Technology: The Driving Force In Housing Innovation

“You can have any colour you want, so long as it’s black”. Henry Ford’s playful remark regarding the single colour offered to customers of the T Ford in 1909 was not a question of personal taste, but necessity. The T Ford was the world’s first car to be manufactured on a moving assembly line, leading to an eightfold increase in productivity and ensuring a new T-Ford came of the line every 15 minutes. This revolution in production is now heralded as the innovation which opened up car ownership to the masses – an assembly line worker suddenly could buy a Model T with four months’ pay – however, there was one catch. The paint couldn’t dry fast enough. Only fast-dry black paint could keep up with full-speed assembly, and thus the iconic black T-Ford was born.

The car industry has always pioneered the use of emerging technologies. From standardised parts which have made cars easier to fix, to energy efficient designs which are reducing their harmful impact on the environment, technological innovation in the car industry is relentless. While the pace of change in the automobile industry has meant cars are unrecognisable from their predecessors in the early 20th century, innovations in housing have typically progressed at a frustratingly glacial pace. The housing sector needs to take lessons from the car industry if the the global housing crisis is to be stopped in its tracks.

Fortunately, there are signs that the housing sector is now catching up. Starting with construction technology, the benefits of standardisation and pre-assembly methods are reflecting the efficiency revolution produced by Ford’s flow production line. At Xrbia, steel-framing dry technology is being employed to build three times faster. 90 per cent of the buildings are built offsite, and then simply assembled onsite, guaranteeing quality and reducing waste. Multiple-level buildings can now be built within 90 days and use approximately 20 per cent less material and space than traditional construction techniques. With rapid urbanisation placing ever greater strain on space in city centres, construction techniques which save time and space will become increasingly important in the coming years.

In the same way that the automobile industry has made great strides to reduce the amount of energy needed to power the vehicles it creates, the housing sector must also ask how much energy is needed to power a house.

Sustainability concerns should not halt with construction, and a holistic approach to house design that takes into account how housing projects interact with the wider environment in which they are situated must become an integral part of the design process. Xrbia’s renewable energy system reflects our commitment to building sustainable and functionable communities, not just answering the need to build more homes.

Combining the latest technological advances across electricity, water and waste management, Xrbia has generated a renewable energy system which ensures that the energy that powers each township is generated and managed using sustainable resources. In doing so, Xrbia will expand access to clean water and sanitation to those in need of decent affordable accommodation. This holistic approach is the key to creating houses that are sustainable in the long-term.

Finally, while we are being told that self-driving cars will soon be commonplace across our roads, the internet of things revolution is already here in housing and promises to revolutionise the way we live, as well as travel. Indeed, this may be one area of technology in which the housing sector is leading the way. IoT technology refers to the increasing interconnectivity between our online and physical worlds – think apps that can turn on your heating remotely and fridges that know when you need to buy milk. While “smart” technology has conventionally been associated with expensive products for an exclusive customer base,

Xrbia is incorporating IoT technology into its developments to cut costs for residents. Each room at Xrbia will be fitted with a microbot, which transmits information about residents’ utility usage to an online platform. Guests are then able to check their utility usage and pay for maintenance bills via the Xrbia Smart City app. With IoT technology rapidly expanding in the realty market, Xrbia hopes to lead the industry into this new digital era.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and the demand for housing in the 21st century is unprecedented. If current trends in housing construction continue, one-third of urban humanity will occupy crowded, inadequate and unsafe housing by 2025. In the same way that technology has driven the challenges faced by the car industry, including those related to construction, costs, safety and the environment, Xrbia believes that technology will be the driver of change desperately needed in housing.