December 2018

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Brad White

EMAIL INTERVIEWKen Sinclair and Brad White

Brad White, P.Eng, MASc, President,
SES Consulting Inc.

Contributing Editor

AHR Expo 2019 Preview

- Next Generation HVAC Controls: Open Hardware – Open Software

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In this session, Contributing Editor Brad White and his fellow panelists will explore how the rise of truly Open Hardware and Open Software geared to the building automation market are poised to change the face of the industry. This diverse panel of experts includes equipment manufacturers, integrators, and engineering consultants and will explore how being “Open” is already affecting these segments of the industry, and what the future may hold.

Sinclair:  Who are your panelists for this session?

White:  I am very excited to have this diverse group of experts as panelists. While all 3 are relatively new to/ the industry within the past 10 years, they all bring a fresh perspective and a passion for working with open controls. In no particular order we have:

Calvin Slater

Calvin Slater has spent eight years in the Building Automation Controls Industry and is highly interested in Embedded Hardware as well as Open-Source building automation software frameworks.

Zach Netsov

Zach Netsov is a Product Specialist at Contemporary Controls focused on the “BASautomation” line of products which provide solutions for both small and scalable building management utilizing the open source Sedona Framework. He received his BEET from DeVry University with a concentration in renewable energy. Zach is part of the team at Contemporary Controls that championed the design and creation of the BASpi I/O board for Raspberry Pi and runs a monthly technical blog.

Nicolas Waern

Finally, Nicolas Waern, a.k.a. The building whisperer is the CEO of Go-IoT, and he has made it into his life mission of getting buildings to talk to people. He will be flying in all the way from Sweden to be here, and he's promised it is not only the Nordic buildings he can get talking! I will be very interested in the perspective that he brings to the session.

Sinclair:  Why is Open Hardware and Software an important topic to be discussing right now?

White:  I believe that it’s actually a discussion long overdue. This is a topic that has been largely ignored by a lot of mainstream stakeholders in the HVAC controls industry. I asked my panel for their perspective on this question. Calvin highlighted open systems as something that building Owners and consultants are starting to demand it. Not being able to meet this demand is holding our industry back.

In Nicolas’ view, there is a real risk that tech companies will step in to meet this demand before the real estate or traditional controls industry has a chance to learn the lessons of open source from the tech industry. As he sees it, the tech companies are currently willing this race. When you factor in Climate change, mass urbanization, a platform economy and a growing awareness of the lack of digitization within the real estate industry we'll see a perfect storm at the horizon.

The flipside of this risk is that there is also a tremendous opportunity for our industry in the open source transition, which Zach highlighted. He sees in open software or open hardware that the “open” concept brings people together and allows for creative advancements of the technology, mostly because of the free exchange of ideas within the community. It keeps technologies alive and progressing even if the parent company/organization (the originator of the technology) disappears for whatever reason.

Sinclair:  Given this opportunity, Is the concept of Open systems being embraced by the BAS industry?

White:  What’s interesting is that these ideas around open systems are well accepted elsewhere. If we were talking to an IT crowd, there would hardly be anything to discuss as open source hardware, open software, and interoperability of systems is just a fact of life there. To quote Zach: “Imagine if you couldn’t copy your PowerPoint presentation from your Lenovo PC to your Hewlett Packard PC.”  Yet the analogous situation exists today with the vast majority of modern BAS controls.

This is slowly starting to change with initiatives like the Sedona Alliance, the VOLTTON Environment, and the rise of IoT solutions which require interoperability with standard IT networks.

Sinclair:  Why do you think it has taken so long for our industry to start getting on board with adopting open systems?

White:  The answer to this seems to be different depending on which aspect of the industry you’re talking about. There’s not one straightforward answer. Again, I thought it would be interesting to poll my panel on this question, and they had a variety of interesting responses. 

Calvin saw this largely the result of inertia among the control manufacturers in the current direction of siloed controls.  While these field devices weren’t intentionally designed to be siloed products, the companies who produce them will not offer new devices, until they see more interoperable products from competition outselling their current offerings.

Zach also saw the root of this issue in the historical evolution of the industry. Until not too long ago, the automation industry was mostly comprised of electrical and mechanical control systems. Automation engineers were introduced to computer-controlled systems when Direct Digital Controls replaced purely mechanical/electrical systems. Electrical and mechanical systems are complicated and require in-depth knowledge to operate, in a similar manner Computer Science, and DDC is a whole other world of knowledge. I think it will take training the current generation, as well as the new generation of automation engineers to cause a spike in demand for more open technologies. This demand could drive DDC manufacturers to provide these open technologies in the automation market.

Nicolas saw this as the result of dragons. Conservative business, focusing on wired solutions, with big dragons locking everyone in with proprietary solutions. The domino effect is that of system integrators specializing in either Big Dragon's products or other solutions also locking everyone in, albeit at a higher level. This has resulted in a huge gap between People, building owners and the technology provided by industry experts, that will be filled faster by anyone else but the people in the industry.

While he past of our industry may be siloed and proprietary, not entirely without reason, our panel agrees that the future looks much more open!

contemporary Sinclair:  If I wanted to read more about how Open systems are poised to change the industry, where would you recommend I start?

White:  The other panelists and I have written extensively on this topic in the pages of In fact, Calvin, Zach, and Nicolas all have articles this month that I would encourage readers to check out, whether or not they’ll be able to attend our session in January. Here are some links that I would recommend readers start with:

Nicolas – Link to December Article

Calvin - The Anatomy of an Edge Controller

Zach - Create Your Own Custom Sedona Components

Zach - Sharing of Custom Sedona Kits, Components and Tools

Calvin – The Need for Open Hardware, Open Software

Nicolas - Open Hardware, Open Software, and Building Bots

Brad – Open Source Finally Arrives

Brad – The Edge of VOLTTRON’s Sword

Please join Brad, Nicolas, Calvin, and Zach at AHR for an exciting conversation exploring these topics. More information on our education session here. See you in Atlanta!


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