Never in human history has there been as much invention and technological innovation than there is right now. This explosion is not only in scope, from machine learning and robotics to data management and human interfaces, but also in speed. It’s practically impossible for human beings today to keep up with the massive technological progress they are experiencing.


In his keynote address at CRE.Converge this year, Mike Steep, executive director of the Stanford Engineering Center for Disruptive Technologies and Digital Cities, described how this new reality also applies to businesses and corporations, especially corporate real estate. According to Steep, technology has the potential to disrupt how buildings are constructed, managed and maintained as well as offer exciting new services and amenities. The problem is that business owners and corporate leaders are unaware of these technologies as they emerge so rapidly.


Recently, for example, a billion-dollar window manufacturer approached Steep’s researchers at Stanford University to ask about the possibilities for developing a “smart window.” The Stanford team asked the company about their ideas and the problems they were looking to solve, but the company didn’t have a good answer. While they sensed that new technology had the potential to revolutionize the window-making industry, they simply did not know what technologies were available.


The team at Stanford introduced the company to a new type of enmeshed sensors that can be embedded in metal or glass, creating a kind of thin webbing that makes them nearly transparent. These sensors can be programmed for a wide range of applications, from automatically managing the HVAC, lighting and security systems to measuring the number of people in a room or the level of stress on the building.


The best part? This technology could be developed in a matter of weeks, not years, as the company was expecting. In fact, a prototype of the window was already available and cost just 50 cents a square foot to install.


The real cost was not in the technology itself but in managing the enormous amount of data required to operate these systems. So when the company contacted a third-party data analytics firm capable of processing the volume, a new business model was imagined: a subscription service for smart window data analysis from which the company could take a percentage of the profit.


It can be difficult for companies to adopt new technologies, whether because of established company processes or because they fear alienating board members and other stake-holders. The goal, however, should be to make progress in educating leaders about the tremendous benefits these technologies can provide and staying abreast of the wide-range of fast-moving technologies as they develop.

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