Next Gen building data assets making headlines

Real-world, investment-grade data enabling building energy upgrades at speed and scale.

Posted on: 08/07/2024
A car fitted with technology for gathering data on the condition of buildings

The issue…

Here in the UK, almost 30 million buildings are still to be decarbonised, with 28.6 million of these also homes. The current pace of refurbishment is far too slow to meet net zero legal targets by 2050, with a lack of information of the current state of stock one of the most significant barriers to the mainstreaming of retrofit.

Capturing media interest

This week, renowned publication New Scientist features one of our most significant investments, a technology that will unlock understanding and opportunities for improving the UK’s building stock, ready for 2050 net zero targets. The Built Environment Scanning System (BESS), developed by xRI with funding from the Innovate UK Net Zero Heat programme, provides invaluable data on the quality and condition of our building stock at scale. New Scientist have spent time with the team to see the technology in action and have penned a spotlight feature on BESS’s world-leading technology, data output and opportunities.

So what does BESS do?

BESS provides detailed and actionable information, enabling both decarbonisation pathway development at building level, and also aggregation of interventions at a building portfolio scale – meaning that decision making can be replicated. The benefits are huge, not least significantly more accurate and efficient delivery strategies and more-straightforward procurement. In the not so distant future the dimensionally accurate geometry and sizing of buildings will connect much more readily to downstream processes such as manufacturing capabilities and accessing finance.

In practice, BESS is essentially an electric vehicle augmented with a combination of cameras and sensors. When deployed, these sensors emerge from the car-boot, with a 180º field of view to scan every building the car passes.

The devices gather images, thermal characteristics and dimensions from the roadside, on the go. One of the huge positives is that data capture can happen all year round with the infrared identifying heat defects, and Light Direction and Ranging (LIDAR) creating a point cloud, giving distances and dimensions.  Computer vision and AI is used to isolate and identify components of the buildings. All of this achieved without any need to enter the property – no more awkward door knocking!

Data collection is fully automated with mapping and simultaneous localisation, allowing each BESS in the fleet to know where the others are in real time for efficient scanning across locations.

Understanding change over time

With the ability to scan all the buildings it passes, driving at normal speeds, BESS can take in information from vast swathes of the built environment. In late 2023, Innovate UK and xRI teamed up with the UK Space Agency and SatVu, a space tech company, to scan over 1.2 million buildings across the UK.

Why with the UK Space Agency? Because this proof of concept was developed to test whether detailed BESS data collected from the ground can be coupled with low earth orbit thermal data to enrich built environment information. The aim is to enable building changes to be picked up over longer periods of time, as satellite images can be updated on a regular basis – weather and visibility permitting of course.

Building up a picture of building condition

BESS also delivers real-world, high-fidelity, and investment-grade property data that can be utilised to define the following:

  • Classifications of materials, including wall material and cladding finishes, window and door framing and glazing types, chimney, guttering, and ancillary feature materials
  • Building features, including building type, configuration and attachment, porches, overhangs, bay windows, extensions, modifications and shading
  • Thermal characteristics, including relative thermal performance across building components and key points of leakage

This is delivered in a dimensionally accurate model showing building volume and floor area, external wall, roof, window and door areas and roof orientation and pitch. All with a <2cm accuracy.

The BESS is not designed to replace in-person visits, which are vital for understanding internal home layouts and for resident engagement. However, in-person surveys are expensive and can be tricky to carry-out. The BESS can deliver cost effective assessments of building quality and condition and when combined with other data suggest suitability for a range of energy efficiency measures prior to a home visit, making the subsequent visits by renovation experts more valuable.

Unlocking opportunities

Looking forward, we have exciting ambitions to reduce cost by clustering activities, investing in local skills and supply chains, providing shared resources such as heat networks, including waste heat redistribution for industrial activities, industrialised and standardised retrofit based on common building forms. Accurately measuring buildings and having interrogatable datasets on their dimensions, makeup and condition is crucial, so the opportunities for decarbonisation can be quantified and renovation efficiencies can be found.

Making the data available

Data gathered by BESS during the Innovate UK project is being made available to a small number of other projects within the Net Zero Heat programme over the coming months. Later in 2024 we will be releasing further beta data sets for interested organisations to utilise.

To keep up to date with this project and others supported by the Net Zero Heat Programme sign up for our news bulletin.

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Related programme

Net Zero Heat

Net Zero Heat

Innovate UK’s Net Zero Heat programme works with key partners to overcome barriers to enable a faster roll-out of decarbonised heat for buildings.


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