Microsoft pays ramps for digital twins for construction and real estate



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Digital twins for the smart building of the future are still under development. But Microsoft is working to include this cutting edge technology with a dedicated ontology that works with its Azure Digital Twins Internet of Things (IoT) platform. These capabilities bring smart buildings closer to reality.

Ontology is essentially a general data model that simplifies the process of connecting applications in a specific domain, and it is one of the main elements for developing digital twins.

“Microsoft is investing heavily in providing our partners with the technology and services they need to create digital twin solutions that support the new and existing needs of the world’s largest real estate portfolios,” said Tony Shakib, general manager of Microsoft Azure IoT.

This recent push in construction is expanding the utility of Microsoft Azure digital twinsreleased last year.

To gain a foothold in the field Microsoft Partner with RealEstateCore, a Swedish consortium of property owners, technology companies and research groups to integrate these services with various industry standards. The creation of the RealEstateCore smart building ontology for Azure digital twins allows various parties in the construction markets – owners, construction teams and suppliers – to collaborate and exchange information on real estate matters.

It can accelerate the convergence of IoT data, AI models and analytics into digital twins and help facilitate the transition to sustainable and green innovation, which is currently one of the fastest growing sectors of venture capital.

Accelerating digital transformation

Digital transformation in the construction and real estate markets is developing slowly. Microsoft believes that developing better standards and integrations can help accelerate this transformation. This is important if only because real estate is one of the largest asset classes in the world. In the recent Global Construction Inventory Database According to Guidehouse Insights forecasts, the square footage of buildings will grow from approximately 166 billion square meters in 2020 to 196 billion square meters in 2030.

Building owners hope that digital twins will help increase the value of their existing properties at a lower cost than building new ones.

But figuring out how to increase a building’s asset value and net operating income is a daunting task that spans technology and change management, Shakib said.

This shift is further compounded by the challenges of upgrading digital twin capabilities in existing building management systems. Shakib said many building management and automation vendors have tried to restrict buildings to non-standard, proprietary “walled garden” approaches that could hurt customers in the long run.

Better ontologies could smooth this transition. This mindset was at the heart of the RealEstateCore consortium, which was born out of a partnership between academia and industry. The consortium created the RealEstateCore ontology, which used chart data model and is based on years of best practice gained from working with larger property owners such as Wasakronan.

RealEstateCore can provide links to various building industry standards such as Brick Schema, Project Haystack, W3C Building Topology Ontology (W3C BOT) and others. Today, different partners may face challenges integrating applications using custom data formats. This is especially true in construction, as data loss from design to construction, commissioning, transmission and operation carries enormous risks.

Seeing the return

Enhanced digital twins promise significant ROI for building owners and operators. By improving the categorization, integration, and accuracy of data, digital twin designers can create better digital copies of the physical buildings and the components they make up.

Some of the earliest advances are related to energy efficiency savings. Microsoft is exploring these techniques on its campuses to achieve energy savings of 20% to 30%. These projects can start by collecting data from existing building management systems to find room for improvement.

Microsoft’s Project Bonsai has achieved additional savings of 10% to 15% by using artificial intelligence to further optimize controls. In the future, the U.S. Department of Energy Effective buildings with interactive grid can help owners save even more by allowing their properties to interact with the digital power grid in real time.

In addition to saving energy, there is a rapidly growing interest in using digital twins to optimize building space, activate building amenities, and support various post-COVID health and wellness scenarios. For example, RXR Realty uses Azure Digital Twins to combine building data with people counting, social distance detection, face mask detection, and air quality monitoring to provide a building wellness index. The appropriate ontology also allowed them to capture important metrics while respecting confidentiality and ethics.

Turning things into assets

Digital twins help a group of people understand the data displayed by IoT devices. An ontology provides a set of models for connecting them in a specific area, such as a building structure, system, city, or power grid.

An ontology can serve as a starting point for organizing information to solve a problem that spans various roles such as designers, developers, vendors, and operators. For example, a construction team may need to learn how to install a new heater; the general contractor would like to know how long the installation will take, while the owner would like to know the corresponding maintenance schedule.

The created world is complex, and a smart building ontology should strive to represent this complex reality in a way that makes it easy for developers to use. “Ontology must balance power and completeness with simplicity and usability to ensure sufficient distribution,” Shakib said.

All major cloud providers have announced various IoT initiatives that are helping to embed sensors and actuators into new cloud applications. But so far, Microsoft has been the only one fighting for digital twins. The real value of digital twins lies in helping decision makers determine how their IoT application decisions can be combined to impact real-world assets.


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