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Future proof

By Mark van Dijk

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Future proof

By Mark van Dijk

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4 min read

As AI, big data and smart homes become a lived reality, what are residential estates doing now to make that future happen?

A 543,000-square-metre development in Shanghai’s Xuhui District is about to redraw the blueprint for residential living. While future-facing organisations have long been considering the possibilities of smart cities, this high-tech neighbourhood in China’s biggest city is shaping itself as the world’s first AI town. Big data and artificial intelligence will drive everything in this residential community, from automated driving to drone-powered parcel delivery and AI-powered medicine, finance, transport, media and business solutions.

Is this what the future of residential living will look like? More and more developers believe so – and the evidence suggests that that future is not too far away.

In South Africa, the future technologies of community living are dominated by security. Companies like Drone Guards are already using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or – as you probably know them – drones) to track intruders. ‘The world is moving to the use of drones in combination with widely dispersed intelligent sensors for improving on most aspects of work, delivery, monitoring and controlling the wider work and living environment,’ Drone Guards Director Kim James wrote in a recent blog post. ‘More and more estates (residential, industrial, office and mining) are looking at intelligent sensors and aerial surveillance to draw attention to where unwanted activity is taking place, and what the intruders are doing, followed up by a reaction force intervention.’

Meanwhile, ICT infrastructure providers have expanded their cloud-based visitor management solution to cater specifically for the needs of multi-dwelling-unit estates and large residential estates. This guardless solution, which includes an enterprise estate management application that lets bodies corporate and residents’ associations send bulk communications to residents, allows residents to manage visitor access via a mobile app.

These offerings provide an audit trail of who issues the codes, and who enters and leaves the premises, therefore providing complete accountability. Furthermore, a camera can be added at the keypad that will send a snapshot of the visitor to the resident via a push notification. If it is not the person who should be given access, the resident can raise an alarm.

This adds a layer of security to existing technologies like data-gathering security cameras and AI-assisted control rooms – both of which are by now fairly standard features at estate gates.

But the security benefits are simply a very useful by-product of smart technology’s ultimate goal: to build an enormous, interconnected grid of information that can be gathered, processed and interpreted, and then applied to make the system run more smoothly.

Internationally, this has been the underlying intention of smart cities (on a large scale), smart homes (on a small scale) and – on the level that we’re particularly interested in – smart residential estates.

In Spain, for example, public multinational electric utility company Iberdrola’s electricity distribution brand i-DE – which already has a network of more than 11 million connection points – has three focus areas: service improvement, caring for the environment, and the transition towards renewable energy. Again, security is the by-product, not the goal.

‘The transformation of the networks into a smart infrastructure that is safer and more reliable is putting consumers at the centre of our activity, giving them greater capacity for decision-making and connectivity,’ i-DE CEO Antonio Espinosa de los Monteros said in a recent statement. ‘Networks are the circulatory system of the energy model and the platform necessary for the transition toward a decarbonised economy based on renewable energies. Leading this transition and making it a reality require a tariff framework that fosters quality and efficiency, incentivises digitalisation and promotes innovation.’

South African residential developments are now moving in this direction too, using technology to manage facilities and utilities more effectively and cost-efficiently through smart data collection.

Prepaid water meters – managed by the resident or home owner via a mobile app – are one example. ‘Prepaid water means that the consumer purchases water credit in the form of a prepaid water token,’ explains Marcus Thulsidas, Director of Business Development at smart metering systems provider Utility Systems. ‘When entered into the user interface unit (located in the consumer’s home), the token instructs the water management device to allow a certain amount of water through the meter before closing.
Consumers can track usage, load credit remotely, and decrease the possibility of bill shock due to leakages or incorrect monitoring.’

The implications for rental properties and bodies corporate are significant. ‘Prepaid metering reduces admin to a minimum, while removing the risk and frustration of late or non-payment of water bills,’ Thulsidas says. ‘This is why housing estates are swiftly moving to prepaid water, as they did with prepaid electricity. Gone are the days of splitting the entire estate’s water bill by the number of units. Prepaid metering means that users pay for their consumption only.’

Communication is the final piece in this digital integration puzzle. Once the information is gathered at the back end, and digested and interpreted in the smart system, how is it presented to the end user? Increasingly, that end user (in this case, the home owner) is choosing the delivery mechanism that he or she prefers the most. One home owner might want WhatsApp messages; another might opt for email; their neighbour might want to receive a notification through an app or on their wearable device. The delivery mechanism will depend on the individual. All that matters is that the information is accurate, up-to-date and user-friendly.

For today’s – and tomorrow’s – communities, the estate experience needs to be about integration. Residents want to know what their water bill is right now, and what it will be when payment is due. They want that payment to be cashless and easy, and they want to know that the readings are accurate.

They want to know who’s waiting at the gate, wanting to visit. They want seamless access control, and they want to know that unwanted visitors are kept out. They want easy use of the gym. They want to know when maintenance is going to be done – and completed – on their home and on the estate clubhouse. They want all of this, and they want it in one place.

That’s not too much to ask. And in some parts of the world, they can have it today.

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