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Connected cities start with connected homes


We met with Will Lloyd to discuss the work BRE is doing to discuss the research that BRE’s electronic security systems team is doing to on the relationship between building materials and structures and the performance of electronic systems in those buildings.

“On the one hand we are using more and more digital devices in our homes, buildings and cities that are increasing reliant on high bandwidth wireless signals.  On the other hand we are increasing the energy efficiency of our homes and buildings, increasing the use of metallised windows, foil-backed plasterboard and insulation, essentially creating Farraday cages” says Lloyd.

Lloyd’s team have been working with the IET to develop a Connected Homes Code of Practice.  In funding supported by the BRE Trust the team have been looking at how WiFi, mobile and other signals perform through various types of building materials.  This work is now underpinning guidance on how to build the connected ready home.

“WiFi isn’t always the answer due to its bandwidth, if people want to stream TV in multiple rooms then they need wired internet connections. For data it’s a bit like a car going from 70 mph on an motorway to 30 mph in a built up area” says Lloyd.  The code of practice will include guidance on locations of data points in homes.

Lloyd’s team are also looking at the Resilience of Digital Systems.  This necessitates looking at standards in a new way.  Bright people are finding clever ways to use digital applications and technology to add value to existing sytems.  “We are concerned with whether the new functionality impacts on the essential functionality of the device or system, especially in safety critical systems such as smoke alarms.”

Certain digital systems have to be failsafe.  For example, in telehealth a person might be sent back to their own home so they are more comfortable and their health monitored online.  If that signal fails it could register as a problem and you could end up with an ambulance being sent to the home at great cost just because a wireless signal has failed. With more and more sensors in the home monitoring everything from lighting, energy, fridges the available wireless bandwidth is put under strain.

At a city level the problem is potentially much worse as smart city systems monitor and control a significant amount of sensors and data.  Each telecommunications tower has a defined limit of signals that it can handle, so there need to be solutions to handle and prioritise those signals.

“The usual IT solution is to re-boot, but do we really want to re-boot our homes, buildings and cities?” queries Lloyd.  “Our premise is that in order to solve the resilience of city systems we need to start small.  We need to understand how systems perform at a micro level before we scale up to deliver secure and robust components to those city-wide solutions.”

Will Lloyd is an electronic security systems expert at BRE.  Will sits on the IET standards group for connected homes and has been working in the electronics security world for 18 years.  The underpinning research is being carried out as part of the BRE Trust’s Future Cities Programme.