn’t to disrupt the industry- but to allow developers to share when they’re doing well and see how they rate against others.
Loftus starts his presentation by reminding us of the workplaces of the past to ground us in a discussion of the workplaces of the future. In the past we were all about hierarchy and standardisation, and that permeated all office design. With the advent of technology we moved to efficiency- smaller workspaces; just a person and their computer. But now we’re learning that we need to focus less on process and more on the people.
Today, and in the future, office design is being completely reimagined around the occupier.
To Loftus, this means tackling the following key values in all the office buildings their designing:
- Creating an engaging environment
- Integrating smart technologies
- Focusing on the wellness of the occupiers
- Establishing healthy practices
- Optimising transport and access routes
- Building collaborative spaces
- Affecting inspiring surroundings
Looking at a building of the future he uses The Edge in Amsterdam as an example; it uses your phone to track your journey, prepares the office space for you- opening the gates and doors ahead of you- automatically booking rooms by the demands of your day and adapting every desk you sit at to your needs.
Loftus sees making a workplace collaboration centric as key to its success. Despite all the advances in distance-working technologies, business still want people in the office so that you can have that water cooler moment- the serendipitous discovery that comes when you create a space where people can have chance conversations. To Loftus that means making it a joyous place to work!
We hear about IOT all the time- but what’s the hype (Internet of Things; if you’ve missed that)? Scheps warms us to the topic by highlighting that trillion dollar industries like construction are still wasting time carrying out manual monitoring. He points out that in 2006 an accelerometer used to cost you hundreds of dollars, now, thanks to the rise of smartphones, they’ll cost you a couple of cents. Combined, greater connectivity between devices and cheap equipment means a lot for the way we monitor.
For example, in the UK 20% of all water is lost to leaks. Water companies employ tonnes of people to literally follow the pipes and listen for leaks. Cheap sensors linked together by the IOT have the opportunity to massively reduce the cost and the effectiveness of this critical process. Similarly 20% of energy is lost in buildings due to misconfigured (lit. dumb) air conditioning; another problem easily solved by cheap sensors connected back to the building systems.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that in construction our productivity has gone down over the last fifty years!
Think- we have site engineers who spend their days walking over to concrete, monitoring it by hand, making a note of the measurements in their notepads and then copying that into a dodgy Excel spreadsheet! Converge are bringing about a future where you attach a dirt cheap sensor to the concrete, and then sit down and drink some coffee (or maybe something more productive…). Scheps tells us that on jobs using Converge where concrete is on the critical path their approach is leading to a 10-20% reduction in programme.
If you organise your own event then you get to advertise your own product. I’ve actually talked about BaseStone before. In an industry where 30% of our revenue is lost to waste (including wastes of peoples times), I would recommend you look at the collaborative tool:
A startup, a manufacturer, a hub for material research and an architecture firm; Elegant Embellishments describes themselves as “Building Hackers”. To Dring the contrast between the tight control of internal building environments and the chaos of the external environments (pollution especially) is fascinating and bewildering. Using Beijing as an example she points to beautiful buildings in a sea of smog.
As a solution to this she introduces a paint technology (that’s been around for 16 years), which can convert NO2 (car pollution) to salt. By utilising modular patterns Dring’s team has managed to design building forms that create a large surface area; slowing the wind down to maximise the efficiencies of this “miracle” material.
When you talk about air pollution you have to talk about architectural façades.
The building, in Mexico City, is effectively absorbing the pollution from 1000 cars a day. To Dring scarcity and hostility in our environment is something we need to face; comparing COP21 to the Martian- like Mark Watney’s struggle to find air, we’re struggling to find energy to use.
Looking to COP21 Dring invites us to consider the 1.5% target. This will require more than carbon neutrality; it needs carbon negativity, and that’s something that we have to integrate into our biggest resource- the built environment. She insists we have to find a way to draw and capture the carbon from our processes.
Introducing us to Carbon Char (essentially burning biomass down to coal and then re-burning it), Dring explains that this is a carbon negative material. Therefore the more we make of it- the more we use of it- the better the benefit; a view that seems counter intuitive to you typical sustainable approach. The construction industry is huge; accounting for 30-40% of all manufactured material in world. Dring asks: If we start using biochar, imagine how much of a difference we can make?
Dring’s team have been looking into it as a material and it’s got some great properties- you can print it, it’s got good fire proofing (as it’s already been burnt), and it can be formed into thin façade plates. It’s also showing some promise for structural and acoustic applications. And if, like me, you’re struggling to work out why Carbon Char is carbon negative, check out this paper discussing the process and its potential effect on our environment.