A smart way of living

For the technology-savvy residents of Dubai, the promise of a home or office space that is as intelligent as the latest gadget is a sure-fire winner. MEP Middle East reports on the emergence of smart technologies.

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By  Alison Luke Published  September 9, 2006

|~|4p35main200.gif|~|Trident’s smart home systems enable simple control of services such as lighting and air conditioning. |~|Imagine travelling home late at night, your family is away for the evening and a dark, empty house awaits. But then you take out your personal digital assistant (pda) and type in an access code. With the touch of a few buttons, back at home the air conditioning starts up, lighting is switched on, the stereo comes to life with your favourite cd and suddenly your destination has become a lot more welcoming.

For an increasing number of Dubai residents this dream is set to become reality as the use of ‘smart home’ technologies takes off. Already well known in the mechanical and electrical markets of Europe and the USA, it was only a matter of time before Dubai caught onto the smart home phenomenon.

The country’s desire for the latest technological advances combined with the vast quantities of high-end, luxury properties coming onto the housing market in the next few years, has set the scene for a burgeoning market.

Clients are demanding the latest technologies in their homes, and developers keen to make their properties stand out in a busy marketplace are responding. Many developers are now looking to include in-home building management systems (bms) and some degree of smart home products within their new properties as standard, which will provide extra work opportunities for m&e contractors.

“This is a new idea that is catching on in this market now,” comments Prakash Khatri, director and managing partner of Trans Gulf Electro-Mechanical. “Everybody wants to have everything automatic. With control systems like smart home products, where you can control everything by electronics…you can be sitting in another country and via a telephone line you can operate your home,” he explains.

Such is the growth in demand for such installations that Khatri’s contracting firm Trans Gulf is planning to branch out into the field with a new division, whereas previously it had subcontracted this work to specialists (see pages 12-14).

Among the developers showing an interest in the technology, Damac Properties made its intentions clear last summer when it opened a fully automated smart home show flat at its Dubai International Financial Centre sales office.

The system displayed is similar to those commonly used in Europe, having a centralised touch screen with user-friendly software that acts as an interface. This enables simple control of services such as lighting and security cameras that are linked by structured cabling.

The system also demonstrated the ability to control these products remotely via the internet, smart phones or pda. The firm has outlined plans to deliver smart solutions as standard fixtures and it currently has several properties underway that will include such products.

At the concept launch a spokesperson commented: “Damac Properties is catering to buyers’ increasing demand for properties with home automation. The added property value offered by home automation is driving more mainstream property development projects to adopt the smart home system concept.”

Smart home properties have already hit the market and one of the most recent to be completed is The Waterfront in Dubai Marina. Handed over in mid-July, this 20-storey residential tower is real-estate development firm Trident International Holdings’ (TIH) maiden freehold project in the city.

The project includes 71 homes, in which the firm has introduced its smart homes concept. Executive director and chief executive officer of TIH, Wazir Daredia explains: “The real estate sector in Dubai is booming and investors today have a wide choice of residential offerings to choose from. As a developer of niche communities we have focused on modern technology…to add value.”

At The Waterfront this involves state-of-the-art home automation systems that enable control of temperature, lighting, security and, among other options, virtual parenting, a concept that lets parents keep watch over their children via web cameras. In case of breakdowns or emergencies such as power outages or the detection of fire or smoke, the system is programmed to alert the homeowners by mobile phone, enabling them to take action even if they are not present.

The firm has gone one step further in providing safety systems with the installation of Zone Check Water Testers and HeartStart Defibrillators. Daredia explains: “Even though features like Heart Start and Zone Check were not originally planned, we decided to install them to give our customers added value.”

The technology alliance in this instance is backed by products from global firms such as Honeywell, which were installed by supplier and systems integrator Pacific Control Systems.

Another global firm, the engineering and construction conglomerate Larsen & Toubro undertook the construction.
Trident has another three freehold residential properties currently under construction at Dubai Marina – the twin tower Marinascape, 22-storey Bayside Residence and 45-storey Trident Grand Residence – all of which will include smart home technologies.

