Smart buildings will become smart cities, and smart cities will change everything. But first, let’s start with our own campus. That’s the philosophy behind a Microsoft project called 88 acres, after the 88 acres of land Microsoft chose for its headquarters in 1986. Microsoft’s campus counts 125 buildings and 41,664 employees. A small team of engineers is using a “Internet of Things meets Big Data” approach to achieve energy savings and other efficiency gains using a data-driven software solution. It works so well, that they are now bringing the software to the rest of the world. And as they write themselves: “commercial buildings consuming an estimated 40 percent of the world’s total energy, the potential is huge.”
The software tracks thousands of building sensors like heaters, air conditioners, fans, and lights, harvesting billions of data points per week. That data provided deep insights and thus allowed more intelligent decision making.
“Give me a little data and I’ll tell you a little, give me a lot of data and I’ll save the world.” Darrell Smith , Director of Facilities and Energy Microsoft
The software lets buildings talk to each other and to their building managers. One example of inefficiencies they found was in a building garage: exhaust fans had been mistakenly left on for a year to the tune of $66,000 of wasted energy. The team now collects 500 million data transactions every 24 hours, and the smart buildings software presents engineers with prioritized lists of misbehaving equipment. Algorithms can even balance out the cost of a fix in terms of money and energy being wasted with other factors such as how much impact fixing it will have on employees who work in that building.
Of course visualization is key here. The smart buildings tool dashboard is showing a colorful collection of maps, dials, lists, and tickers. Engineers can get big-picture information at a glance, like how many kilowatts of energy are being consumed across Microsoft headquarters at any one moment. With a few clicks they can also zoom in on one building, one floor or office in that building, or one piece of equipment.
Towards a data driven city
We are hearing stories about smart homes and smart cities for a few decades now, but this is actually one of the largest scale (and operating) projects I have ever read about. The fact that Mircrosoft is bringing this software to the market, might just spark the next wave of data-sensing to companies and cities in the future. At the intersection of Big Data and the Internet of Things this project is definitely not an ordinary case.