The House of the Future: Creating Solutions through open innovation and Collaboration
The challenges of modern living demand fresh concepts for accommodation and working spaces. Open innovation holds the key to tackle complex issues. We have identified the 8 areas with the highest potential to achieve future competitive advantage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of creating building concepts that meet to accelerate and improve their innovation processes through this approach both living and working needs. The ongoing global energy crisis has also accelerated the economic feasibility of selecting renewable energy options for buildings. Consumers now expect comprehensive solutions in the smart home sector that promote connectivity and genuine added value instead of isolated and expensive alternatives. Furthermore, many existing homes necessitate fresh ideas to inspire retrofitting efforts. The construction industry holds tremendous potential for digitalization and sustainability.
As the urgency of climate change intensifies, it is more critical than ever to invest in innovation in the construction sector to develop technologies that can improve our new and existing homes. However, innovation in our complex world requires effective collaboration and communication between different players in the innovation process. The existence of different knowledge bases often leads to information asymmetries, making collaboration difficult. Open Innovation provides a solution to this problem by facilitating open collaboration and sharing of knowledge and ideas between different parties. Companies can access external resources and expertise through this approach to accelerate and improve their innovation processes.
Within the following 8 areas of innovation, there exists a boundless potential to leverage open innovation as a powerful driver of pioneering solutions that deliver benefits to end-consumers, construction stakeholders, and the planet. Henceforth, we endeavor to foster collaborative open innovation practices among our network of corporate partners in these very domains in the forthcoming months.
The genesis of this initiative was marked by our inaugural Open Innovation Session "House of the Future", which saw active participation from several members of our community. We opened the floor by emphasizing the criticality of collaborative efforts in shaping the house of the future and presenting a comprehensive exposition of the 8 identified innovation areas, which are described in detail below.
1. Smart Home Platform and Data Sharing
Even though smart home technology entered the market more than ten years ago, there are still no standardized interfaces and plug-and-play solutions1. On the one hand, there are highly professional products such as KNX, but on the other hand, they are extremely complex in use. For example, to connect a lamp, you need an electrician who is able to program KNX. Each manufacturer develops its own products without thinking about compatibility with the products of other manufacturers, which leads to complicated, user-unfriendly operation of the devices. There are no common standards, and data is not exchanged between individual users. The field of data analysis is dominated by such giants as Google or Apple. Apple Home can for example integrate the collected data to achieve overall control. Open innovation can be used to develop business models and products in the Smart Home field that are geared to the customer's benefit and can be implemented as plug-and-play solutions.
2. The Green Transformation: CO2 + Buildings
In the building sector, the future will be about designing products that allow sustainability. Ideally, there will be passive houses or even energy-generating houses that contribute positively to the CO2 footprint. New materials should be easily recyclable and have as little CO2 as possible in their production. The next big building block in the field is the topic of energy systems such as home energy systems, solar thermal, and photovoltaics. Moreover, we are facing a substantial change, moving from alternating current to direct current, as this would be more processable accordingly2. However, these aspects are not really thought through in the construction industry yet. The house is not considered as a whole, the systems are not compatible and coordinated with each other. An increasing number of users prefer an electric car that can ideally be charged from their own house. To this end, it would be conceivable to have a battery in the house that can absorb energy from the PV system during the day and transfer the energy to the car's battery at night. Open Innovation could help to develop holistic solutions in terms of Green Transformation.
3. Circular Construction (and Usage)
Circular Construction is not just about construction, but also about the use of buildings. It is about the circular economy, which is increasingly being considered in the design of buildings throughout their entire life cycle. We already know that by 2060, the use of raw materials will almost double3. The probability is high that it will exacerbate the contamination of air, water, and soil, and have a considerable impact on climate change 4. This means that we need sustainable alternatives to be prepared to face a shortage of raw materials. In the future, it must be possible to return materials to the cycle without wasting energy. This also applies to the use of buildings. Building materials must be created in such a way that they can be returned to the circular economy.
4. Digital Construction
Digital construction deals with the entire process from pre-construction to completion. It is a very fragmented area due to various actors participating in the construction process. Many companies and trades which are involved have different knowledge bases. There are information asymmetries and gaps that prevent innovative thinking. In construction, errors in planning and progress measurement are common. Construction coordination can also be improved to identify delays early. Digital design and construction implementation can be optimized. The Open Innovation approach is particularly well suited in the field to bridge information asymmetries and involve all stakeholders in the innovation process for reaching the best results.
5. Inspiring & Identifying Retrofit Action
Retrofit is about upgrading existing buildings to more sustainable standards, for example through energy systems and materials. It is a big issue because most buildings already exist, but they do not fulfill the sustainability quality level. Alternative solutions need to be found, for example for such cases when new cable ducts should be laid, or a PV system installed. An inventory can be made by AI-powered solutions that can make concrete suggestions for refurbishment. Suppliers will face the challenge of finding cost-effective solutions using new business models and Open Innovation can help to manage this challenge.
6. Building Production & Supply Chain
Production in the building sector is an extensive topic. Especially compared to traditional production in the automotive sector. The process of traditional construction has not changed much for the last thousand years - building materials are brought to the construction site and assembled there. The current development of modular construction allows to build with prefabricated modules5, but there is still a lot of potential. For example, producing entire building units, such as a complete room or floor, and then transporting them to the construction site could create a higher standard and develop more efficient production lines. Of course, the interfaces would have to be well communicated and defined, and the logistical issues would have to be resolved. The goal is to have a professional solution by creating modularization and standards as well as using prefabrication, like how other industries organize manufacturing, pre-assembly, installation, and final assembly.
7. Construction Robotics
Today, only humans work on construction sites. However, the trend goes toward digitization in construction. There are efforts to introduce more automation and assistance systems, not only in a digital context but also to replace simple, repetitive tasks with robots6. For example, anchor systems can be set and measured with a laser by robots that show where which components need to be placed. Automation and assistance systems result in higher quality in terms of Building Infrastructure Modeling. But to achieve this, an analysis will be needed to conduct, and the most critical issues that require assistance will be needed to identify.
8. Safety and Security Systems
Safety and security systems are relevant throughout the life cycle of the building. These need to be designed from the beginning. House security in the future should not only guard against intruders but also cover mechanical issues. To ensure a safe environment for the occupants of the building, it is important to constantly analyze the building to check the substance and see where restoration is needed. Future safety systems must address the challenges posed by data breaches. In addition, innovative technologies have the potential to enhance worker safety in the construction industry by detecting building fatigue, which can facilitate the identification of retrofit actions and prevent catastrophic incidents.
We collected the biggest learnings within the 8 addressed innovation areas. Within these areas, the most relevant open questions that need to be addressed in the following sessions were identified. In the next workshop, potential next steps for each of the identified innovation areas and the key questions will be presented and discussed within our community. Together, we will prioritize ideas and suggestions for cooperation to further advance innovation in these important fields.