Franklin Tang, founder and CEO of the tech firm, has cornered a big chunk of a market that did not exist three years ago. Today, the firm is a market leader on the smart building frontier.
Tang: We are excited to be able to connect homes and commercial buildings (Pictures: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Franklin Tang, founder and CEO of tech firm Habitap, was at a building dubbed "Alice", which in his opinion, is the first truly “intelligent building in Singapore”. The business park development by Boustead Projects spans 11 floors with a total gross floor area of 425,038 sq ft.
Located at Mediapolis in one-north, the building was completed at the end of 2018. According to Boustead Projects, about 80% of the net lettable area at Alice@Mediapolis is either leased or under negotiations.
After downloading the app created for the building users, Tang is able to enter the lift lobby through the gantry without having to register at the reception desk.
The destination control system at Alice@Mediapolis allows tenants to access only their respective floors. It is an added security feature. However, tenants can still issue access cards for guests visiting their office or attending an event as well as provide parking access for their visitors.
Located in one-north, Alice@Mediapolis was completed at the end of 2018
“It’s an intelligent system, and doesn’t allow you to keep going in and out of the gantry,” says Tang. “We have also increased the performance to one second for NFC [near field communication] and three seconds for Bluetooth on smartphones.”
In addition to such front-end functions, the app is “fully integrated with the entire building management system [BMS] and allows real-time access”, says Tang.
For instance, tenants at Alice@Mediapolis can check the availability of parking spaces before they enter the building. They can extend their season parking and pay for it online. Via the app, the operating hours for the air-conditioning system can be extended beyond 6pm. Tenants at Alice@Mediapolis need not fill in and submit forms in advance, which is what those in older buildings have to do, adds Tang.
Even the bicycle racks and end-of-trip facilities are integrated with the BMS. “That’s why Alice is the most intelligent building to date because it has all the facilities integrated on a single platform,” says Tang.
One building to multiple buildings
From one smart building, Tang is now working on linking multiple intelligent buildings. “We were recently awarded a contract for a portfolio of four to five commercial buildings in the city centre where they will all be accessible via one app," he says.
Tang sees the biggest growth in smart building technology taking place in the commercial sector. Including this portfolio of four to five buildings, Habitap is now managing 12 buildings with a total of 10 million sq ft of net lettable area including offices, business parks and integrated developments.
Habitap’s foray into the commercial space came about with the launch of the MySphere app for M+S’ portfolio in Singapore in 2017, namely the two integrated developments DUO and Marina One. The total commercial space at DUO and Marina One covers 2.45 million sq ft.
The Mysphere app, developed by Habitap in 2017, can be used in both DUO and Marina One
Today, growth has quadrupled in a span of two years, reckons Tang. The 10 million sq ft NLA includes the three Grade-A office towers at Paya Lebar Quarter, an integrated development by Lendlease at Paya Lebar Central.
Smartening up older buildings
Besides new commercial buildings, Tang sees opportunity in older buildings, namely those that were completed 10 to 20 years ago and now need upgrading in order to keep up with more modern offerings.
A good example is Keppel Bay Tower, an 18-storey building at Harbourfront that was completed in 2002. Owned by Keppel Land, the office building has a total area of 394,000 sq ft.
At Keppel Bay Tower, Habitap has developed an app similar to the one for Alice. However, the difference is that gantry access utilises facial recognition. Tenants and their visitors will have to take a selfie and upload the picture to the app. “They only need to do it once," says Tang.
Last September, Keppel Land announced that Keppel Bay Tower will be testing new technologies, including intelligent building control system, cooling tower water management, smart lighting and an integrated sensor technology to optimise fresh air intake.
Habitap has also introduced an app for members of KLOUD, Keppel Land’s co-working space on the 13th floor of Keppel Bay Tower, as well as KLOUD in Vietnam and Yangon. The KLOUD app enables members to book the boardroom, meeting rooms or event space. External parties may rent the event space at KLOUD too, says Tang. The KLOUD app can link the app to a payment system that allows them to pay for the space online.
