The road to autonomous – from buildings to vehicles – is paved with partial obstructions, but it doesn’t have to be, as five consequential ‘stages’ promise widespread acceptance and universal adoption.

“Today, a framework on the journey to autonomous buildings doesn’t exist,” according to Lendlease Digital CEO, William Ruh.

“By clearly articulating the five stages for autonomous buildings, we aim to propel the industry forward, creating an opportunity to benchmark and achieve better outcomes for the world.”

At the same time, benchmarking autonomous vehicles has kicked into high gear with an already established industry roadmap in operation – a detailed spectrum that moves drivers on an automated journey from driver- enabled cars to fully driverless experiences.

According to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), its six main levels include: no automation; driver assistance; partial automation; conditional automation; high automation; and full automation. In fact, analysts predict the autonomous vehicles market to be already worth US$87 billion – with four out of every 10 vehicles on the road to be autonomous by 2040. And while autonomous vehicles are picking up speed, momentum is also accelerating for autonomous buildings – and the two are inextricably linked. The property and transport worlds have been interlocked together since the beginning of time. As autonomous vehicles accelerate in adoption, the need for the property industry to transform will intensify,” Ruh explains.

Call to Action

Calling out its significance, Ruh says the “full vision of autonomous vehicles will only be truly realised” with the evolution and development of autonomous buildings.

“The property industry are fast followers of the automotive industry, which has since 2014, followed the 6-step taxonomy developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers.” Indeed, the property industry needs to take a page out of the autonomous vehicles playbook.

“It’s become clear the property industry also needs a reference point by which to outline autonomous buildings and cities,” Ruh says. And it couldn’t come any sooner, considering the benefits of autonomous buildings are so vast and far-reaching, improving human health and wellness, and reducing the environmental impact.

“The overall promise of autonomous is for buildings and cities to automatically adapt to the world at large – be it changing preferences and behaviour of people using the spaces, changes in the environment, changes in regulations mandated at a city or country level.

“With cloud and artificial intelligence, the property industry will move from a reactive state to a predictive industry which responds dynamically to changes in the built world.” Calling the five stages “in line with market maturity,” Ecosystm principal analyst industry research, Sash Mukherjee, says initially they’ll be a push for older buildings to replace legacy systems, adopt automation, replace analogue systems and convert wired systems to wireless.

“Once they’re connected, they’ll realise there’s other capabilities that they can leverage: remote monitoring and automated alerts, dashboard views, and automated report generation. As their tech adoption matures, they’ll look to advanced capabilities such as automated control and integration with other systems.” So, where’s the action? Adoption at commercial properties will drive initial momentum, she explains.

“Much of it will be driven by regulations on property safety and surveillance (security management); universal design (facilities management) and energy and sustainability goals (energy management).”

Yet, for buildings to move towards this reality – where “buildings automatically adapt its behaviour to the preferences of each occupant and stakeholder” – Ruh says there are five foundational steps required: baseline; connected; smart; partially autonomous; and autonomous.

Building Foundations

Taking a closer look at the five essential stages – envisioned by Lendlease – Ruh dishes out a snapshot (and why they matter).

Level 5: Autonomous

At the final level, the entire building or place is autonomous, with changes and events anticipated and the building adapting to these changes.

Level 4: Partially Autonomous

At level four, certain building facilities are autonomous and operating without human intervention.

Level 3: Smart

At this level, smart technology is incorporated across the building or precinct to improve the performance of systems such as HVAC, utilities, lifts and connectivity.

Level 2: Connected

At level two, all data, sensors, processes and outcomes are identified. At the assembly stage, there’s a clear plan to connect and integrate data, sensors and experiences. At the operation stage, the building and sensor data are connected and processes integrated.

Level 1: Baseline

At the baseline level, diagnostic assessments on data, processes, people and outcomes is conducted, and is typically services-led.

Taking Stock

So, let’s take stock and consider where the industry sits on the
autonomous buildings roadmap.

