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  • cube berlin: an office building learns how to think
cube berlin: an office building learns how to think
Welcome to the digitised future. Right on time, my autonomous electric car rolls up to the front door at 7.30 am. The vehicle already knows the destination because it is intelligently linked to my calendar and sees that I have appointments at my office in cube berlin today. The car bypasses busy roads and obstructions in city traffic while I am preparing for my first meeting. The destination ‘cube berlin’ lights up on the display, which I reach twenty minutes later. The beacons (sensors) at the entrance to the underground car park on Washingtonplatz recognise my smartphone and let me pass. The building is now already aware that I have arrived. The speed gates in the lobby open, as my invisible key is stored in the cube app on my smartphone. Even the elevator already knows where I have to go and has pre-set and unlocked the corresponding floor. 

Our company has implemented a modern office concept in the cube and we dispense with fixed desks. The cube app therefore suggests a suitable desk for me.
cube berlin
Does it work for me? Yes, the app can see my calendar and knows that I like working at the window, but that I also have many meetings today. It thus places me near our meeting rooms. Privacy was a big issue for us at the start. But everyone determines whether or not they want to be visible in the app with their personal data. Our movement profiles and our user behaviour are only processed in anonymised form and thus cannot be traced to specific individuals. But this also creates many advantages.

„In cube berlin it`s about networking the building`s entire technology in a ‚brain‘.“
Matthias Schmidt
Head of Development CA Immo Deutschland
A report by an office user in the cube from the year 2020 could sound something like this. All data that enters and is recorded by the building in these ways has one destination: the ‘brain’. “The cube berlin is no longer just about individual solutions, some of which have been technically feasible for some time, but about networking the building’s entire technology and bringing it together in a ‘brain’,” explains Matthias Schmidt, Head of Development Germany at CA Immo. “What’s special about this is that the ‘brain’ is a self-learning computer system that receives and continuously develops and optimises all information from the building’s operation, tenant behaviour and the environment.” 

The cube currently has a second home next to Berlin. In a manner of speaking, the smart building has been operating at RWTH Aachen University since summer 2017. This is where the ‘brain’ is currently being developed and tested. So that digital components and their functionalities can be tested under realistic conditions prior to their installation in the office building, a separate laboratory was set up on the University grounds. It consists of several rooms and is equipped with the technical components that are planned for the building. The respective test situations are visualised on the screen on a control and presentation stand. This provides the developers with information regarding the interaction of the building’s digital infrastructure: the strengths and weaknesses of the individual building blocks. One of the biggest challenges is getting the individual components to communicate with each other, as many manufacturers use their own protocols.
Another key issue is data security. While building security has thus far mainly been concerned with fire protection and protection against physical violence, the topic of cybersecurity now comes into play. “Data security is a central focus,” stresses Matthias Schmidt. “We are thus looking into how and what data can be captured and replayed in a cloud via secure connections, for example. Or how sensitive data, such as access permissions, can only be processed within the building via Bluetooth.” In order to be prepared for a cyberattack, professional ‘hackers’ also test the cube system’s security.

The test bench for the cube berlin building in Aachen.
The cubes’ digitisation components include beacons, sensors, gateway servers, clouds and portals, all of which are being scrutinised in Aachen. To ensure flawless operation of the digital interfaces, a special cube app is being developed that performs various functions for tenants, visitors or the facility management on a smartphone. Susanne Terboven, Project Manager of cube berlin, leads the app’s development: “The cube app should be absolutely intuitive to operate. It must not be complicated to choose a floor in the lift or to make the office cooler. The step into building digitisation should be suitable and selectable for all customers and tenants, so there will also still be switches and access cards available for those who want them.”

The app and the ‘brain’ offer some key benefits. For example, an employee can set the temperature, lighting and the positioning of the blinds via smartphone before entering the room. Ventilation can be controlled intelligently in meeting rooms and in a floor’s sections via sensors, as these detect whether an area is occupied or not. With flexible workplaces, the system can propose connected desks to reduce power consumption for unused areas. This can also create significant energy savings throughout the building.

The developers are already showing today how the app will ‘feel’ to the user and what it might look like on a smartphone interface. It enables, for example, meeting rooms to be booked; guests can be invited and provided with an automatic access authorisation to the building, or they can also be directed through the building with in-house navigation.

The cube app offers various services.
This ‘tracking’ could then not only map the path of people within the cubes, but also use heat maps to recognise which rooms or building zones are most frequented or where certain devices are positioned. It could also trigger the automatic unlocking of doors or opening of driveways. Even lost items can be located if they are equipped with beacons. “If you forget your laptop somewhere in the building, you can count on the cubes’ good ‘memory’,” says Matthias Schmidt.

Based on the rooms’ daily occupancy, the facility manager can assess, for example, where the cleaning service will be put to best use or which building zones to prioritise for later renovation. Another consideration would be whether large meeting rooms that are rarely occupied could, for example, be divided into two small rooms in the future. If rooms are rarely occupied, the energy consumption is reduced accordingly and operating costs can be reduced.

„Like the cube, we are also learning during the test phase."
By merging various service offerings in the app, internal ‘cube communication’ can also be operated: a building wiki provides technical building information; manuals ranging from the copier to the air conditioner are downloadable, and the catering service publishes its current menus; tenant chats and a parcel station are offered by the facility manager as an additional service.

An optimised, future-proof and fail-safe digital infrastructure both at and inside the building is now an essential location criterion for a company. Hence cube berlin’s connectivity was also reviewed by WiredScore and received the best possible seal in platinum. “With the cube, we are developing a building that fits our tenants’ business models in an increasingly networked, digital world,” concludes Matthias Schmidt. “And like the cube, we are also learning during the test phase.”