Why robotics in real estate is when, not if

 —  Article by JLL Staff Reporter
Robotics in city
Image credit: Shutterstock

Hubo, the World Economic Forum’s first “Robot delegate,” didn’t just get the delegates talking at Davos – robotics is also shaking up the global conversation about real estate.

With robotics and automation a top talking point, it’s becoming a matter of ‘when’—not ‘if’— robots will come to the cities where we live, work and build.

Already, the fast-growing robotics field is intersecting with the world’s fastest-growing economies. Several metropolitan areas recently identified as hotbeds of innovation in robotics also made JLL’s 2016 top 20 list of cities with the most economic momentum, including Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Boston, Seoul and Tokyo.

The robotics megatrend is moving full steam ahead in built environments, from facility management and operations to construction and security.

Robots ‘see’ their way into commercial facilities

Robots are no strangers to precisely structured environments, from manufacturing, welding and automotive painting, to, more recently, picking and packaging in e-commerce warehouses. In those types of controlled settings, unseeing robots can perform high-precision activities without the risk of falling down steps or bumping into stray objects or people.

Now, new sensor technologies are enabling robots to “see” obstacles in their path. Being able to see means robots could perform a slew of building maintenance functions, from washing photovoltaic arrays and scrubbing floors to mowing lawns—all without tripping over a mop bucket or straining their backs.

Such leaps forward in technology are placing robotics on a fast track to performing more diverse facility functions.

Your building engineer might already be a robot

Many organizations are actively employing new automation and robotics technology to manage building systems. IntelliCommand, for example, is based on Pacific Controls’ gbots: autonomous and cognitive software robots that can accomplish diverse engineering tasks and relay data back to a central command center. Equipped with real-time location services, mobile robots can interact with building systems, provide real-time data and quickly conduct environmental sampling—and they can do it all at the same time.

“The development of gbots was a key innovation and a major reason we partnered with Pacific Controls for our smart building management platform,” explains Leo O’Loughlin, Senior Vice President, Energy and Sustainability Services, IntelliCommand, JLL. “Their ability to respond to data makes it possible for buildings to almost manage themselves. When the building equipment data indicates that, say, a fan is running at the wrong speed, the gbots will adjust the fan speed.”

Need a laundry robot?

Robots that are connected to an advanced wireless network can add productivity and fuel more informed business decisions in a facility. A UK hospital has automated many of its facility services, with robots doing laundry and managing waste removal as directed by automated pilots. The robots are connected to an automated management system, which not only monitors and dispatches the robots according to their real-time locations, but also generates statistics and provides reception, security and cleaning services.

Forward-looking operations can also now use automation to streamline tasks like initiating and monitoring work orders, and organizing bids and invoice payment.

Construction workers without hard hats

While most construction-related robotics technology is focused on fabrication activities, like assembling doors, robots are proving their mettle in dispensing concrete and gaining recognition for potential use in palletizing and laying bricks. Other semi-automated construction methods are also expected to become widespread, such as precision drilling.

Meanwhile, robotics and automation are transforming the building information modeling (BIM) process, yielding precise floor plans more rapidly than humans can.

Call the robot security patrol

Flying robots and drones aren’t just making it easier to show off buildings to would-be investors—they’re helping keep buildings safe. With real-time mapping of the inside, and thermal imaging technology presenting aerial views from the outside, robotics is helping identify building damage and reveal potential threats while keeping human engineers out of high-risk tasks. Human-sized robot patrol, anyone?

In the case of technology and real estate, those human senses are strong indicators that robotics are indeed closely linked to the future of our buildings—and by extension, our thriving cities.

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