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During NY Real Estate Tech week, letʼs hear it for the man

Why technology wonʼt replace the guy in the boiler room any time soonTECHWEEK2015

It’s the first part of every science fiction movie that involves the human race and subservient robots.

In a near or distant future, we will all have automatons to do our bidding, leaving us with enough time to watch everything on Netflix.

Back on planet Earth, there are very intelligent beings working on making such a world a reality. To some extent, their mission is turning science fiction into science truth. The first phase of this evolution targets the places where we eat, sleep and work, in hopes of relieving mankind of monumental tasks such as turning on lights and adjusting the thermostat.

Speaking during a day-long seminar hosted by the Real Estate Board of New York as part of the first NYC Real Estate Tech Week, experts said home and building automation solutions have become more common.

On the consumer side, the most popular examples are Amazon Echo and Apple HomeKit.

For buildings, Di-Boss, which claims to be the world’s first digital building operating system, was developed through collaboration between Rudin Management, Columbia University’s Center for Computational Learning Systems and Finmennica-owned tech firm, Selex ES. The system is in use Rudin-owned buildings such as 345 Park Avenue.

According to John Gilbert, the executive vice president and COO of Rudin, the use of the system has so far translated to $5 million in savings for his firm’s commercial office portfolio.

More products are sure to emerge as automation becomes a bonafide product segment.

JOHN GILBERT
JOHN GILBERT

However, in the evolution of homes and buildings, some may go the way of the Dodo, vanishing from store shelves and online registries as more useful and cost-efficient options enter the market.

“You still have a barrier of what is actually very, very useful to people and what’s not. To be able to turn your sink on and off from your smartphone. If somebody actually leaves their sink on when they leave the home, which happens very infrequently, then that would be okay to have. But are you actually going to see people spending money on a faucet that you can have connected to your phone, when really, it’s just not necessary,” Brett Jurgens, the co-founder and CEO of home sensor start-up Notion, said during the NYC Real Estate Tech Week.

“When you talk about the mass market option of things, is the mass market going to demand that? I don’t see that, all those aspects, being true. Will the mass market, once they understand that a smart light bulb can be shut off automatically and can save them more than the [regular] light bulb, start to buy those instead of the non-smart light bulbs? Will they spend $30 to $40 more? Sure. If it’s not providing you true security or saving you money, those products aren’t really going to be mass adopted products, I don’t think.”

BRETT JURGENS
BRETT JURGENS

According to Gilbert, the limitation of automation is more glaring on a larger scale. While the ideal scenario would be to have buildings become self-sustaining cubes of life that regulate its own heat, electricity and water usage, Gilbert thinks automation is much better as a tool rather than a substitute for workers such as engineers.

“There will be parts of the building operations that will be automated. But I can’t see a day, maybe my kid can see a day, that buildings will be fully automated,” he said.

“If you’ve got 3,000-ton chillers, you don’t want somebody being able to flip a switch from anywhere in the world. No, no, no. That guy has to be in the engine room, he’s starting that thing up, he’s watching the steam and the pressure.”

While automation may not be the panacea to all of life’s inconveniences, its mass market appeal is undeniable.

According to the 2015 Global Home Automation Market Report, the home automation market is expected to grow to $21.6 billion by 2020. In 2014, the market was only at $4.41 billion.

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