Sector - Modular

Building outside the box

Building outside the box: modular panel system for intelligent office spaces. Patent of the month.

Office building spaces are required to be more versatile as the world continues to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic. A shift in working behaviours and shorter leases mean that there’s a growing need for innovative solutions to best utilise office space in ways that not only improve sustainability but help to retain tenants.

Advancements in office technologies, such as predictive building intelligence systems, are one such innovation. Flexible office spaces with adaptable floor plans have the further advantage of feeding into circular economy principles and reducing waste.

Current systems used to construct flexible office space involve the use of moveable walls to adapt the space and alter the floorplan. These walls are typically mounted on rails and can be used to adjust the size of each office, and/or to increase the number of rooms on a floor. However, they provide only limited flexibility, and can’t really cater for the extreme changes in demand experienced following the pandemic. Another potential solution is the use of reconfigurable modular meeting rooms. However, even these solutions are limited, as the rooms have to be four-sided closed shapes.

UK company, Incube, is focussed on the design and development of intelligent building systems. It has been identified that current building space is underutilised by 40%, on average, each day. To address this problem, Incube has recently been granted a UK Patent – GB2598951 – for a novel way of using office space that is more efficient and flexible.

The patented technology protects an innovative modular panel system that utilises multiple panels in conjunction with a controller, which is connected to a user interface. The controller produces a solution, or several possible solutions, based on the specific demands of the user. The controller ensures that its recommendations have sufficient structural strength to meet health and safety requirements. Machine learning is also used to optimise design recommendations based on previous designs for similar office spaces.

The panels include integrated counterweights providing structural stability and are fitted with environmental sensors to facilitate communication with the controller. The counterweights negate the need for the panels to be attached to the building structure, thereby increasing the number of available solutions and simplifying construction processes. The panels are made up of prefabricated boxes, which come with various attachments, such as window panels or whiteboards. The panels may also have additional features, such as fold-down desks and shelves.

In partnership with a number of major London-based corporations, Incube has demonstrated its patented technology through the creation of intelligent and adaptable office spaces. The application of the modular panel system has also brought together a community of mobility leaders from a range of industry sectors, to highlight the role of office space design in promoting wellbeing and improving energy efficiency.

With patent protection secured, Incube will benefit from an exclusive right to bring its invention to market and, potentially, license it to third parties. This period of commercial exclusivity extends for up to 20 years, during which time competitors are barred from copying the innovation.

Mark Sugden, senior associate and patent attorney in the Advanced Engineering group at European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers.