Harnessing innovation to transform buildings: What I learned at MIT

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OK, so I didn’t attend MIT, but I had the good fortune to learn about innovation in buildings from MIT’s top professors at the MIT World Real Estate Forum.  The two-day real estate conference was filled with the brightest minds from academia and the technology world in a gathering focused on the power of technology to transform the built environment.  I must admit, I was expecting to hear only about bits and bytes, but the conference was so much more.

In an amazing presentation about the Power of Nano-Scale to Transform the Built Environment by Professor Vladimir Bulovic, Director of the MIT Nano Labs, we heard about the newest innovations in bioluminescent plants.  Can you imagine the sustainable effects of lighting our commercial buildings atria and lobbies with beautiful flora?  Or making our commercial buildings more productive by leveraging the of power olfactory sensing- basically making your office smell pleasant?  We’ve all seen the advancements in solar technology over the last few years.  Would you believe that we will be able to print solar panels on paper thin sheets in order to place panels anywhere on the building where they will get the best sunlight?

Not to be disappointed, there were plenty of bits and bytes in the discussion like the topic of hyperscale which will enable quickly adaptable robotic structures that can be programmed and reprogrammed according to needs.  In addition to hyperscale, PropAR, or augmented reality for real estate, is already in testing.  The PropAR application will enable interactive experiences in real estate that are ‘augmented’ by computer generated perceptions.  According to MIT scientists, these technologies will take 20-25 years before they are made available to the general public but once deployed, they won’t go away.

Additionally, we must continue to consider the sustainability of our planet.  In the next 30 years, we will need infrastructure and building development for 3.3 billion additional people.  Some of this will be new buildings but much of it will be upgrading and retrofitting our buildings with the latest sustainable technologies.  In order for these new technologies to catch-on, investments must continue to bring an ROI.  In fact, Dr. Andrea Chegut, Head of the MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab, explained that 42 recent academic papers value prices for sustainable buildings from 13.3% to 21% higher.  This is a major incentive for the financial-driven real estate industry to invest in sustainability.

Schneider Electric at MIT World Real Estate Forum
Schneider Electric, Chief Commercial Digital Officer, Santiago Perez, addressed the topic of digital transformation in real estate on a panel about “Building for the Future: New Innovations in Process and Technology” led by MIT Professor Christoph Reinhart.

In Schneider Electric’s panel discussion with other technology leaders, we discussed how the connectivity of buildings to the cloud is enabling financial benchmarks today and improving real estate value now and into the future.  These technologies can be used in new buildings to ensure sustainable development but also in existing buildings that will continue to serve the needs of our growing population.  At Schneider Electric, we invest 5% of our revenues, or over $1 billion per year in R&D, to ensure we are creating the most innovative solutions.  Additionally, our start-up fund, Schneider Electric Ventures, invests in the new energy future by providing innovative solutions that make us more efficient and lower carbon emissions.

So, I learned a lot in my short time at MIT.  MIT’s attention to sustainability and new technologies to serve the booming population are in line with Schneider Electric’s strategy and offer a bright light to address our world’s challenges.  Like MIT, the teams at Schneider Electric are striving to improve business outcomes for every player in the real estate value chain while helping our clients achieve their sustainability targets in both new and existing buildings with solutions that enable digitized buildings, increase operational efficiency and flexibility, enable sustainable development and enhance the human experience.

An invigorating and inspiring takeaway from one of the world’s most respected  academic institutions is that technology has a major role to play in the future of real estate.  The team at Schneider Electric is excited to take our new knowledge from the MIT World Real Estate Forum to our real estate clients.  Here’s hoping we graduate with honors!

If you like this blog, you may like my recent blog on Real Estate and the Workplace Experience:  Observations from a MIPIM First Timer.

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