cognitive campus

The presented project for Poveglia can be surely considered an immense valorisation of the current state. We must, however, bare in mind that it is just another step of transformation in the course of time. Change will always happen, use patterns will change and ultimately also the destination as university will change, too. Therefore it is crucial to evaluate future adaptation right from the start of the design and not to restraint spaces too much to specialised functions. Moreover there must be space for optimisation strategies which can improve the performance of the design over the years.

In the case of the Poveglia Campus we decided to implement a promising pioneer concept which is commonly known as ‘Cognitive IoT’. The basic idea is to integrate the users and their behaviour into an overall self-managing system. To illustrate the basic concept it is helpful to employ analogies to the human body: stimulus from the surrounding world are detected by senses and translated into purposive information. This information is passing through an appropriate infrastructure up to the computation centre that organises and evaluates the incoming data. According to the objective e.g. the supply of oxygen in the human body, the computation centre triggers the actuators i.e. the muscles to breathe air into the lungs.

Cognitive Concept

Complexity of Interactions

The aim of Cognitive Architecture is to implement computing into the physical world of our built environment. In a future scenario buildings are capable to steer complex processes. Architecture will be able to improve more dynamically the comfort of its users. Devices can be integrated in the course of time. Installed actuators will respond in real time with incoming commands which have been deduced from sensors, user and external data. Virtual reality devices will help to simulate architectural interventions and help to improve maintenance. By means of mobile applications end-users can receive live feeds in order to get access to processed information.

‘The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.’

- Mark Weiser

Indeed, when Mark Weiser introduced the notion of ubiquitous computing to the world, just few people could really envision how a computer in the 21st century will be. The image of computers as big calculators, however,  vanished back in 1991 when Northgate, Dell, Everex, Acer, HP, Compag, IBM and Apple started to introduce them to the commercial realm. Who would have thought that after only 25 years Internet would become a powerful tool to mediate between various digital devices? Weiser’s vision anticipated moreover what we call the ‘Internet of Things’. Commonly refered to as IoT, can be defined as a ‘global infrastructure for the information society, which enables advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies.’1 The basic concept dates back as early as 1982 when the first ‘intelligent’ device has been installed at the University of Carnegie Mellon: A coca cola machine has become the first Internet-connected appliance that was able to report its inventory and to give notice whether newly loaded drinks were cold enough. The major benefits for IoT are, in more general terms, the optimisation of processes as well as the possibility to track/collect the behaviour of users. The second aspect led naturally to many discussions on privacy and safety of personal information since all the data is sent to centralized processors. In terms of privacy, end-user agreements are one way to regulate personal data. It stays, however, as major challenge of the future how much integration into the system is socially acceptable. Despite important concerns the ‘big data’ keeps growing on a daily basis: by the sheer amount of data, computation ways and overall power are becoming therefore an increasingly urgent issue. The trend of IoT has been introduced to many fields so far. Architecture has been hereby discovered as one of the most suitable study subjects with immense potential for optimisation. This has been widely attested by recent reports of McKinsey & Company1 about IoT in the built environment. According to the latest statements of the IBM research team it is possible to distinguish the growing union of technology and buildings in three main steps:

Smart Campus Poveglia App

Smart Campus UNIBS App

The new relationship between users and assets through mobile service is changing the way to deliver services by smart devices. The research developed for the project SCUOLA – Smart Campus as Urban Open Labs introduced the idea of creating an app to include the users’ feedback into the information chain of a pilot smart building. The project describes the early-stage of implementation and evolution of this concept, which define a dialogue between building and users, by realizing a bi-directional interaction via a newly developed mobile application. The app – Smart Campus UNIBS - mediates, as part of a complex system, between the two entities using the connectivity of Smart Living and the process of Data Analytics. The Smart Campus Demonstrator building at the University of Brescia, Italy, is equipped with sensors to monitor and control comfort, indoor air quality and HVAC parameters, such as hygro-thermal parameters, luminance, CO2 and volatile organic compound (VOC), power of HVAC fans and environmental external factors. The sensors aim at providing data to develop adaptive, dynamic as well as predictive controls virtually incrementing the smartness of the building. The step further is to include the behavioral perspective linking the users to the previous framework. By exchanging different kinds of processed data, including BIM models, sensors and user feedbacks, it is possible to achieve an interaction between the built environment and the social landscape.

