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As the internet of things makes its way into industrial and commercial settings, the real acceleration will come when people start to realize that they don’t have to build and design factories and workspaces the way they’ve always done.

The march of connected devices into these spaces will allow people to rethink anything and everything tied to the way we work and make products, according to panelists on the GeekWire Summit’s IoT track this month in Seattle.

At the moment, IoT adopters are using the data generated by sensors and other connected devices to modify existing designs. But, the panelists said, you’ll know this area has truly arrived when you start to see brand-new ways of thinking about the world, just as smartphones uncorked an amazing array of innovative apps and services that have changed so many parts of modern life.

From left to right: Sarah Cooper, AWS; Salla Palos, Sellen; Ryan Mullenix, NBBJ; and moderator Maria Karaivanova, Madrona. (Geekwire Photo)

“I’d say that the state of the art now is more of retrofit solutions in existing building environments, you can plug and play your internet of things devices and created the mesh network,” said Salla Palos, director of emerging technology and innovation at Sellen Construction. “But 10 years from now the systems are going to be more integrated into the holistic build environment,” she said, referring to the relationships between smart buildings, smart roadways, and other pieces of infrastructure that are deemed worthy of becoming smart.

Sarah Cooper, general manager of IoT solutions at Amazon Web Services, echoed that sentiment about the current situation.

“I’m asked this a lot by customers: ‘I’ve put in X, Y, and Z sensors, do I have a smart building?’ Typically if you have to ask AWS, you probably aren’t using the data,” she said.

One example that Microsoft has also previewed during recent Build developer conferences is the responsive conference room, with lighting, temperature controls, and even furniture that responds to the people in the room and they reason they have gathered.

“We look at reconfigurable workspaces that actually move according to what kind of work mode is going to happen in those spaces. I don’t think that’s that far off,” said Ryan Mullenix, design partner at architectural firm NBBJ.

Armed with at least some data, architects and construction companies have already started to break down the barriers between their organizations so that they can work in closer collaboration, not unlike how software developers and systems administrators are now expected to work more closely together inside tech companies.

“Traditionally, the designers were siloed before the contractor was even chosen for the project. And nowadays we have different delivery methods and we talk about integrated project delivery, which brings the contractor into the same team basically as the design and engineering team,” Palos said.

But there’s still a massive amount of coordination that will need to take place between building owners, renters, and designers to truly unlock the potential of smart buildings and eventually, smart cities. It’s a classic tech problem: data tends to settle in silos but insight only comes after you’ve cross-referenced that data across all the other factors that affect your building or factory.

Sarah Cooper, GM of IoT analytics and applications, Amazon Web Services. (GeekWire Photo)

Take an airport, Cooper said. Airports can deploy all manner of hardware and software in hopes of improving the speed and efficiency of their baggage systems, which could help airlines turn planes around faster and reduce the number of angry people lined up at the baggage claim desk. But there are lots of different corporations that are involved in loading and unloading airplanes, from baggage service companies to caterers to the airlines themselves. Unless everybody’s on board, it can be really hard to figure out where the biggest obstacles lie.

“Really it’s about, how do you redistribute the additive value of bringing all that data together,” Cooper said. If everyone involved doesn’t have a financial incentive to improve their performance and share data, it won’t work, she said.

Eventually, with enough data and enough direction, the future of office building and factory design could have an immense impact on the planet, Mullinex said.

“My hope is that as we advance in the future, that those factories become smaller. So our machinery becomes smaller, the space needed become smaller, and when they become smaller, I think those buildings become more human,” he said.

Watch the video above for more from their conversation and see all of our GeekWire Summit coverage here.

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