At this stage, Ruh says Lendlease has buildings and precincts across levels one, two and three – with new developments and a plan to reach partial autonomy (level four) over the coming years.

Accelerated adoption of cloud, data, advanced analytics and AI across the property supply chain are at the heart of the autonomous strategy.

“By combining these technologies with expert domain knowledge, it’s possible for the technology to understand, with context, how to understand and predict the behaviour of people within buildings and precincts.” At the same time, Gartner predicts, autonomous things – AI powered devices that include robotics, vehicles, drones, ships, and appliances, for example – is considered a Top 10 strategic technology trend to watch and one that will drive massive disruption. The technology is all part of what the think tank calls “people-centric smart spaces,” which means technologies that affect people (customers, employees) and the spaces they inhabit (home, office, car).

5G Spark

Notably, the other big activity to watch, according to Ecosystm’s Mukherjee, is the adoption of 5G, a powerful spark that will produce faster and easier autonomous solutions.

“Over the last few years, there’s been a lot of experimentation using low power WAN. But as countries roll out 5G, there will be more pilots in asset management at the edge – which will bode well for the real estate sector,” Mukherjee says. What’s more, another hot button is the buzz surrounding Digital Twins, she explains. “If we take Singapore, as an example. Last year, Frasers Tower implemented an intelligent building platform, which functions as a Digital Twin, for real-time remote management of the building’s operations. “There’s a tremendous interest in the country in this space. HDB’s Smart Estates Innovation is evaluating how technologies such as 3D Digital Twin technology – and a cloud-based platform to enable quick searches for assets through a visual tour – can help the real estate sector in the country. The idea is to commercialise the innovations through a larger partner ecosystem.”

Partner Power

Like Mukherjee, Ruh agrees a partner ecosystem is imperative – as water is to fish so are strategic partnerships to digital transformation – and can’t be underestimated. Let’s face it, it takes a community to create lasting change.

“The world is facing extreme challenges today. It excites me to know that digital can enable solutions for some of the biggest problems we face today. Challenges like sustainability, safety, wellness and global economi recovery,” Ruh says. In that vein, Lendlease Digital is already in the weeds, identifying and building a wider ecosystem of industry leaders to enable the vision to be implemented across the supply chain. “We’re also partnering with Government to help provide standards and policy that will shape and reimagine the cities of the future. We’re also building and recruiting new talent into the industry – with digital capabilities and passion to help accelerate this movement today,” Ruh says. “Bringing all the elements together is complex, and often difficult. It can’t be achieved alone. Great partnerships are required, with the promise of real change to the world we live in.”

Roadblocks to Smash

Ecosystm principal analyst industry research, Sash Mukherjee, says a potential roadblock to widespread adoption of autonomous buildings is cybersecurity. “Real estate has always depended more on OT vendors than IT vendors. As the end-points proliferate (devices, sensors) to enable a truly autonomous environment, there has to be better integration between IT-OT capabilities.” Another hindrance is policy, Mukherjee says. “There’s been instances where properties haven’t been keen on IoT lift management systems because they’ve had to show physical proof of regular checks on the systems. Automatic asset management systems can give real-time views and is safer – yet policies can be a hindrance in the adoption.”

Lendlease Digital CEO, William Ruh, agrees, saying many regulations today are chained to the legacy model of property development, construction and operation. What’s more, security and privacy policies are possible barriers too. “The systems need to be in place to enable an agile and regular adaption of security and privacy policies which adapt to the adoption of technology,” Ruh says. And while the right foundations are being built, industry change can be notoriously slow. “This industry hasn’t changed much in 100 years. Changing and shifting culture and behaviour is more challenging than the implementation of technology.” Yet, on a positive note, players like Lendlease are on a mission to light the spark and spur innovation.

“Innovation has always been in the DNA of Lendlease. We’re now proud to be augmenting over 60 years of applied domain knowledge and experience with digital transformation.”

For more information about how you can get involved in an ‘autonomous buildings’ ecosystem and help fuel momentum, visit

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