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EMAIL INTERVIEW – George Thomas and Ken Sinclair
George Thomas, President, Contemporary Controls
George Thomas of Contemporary Controls
authored a white paper entitled
Creating an Open Controller with
spoke to him about his paper.
Sinclair: I see you have produced a white paper entitled Creating an Open Controller Using Sedona Frameworktm. How do you define an Open Controller?
Thomas: Contemporary Controls defines an open controller as follows:
for Network Communications
BACnet is recognized as an open protocol supporting several network variants including IP but it is not a programming language. It defines the way data is represented and communicated over a network and should be used in an open controller. Criticism of BACnet as not being open is only because BACnet compliant controllers may require different programming tools that may not be available to all system integrators. This is an issue BACnet cannot address because it is not involved with programming. However, BACnet has world-wide appeal and BACnet/IP has the additional benefit of providing access to the web-based suite of protocols making data access through web browsers viable.
Open Programming Language for Implementing Control
Sedona Framework is a component-oriented programming language where components are assembled onto wire sheets creating applications. This language is ideally suited for graphical representation of control strategies. It has a similar look-and-feel to the popular Niagara Framework® and it is IP-based. Those with experience with Niagara Framework will have no problem understanding Sedona Framework. For those without Niagara experience, the graphical representation of components linked on a wire sheet to create applications is intuitive and can be easily learned with a minimum of training.
Programming Tool Available to Systems Integrators without Restrictions
To assemble components onto a wire sheet requires a Sedona Tool. Sedona programming tools are available from Tridium or from other sources. Although Tridium’s Niagara Workbench is intended for Niagara Framework programming, it can be used as a Sedona programming tool with the installation of Sedona. Workbench is ubiquitous in the building controls industry and available from several OEMs under different brand names. However, it cannot be claimed to be available to all without restriction. It is the intention of Contemporary Controls to assist in the development of a Sedona Tool available to all system integrators independent of their access to the Tridium channel.
Community of Developers and Integrators Sharing Technology for the Public Good
Contemporary Controls serves the Sedona community as both a developer and integrator. As a developer, it produces Sedona devices and has created special Sedona components beyond those supplied by Tridium. As an integrator it has assembled components onto wire sheets in creating control strategies and has offered these strategies to its customers as example applications. Components are deployed in kits and some kits are dependent upon the hardware platform and some not. Those custom component kits that are hardware independent are available free to the Sedona community in the spirit of sharing in the development of a truly open controller.
Sinclair: In your definition you mention BACnet as the protocol of choice. Why BACnet?
Thomas: I think it is quite clear that BACnet is becoming dominant in the industry and is frequently required on specifications. It is one of the questions I ask of systems integrators – is BACnet required on this job. The answer is usually yes. I like BACnet for a couple of other reasons. It is controlled by ASHRAE and not by a particular BAS supplier. There is no license to use BACnet. It is well supported by a large group of dedicated individuals who volunteer their time to improving the standard. You can reach out to a community of people knowledgeable of BACnet. BACnet has network variants for both serial – MS/TP – communications and IP/Ethernet communications which fits-in nicely with Sedona because Sedona is IP-based.
Sinclair: But I thought Sedona Framework is owned by Tridium and therefore not open as you contend.
Thomas: The Sedona Framework trademark is owned by Tridium, Inc. but can be used by acknowledging the owner. More importantly, the Sedona Framework technology is available to the public under an Academic Free License granted by the licensor – Tridium, Inc. A licensee is allowed the worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive use of the technology. For those who want to be part of the Sedona Community, software and documentation is available for download from SedonaDev.org. Contemporary Controls is a community member and views this technology as the best hope in creating a truly open controller.
Sinclair: Having an open controller could also mean having an open programming tool. How are you going to address the proprietary tool issue?
Thomas: Currently, the best way to program a Sedona device is to use Niagara Workbench versions 3.8 or 3.7. Due to Niagara’s popularity in the market, this tool is readily available. First you need to install Sedona onto Workbench but this is a simple process and you can obtain the necessary files from our website. Next you will need to install a component bundle which includes the necessary kits, manifests and platform for the Sedona device you are accessing. This is not as difficult as it sounds and for our Sedona devices we provide one component bundle that will support all versions of our Sedona devices. The advantage of using Workbench is that one tool can be used to program both a Tridium JACE and a Sedona device. We call this the “one-tool solution.”
Of course Niagara Workbench is intended for those in the Tridium channel or for Tridium OEMs. For those systems integrators without access to Workbench, a Sedona Tool is required. Sedona Tools exist today and we intend to offer a Sedona Tool to any competent systems integrator.
Our Sedona devices also support BACnet and to configure BACnet requires a simple web browser. It is our intent to use configuration tools that are available to anyone and not to lock-out a systems integrator by only offering proprietary configuration tools in addition to proprietary programming tools.
Sinclair: In your paper you mention the roles of developer and integrator in the Sedona community. What is the difference between these two roles?
Thomas: Sedona development tools are available at no charge from the SedonaDev.org site but they are intended for skilled embedded programming professionals. From this site you can download the Sedona compiler and a sample Sedona Virtual Machine (SVM) plus kits of components that provide useful functionality such as logic, math and control. This site is intended for people who develop Sedona devices who we call Developers. Contemporary Controls is a Sedona developer since we manufacture Sedona devices and we need to modify the basic SVM to suit our needs plus we develop custom components deployed as kits in order to address requests from our systems integrator customers.
The Integrator’s role is to connect a Sedona Tool to a functional Sedona device and create an application by assembling standard and custom components onto a wire sheet and interconnect them with links. That would be what is typically done by systems integrators. The point here is that both developers and integrators are part of the Sedona community and the community is necessary to advance the Sedona technology through collaboration and sharing best practices. I would think the Sedona community would be one of the Connected Communities that you write about.
Sinclair: Give me an example of how collaboration would exist in the Sedona community?
Thomas: From the SedonaDev.org site you can download a set of Sedona kits which contain components organized by function. We call these kits the standard Tridium Sedona 1.2 kits and they are very useful and portable to any Sedona 1.2 device. It is our policy to provide them in our Sedona devices without modification.
In addition, each Sedona device provider must have some custom kits to address the unique hardware needs of the provider’s Sedona device such as interfacing physical I/O to the SVM. These kits carry a vendor name and product name indicating they are custom and specific to a particular Sedona device.
There is a third class of kits. These are developed by a Sedona developer and can be used on any Sedona device because they are hardware independent. They only carry a vendor name. In discussing these components with other Sedona providers it was felt that these components can be shared among Sedona community members in the spirit of supporting an open controller. Usually, you just download the component bundle from the vendor’s website.
Sinclair: Have you created an open controller as you describe?
Thomas: Yes. The BAScontrol20 and BASremote are Sedona devices built on the principles of an open controller.
Sinclair: How can our readers learn more?
Thomas: They can download a copy of the white paper at http://www.ccontrols.com/sedona or learn more about Contemporary Controls at http://www.ccontrols.com.
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