The Future is Now

By Staff February 1, 2006

With some manufacturers at this year’s AHR Expo promoting new products with tactics right out of a bad sci-fi flick, those walking the show floor in Chicago last month got an eyeful of how the future is perceived—at least from a 1960s perspective. That said, tales of building innovations in the Far East right now could be an indicator that certain romantic visions of tomorrow aren’t so far-fetched.

Speaking at an all day seminar on building intelligence at the ASHRAE Winter Meeting, Jim Young of San Diego-based RealComm regaled attendees with strange but true images of things he saw on a tour of buildings in Asia, such as one man buying a Coca-Cola with his cell phone.

With stories of rampant digital signage to control rooms that look like Vegas sports books, Young, whose consulting business is primarily oriented toward the real-estate development community, said he returned from Asia with a strange feeling in his belly. “Everyone who knows me knows I’m typically very enthusiastic, but I have to say that enthusiasm has been mixed with fear in that I think the U.S. is losing the innovation race,” said Young.

“People laughed at us when we tried to pay for the train using coins [referring to the Chinese using cell phones as credit cards]. My point is that Internet terminals are everywhere. RFID lanes in grocery stores have made checkout lanes obsolete and parking lots are all automated.”

Automation, according to Young, is the key. In these buildings, even mundane things are automated, such as sensors telling maintenance staff that the paper towel dispenser is empty. His point was that digital paperless transactions that save money are a reality. Also, these digital amenities are providing owners real dollars in the form of higher rents, higher occupancies and lower operating costs.

The Internet also has a greater impact on business. Besides information, mundane things such as task lamps come equipped with RJ45 jacks to allow them to plug right into the Internet. “Everything’s going to have an IP address and be plugged into a network,” he predicted.

Life safety also stands to benefit. Besides looking cool, allowing a medium for commercials, all the ubiquitous digital signage relays information to occupants in a bold and unmistakable manner.

His advice: “Get to Asia.” And, “Don’t settle for dumb buildings.”