1) Automated Buildings Era (1980-2000)

The Automated Buildings Era has witnessed first examples of electronic devices which could monitor and manage building activities. By introducing simple ‘commands’ users were able to regulate certain parameters which have been steered by the centralized controlling system: facilities, such as heating, air-conditioning, mechanical shutters etc. could be easily turned on or off by the controlling computer and its connected interfaces. A famous example for this kind of building is the 1997 built mansion of Bill Gates.2


2) Smart Buildings Era (2000-2015)

During the Smart Buildings Era the possibilites of user commands were extended to everyday objects that comunicate with mobile devices. Those could regulate the buildings independently from the location and amplify the range of interaction. The technology behind this step has been the Internet of Things and the increased computation power of data analysis. With decreasing costs more affordable solutions came up on the market and many items have been equipped with WiFi interfaces. Routers are able to report about occupancy and coffee machines can automatically order necessary resources. So called ‘Smart Home Kits’ extended hereby the spectrum of controllable parameters: hot water, air temperature, ventilation, illumination, video-surveillance etc. can be monitored from any mobile device.


3) Cognitive Buildings Era (from 2015)

The subsequent possible scenario suggested by the IBM research team is the Cognitive Buildings Era. This scenario consists of the integration of many ‘Smart Buildings’ into a common network. Their potential are maximized by the ubiquitous computing agent which analyses all the data (both structured and unstructured) that has been collected by sensors and devices in the IoT network. All the users involved in this network will be able to send their feedback directly to the agent. This feedback is taken into consideration for the building automation. The system can deduce certain patterns of behaviours. Throughout forecasts the system can predict the necessary changes for the performance of the building and consider external factors such as weather conditions.

The third step generated an advanced notion of smart houses: At the most fundamental level, smart buildings must deliver useful services that make occupants productive at the lowest cost and environmental impact over the building life-cycle. Smart buildings look beyond the building equipment within their four walls. They are connected and responsive to the smart power grid, and they interact with building operators and occupants to empower them with new levels of visibility and actionable information.3

Filippo Aggeggio has just started his studies in the cognitive campus Poveglia. He’s a 21 years old Milanese student whose passions include technology, artistic photography and philosophy. In an interview he recounted one of his days in the cognitive campus: ‘I was having my morning coffee when Smart Campus app sent me a notification with my daily report: the chance of rain around 10am is high and it suggested me that I should take my umbrella. The book that I pre-ordered from Venice International University library with “eLibrary” function of the app has just arrived at Poveglia library. I’m planning to pick it up before my first lecture. My lecture schedule together with the special menu from the mensa were also in the daily report. As I crossed the bridge to get to the library, the app sent me a push notification that the lights I forgot to turn off have been turned off already by the smart home kit. The moment I approached the premise of the library, a QR code appeared automatically on my smartphone screen with my identification for entering the library and borrowing the book.

‘I’m running a little bit late, and I’ve never been to the classroom for the first lecture. So I opened the app and in the part of “Lectures + Lecture Halls” I found a map with my geo-location that helped me to reach it in time. The rain seemed to begin when heavy clouds covered the campus, I saw the lights in the surrounding buildings automatically got brighter. The lecture has been very inspiring and as soon as it was over the app reminded me to leave a feedback on my comfort using the classroom. During coffeebreak I ordered for lunch salmone con piselli in the section of “Mensa + Cafeteria” in the app and paid for it. The app saved a QR code with which I can pick up my meal later.

‘I always find it interesting to know about the built environment around us and how modern technology change our way of using the buildings, the app is genius, it also gives me information about the “Green Campus”: how sustainable the buildings are and how much energy we’re using in real time.’

The experience of Filippo is one of the countless scenarios users can have with cognitive architecture. As technology bring more and more sensors and actuators to architecture, the potentials are getting widen day by day.

Mockup Poveglia App

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1. McKinsey Global Institute, The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value beyond the Hype June 2015

2. Digital Trends. Technology Inside Bill Gates Mansion

3. WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, Definition of Smart Buildings

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