Future-Proofing Your Property with Technology

Industry leaders are using these best practices to ensure that physical assets will be able to adapt to the emerging technology of the future.
Keyless entry with a smart lock

Keyless entry with a smart lock

It seems that modern technology is advancing faster than the apartment industry can keep up. How can apartment owners and developers prepare their existing units to be adaptable to future technological innovations? This is a concept known as “future-proofing,” and it was a frequently mentioned topic at this year’s Multifamily Executive conference, held in Las Vegas.

“Today’s utility is tomorrow’s entertainment,” Eric Haseltine, author of “Long Fuse, Big Bang: Achieving Success Through Daily Victories,” former executive vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering and former chief technology officer for the U.S. intelligence community, told attendees of his keynote presentation.

The possibilities that exist within the realm of technology-enabled home products suggest that functional gadgets could soon evolve into entertainment, as well. For example, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Echo were both originally created as virtual assistants, but now can be used for a variety of entertainment functions, from playing music to looking up movie theater showtimes.

The multifamily industry should take heed of this trend, as technology now used for locking doors or adjusting thermostats could soon be part of a home-wide entertainment and lifestyle system. Experts at the conference gave a few examples of emerging technology that blends fun with function in a home setting.

  • Video-enabled “wallpaper”: The organic light-emitting diode (OLED) panel is one of LG’s newest forays into ultra-slim video displays. The panel, a prototype of which was showcased in South Korea in May, is so light and thin that it can be held up with magnets, earning it the colloquial nickname of “video wallpaper.” At 0.97 millimeters thick and barely more than four pounds, the OLED panel can easily be stuck to a wall or removed from it via the magnetic mount. In 55-, 66- and 77-inch iterations, the future of wallpaper could be digital.
  • Video-enabled surfaces: Transforming existing surfaces into iPad-reminiscent touch screens is not as far out as it sounds. Existing technology like the widely available Cellulon Magic Cube, a projected virtual keyboard that responds to real-life keystrokes, has made this technology a reality. Manufacturers like Fujitsu and Microsoft have experimented with integrating this technology into home surfaces like countertops and refrigerator doors.

In order to ensure that a property is well suited for current smart technology as well as adaptable for the addition of future technologies, industry experts offered the following tips.

  • Don’t buy mass market: When it comes to technology for multifamily properties, the one-size-fits-all design of consumer products won’t cut it. “If you can buy it at Best Buy or Home Depot, it’s probably not meant for your multifamily project,” said Mike Smith, vice president of Whitespace Building Technology. “It might look sexy hanging on the wall, it might be great, but the management in the back end won’t be there for you to get any useful data out of.” Buying multifamily-specific gadgets will ensure that they work properly, and will give valuable insight to property management and maintenance staff. As Smith said, “What if (maintenance) actually knew what was going on in the building and could be notified before a resident ever knew? What if they knew that that filter was dirty? What if they knew that it wasn’t cooling when it’s 100 degrees outside? Imagine that experience for the resident.”
  • Connect with fiber: Richard Holtz, president of Infinisys, advised, “If you plug it into the wall electrically, like a TV or a computer, you’d better plug it into the Internet.” As more household products are becoming Internet enabled, a lot more strain will be put on the community’s network, requiring a faster connection with more downloading and streaming power. According to Holtz, a fiber Internet connection is the best way to ensure that residents have the capacity to do what they want. Fiber Internet connections, like Google Fiber, boast download and upload speeds that are roughly 100 times faster than standard connections. Holtz added that fiber offers high-speed Internet connections from as much as 300 feet away, which means a better connection all around the property.
  • Use a separate network for building tech: Rather than clutter the residents’ WiFi with traffic from leak detectors, digital thermostats and the like, the experts recommend a separate and private network dedicated to the operation of smart building features. “When you hear ‘wireless,’ you think ‘WiFi,’ ” said Smith. “We don’t want to use the residents’ WiFi. It’s unreliable, they can hide it, and they can turn it off. There’s so much that could go wrong. If you plan properly, you can do a WiFi network—maybe it’s a more secure WiFi network—managed through a third party or your IT department.”

It may seem risky to invest in technology that may be obsolete in a matter of years or even months, but by taking careful steps to create a flexible design, an asset can adapt to the latest and greatest.

Image courtesy of techtimes.com