“With the success of these systems, we look forward to adapting these and newer innovations across future projects,” adds Daredia.

Residents in a neighbouring project in the Dubai Marina, the 11-storey Lootah Marina Tower being constructed by Lootah Building & Construction can also look forward to a life of automation.

Due for completion in November, building system technology provider and system integrator Future Solutions Computer Design (FSCD) is installing intelligent, integrated building management systems (bms) in this 31 apartment project. FSCD’s technology partner for the project is Lonix and the system uses LonWorks technology connected by twisted pair cables.

Use of smart home technology here is intended to ensure energy efficient operation of the properties in addition to making life simpler for residents. Control of the temperature, air conditioning, lighting and air quality is integrated and optimal conditions automatically set using remote diagnostics and system intelligence.

This will ensure minimal energy use and lower life cycle costs. Maintaining the ability for user-control, residents can also access the system through touch screen panels and pdas to change the settings to their personal preferences.

The bms will be connected to a service centre run by Lootah Group and FSCD; this is a central point where alarms and faults are detected and addressed. Maulik Shedh, FSCD project engineer elaborates: “We are providing a fully controlled building solution that has a [central] bms. A technician can view all of the technologies installed in the building such as the fire alarms, lifts, access gates, cctv and public address and control the overall system from this central point.

“Also, if there are any faults inside the apartments, such as a fire or a leak, this will give an alarm indication in the bms room and the technician can investigate the problem,” he adds.

The system allows remote viewing of the parameters and again alarms can be sent to the homeowner by sms text messaging if they wish. Inside each home a touch screen gives access to control of systems such as lights and air conditioning and users will also be given pdas to access the system.

“Remote access can be provided at an extra cost. This is not standard but the facility has been added so it is possible should the home owner desire,” adds Shedh.

This is the first time that the firm has installed the system in this region, but it is preparing for many years of business to come. Shedh says: “The market is going up now. It’s very commercial in Europe already and it’s at the starting stage in Dubai now, but it has a very good future and we’re foreseeing it to have a long-term basis.”

FSCD operations manager Anil Abraham adds: “The project is being done because of client demand; we need to provide the market what it wants. There is a market demand coming up now and a lot of people are asking for this technology.” As well as demand from the Dubai market Abraham reports that enquiries are also being seen from Abu Dhabi.

But it is not only the established developers that are taking up the smart home technology. Market newcomer Zabeel Investments has just announced that its US $0.5 billion (AED2.1 billion) Tiara Residence development will incorporate the technology in the form of multi-room entertainment arrangements, with other system add-ons likely.

The first project to be launched by the firm, Tiara Residence is located on the main trunk of Palm Jumeirah. The development consists of seven 15-storey buildings and the first apartments are scheduled for handover in December 2007.

The Opus 500 system from UK manufacturer Opus Technologies will allow residents to operate entertainment systems such as cd and dvd players, and digital television receiver boxes through one central control unit and enable several functions to be operated independently from individual rooms. The low voltage cabling needed to integrate the various products in the system will be installed as part of the interior fit-out it, with contractors still to be appointed.

The system works by learning the remote control codes of existing audio-visual products, it then allows them to be operated in any room via wall keypads or remote control handsets. Up to five separate audio-visual sources and one built-in radio tuner can be used independently or simultaneously throughout the home via ceiling-mounted speakers and most brands of tv or plasma screens.

In addition, a local input point is provided in each main room, allowing the connection of in independent audio source such as a MP3 player or games console.

Mohammed Ali Al Hashimi, executive chairman of Zabeel Investments explains the decision to install the technology: “Tiara residents are paying a premium for their homes, and deserve the most innovative solutions. Opus 500 will take the hassle out of operating their in-home entertainment systems, while allowing them the opportunity to customise operations throughout the home.”

The firm plans to complete a mock-up show flat later this year to demonstrate the features that will be included in the homes.

Developers and manufacturers are set to continue making inroads into the local market for smart home technologies. With the demand set to soar, contractors need to prepare now ready for the next generation of contracts. ||**||

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