Microsoft is outfitting a striking new office building just outside of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates with a suite of futuristic artificial intelligence capabilities, including a virtual AI persona for employees and visitors that takes care of tasks such as scheduling meetings, finding parking spaces and ordering lunch.
The project is an example of Microsoft’s broadening cloud strategy, which in recent years has grown to include Internet of Things tools for industries such as construction, manufacturing and retail. Microsoft is working with Johnson Controls to develop technology for the new headquarters for environmental sustainability and waste management company Bee’ah.
Microsoft says the virtual AI persona will automate administrative tasks that take time out of employees’ days. It can communicate with the building to regulate temperature, book conference rooms and handle other routine duties. The breadth of the AI is still being figured out, but it is expected to cover potentially hundreds of tasks.
Designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, the building is meant to look like the sand dunes surrounding it. The building will be powered entirely with renewable energy, and aims for net-zero energy consumption. To hit these lofty goals, Bee’ah will have to pay careful attention to energy usage.
That’s why Bee’ah is using Microsoft’s Azure Digital Twins program, which creates a virtual double of the building to monitor the environment.
“This is a great demonstration of what next-generation buildings are all going to reflect at some point in future, which is the ability to integrate and track in real time the physical world of what is happening but then also map it and correlate to the design spec of what should happen,” said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Cloud & AI Group, in an interview with GeekWire.
The 80,000-square-foot building will open in December, and it is adjacent to Bee’ah’s Waste Management Centre in the city of Sharjah, about 10 miles north of Dubai.
Microsoft has worked with Johnson Controls before. In early 2018, the two companies unveiled a smart thermostat powered by Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana.
More and more businesses that operate factories or large real-estate holdings are turning to networks of cheap devices packed with sensors and basic processing power to generate data about their operating environments, in hopes of unlocking more efficient ways of doing business. Microsoft has made these projects a centerpiece of its “intelligent edge” cloud IoT strategy.
But you can’t necessarily slap Windows or even a mobile operating system on to many of these devices, which face significant restraints around how much computing power they can pack into the small spaces where they are usually deployed. That’s a big reason why Microsoft last week acquired Express Logic, the San Diego company known primarily for its IoT operating system.
“Ultimately, everything in our lives whether it’s our cars, whether it’s the buildings where we work, our houses, retail facilities, we see this big desire for them to all be digitally connected and to enable these new use cases that make our lives and our work much better,” Guthrie said.