Habitap developed an app for Keppel’s serviced co-office solution Kloud in Keppel Bay Tower, and the building is being upgraded with facial recognition features to integrate the app with the building
Other uses of the app include locking and unlocking doors to the various meeting rooms, the snooze room and private rooms for video conferencing. The app even controls the lights and blinds in the meeting rooms as well as the projector screen at the event space.
Greater competition in smart home space
Smart home automation in the residential sector has become more competitive, with more players entering the space, he concedes.
It has been almost three years since Habitap’s first collaboration with Keppel Land in July 2016 to introduce a fully integrated smart home management system at the 336-unit Corals at Keppel Bay.
Since mid-2016, about 16,000 residential units with smart home features have been launched, estimates Tang. Of these units, Habitap’s market share is about 7,000 units, he reckons.
The 7,000 excludes another pipeline of 1,000 units that have been awarded, which are pending signed contracts. “If we add those, we would have 8,000 units in the pipeline,” he says. He therefore estimates Habitap’s likely market share to be “over 40%” in the residential sector.
Habitap is providing smart home features for UOL Group’s Clement Canopy, Amber 45 and The Tre Ver. This year will also see the completion of Lendlease’s Park Place Residences at Paya Lebar Quarter, which will also feature a smart home app by Habitap. Other condominiums that have Habitap as a provider of home automation include Tuan Sing Holdings’ Kandis Residence and Mont Botanik Residence, as well as Wing Tai and Keppel Land’s joint venture project, The Garden Residences.
Habitap is also the smart home system provider for other upcoming UOL projects like The Tre Ver (shown) and Amber45 (Picture: UOL Group)
Another luxury condominium development by Keppel Land that Habitap will be providing a smart home management system for is at Nassim Hill. Marking Habitap’s first foray into a landed housing project is Lum Chang’s One Tree Hill Collection, which includes a visitor management system, smart parcel station for deliveries and geofencing around the estate.
Mapping out your day with the app
“Smart buildings are a long time coming,” says Tang. Because we are creatures of habit, with the advent of artificial intelligence, we could soon have our own personal butler via an app. He paints a possible scenario in a not-too-distant future: “When you wake up, the app would have already switched on the water heater, and after a nice warm shower, you won’t even need to remember to switch it off because the app has already done it. When you leave the house, you don’t even need to remember to turn off the lights or the air-conditioner because it has already been done by the app.”
On the way to work, the app can even prompt you to buy a cup of coffee, adds Tang.
Habitap as a provider of home automation include Tuan Sing Holdings’ Kandis Residence
On a hot day, you no longer need to tell your helper to turn on the air-conditioner for you at home. You can do it with the app. If there’s a delivery, it doesn’t matter if there’s no one at home. The parcel can be left in the smart parcel box that can be unlocked with the app when you return home later in the evening, adds Tang.
“I think tech, when done smoothly, can be very elegant,” says Tang. “This is what gets us very excited to do commercial buildings, where we can showcase our entire suite of offerings from home to office.”
The URA has been engaging communities, business and other public agencies to enliven public spaces through placemaking programmes. Tang says in order for placemaking programmes to be successful, a virtual platform needs to be created first.
Commercial landlords are beginning to see the need to develop an app for their mall activities and to engage with the community around them.
Habitap is providing smart home features for UOL Group’s Clement Canopy
“With smart buildings and smart condos around them, these mall landlords see the opportunity to access a huge potential customer base for their retail offerings,” says Tang. “We are already working with malls, in terms of mall promotions for condos and commercial buildings in the neighbourhood that are already using the Habitap app. Habitap is really about creating communities and allowing vendors to use our tech.”
Beyond Singapore, Habitap has also ventured to the rest of the region, namely, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Myanmar.
“What we are excited about is to be able to connect homes, commercial buildings and we would like to do student accommodation next," says Tang. “We want to build tech for all real estate classes.”
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