February 2013
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Smart Buildings Predictions for 2013

Plus more acronyms; IPS, RFID, SERF,
 Cross Training for IT and FM, and hybrid AC/DC
Jim Sinopoli
Jim Sinopoli PE, RCDD, LEED AP

Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings LLC

Contributing Editor


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The Coming of Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS)

Predictions We’ve all used Google Maps or MapQuest to locate a place, get a map or directions. The underlying infrastructure is a collection of US satellites providing a Global Positioning System (GPS). GPS doesn’t work well indoors though because the signal is blocked. However, locating assets and people within buildings has value for potentially improving the performance of buildings, businesses and life safety.

There are “traditional” real time location systems (RTLS) for buildings that use RFID or Wi-Fi but they require a tag or device to be attached to the asset or person. But why use tags and devices when all of us are carrying a smartphone, aka “the new building sensor”. Indoor location technology is already being developed by some of the world’s largest tech companies. It will happen in 2013.

How serious are these efforts? Twenty-two companies formed the In-Location Alliance six months ago; they include large multi-national companies such as Nokia, Samsung, Sony and CSR. While a number of technology approaches have potential for being the basis of indoor positioning (the identification of unique flickering of individual LED lights via a smartphone camera, detecting natural electromagnetic radiation, existing digital TV signals, etc.), it seems the “Bluetooth Beaconing” approach may be one that initially succeeds, partially because everyone with a smartphone or laptop has some familiarity with the technology. 

It’s interesting that Google, which is not part of the alliance, launched their Indoor Maps and Indoor Location in late 2011. They already have over 10,000 floor plans for a variety of buildings in North America, Europe and Japan and claim 5-10m accuracy indoors inside buildings.

Being able to identify when and where people are in a building can improve energy management and life safety, and can generate a treasure trove of customer and tenant data.

Smart Becomes the New Green

Building owners, designers and facility management personnel are very focused on energy management and sustainability and many pursue green building certification. But who wants a dumb green certified building? Building owners also want smart buildings and believe that smart buildings already incorporate many green attributes. In addition, smart buildings really touch on aspects of technology, building systems, building operations and performance that aren’t addressed in the alphabet soup of many green certifications (Pop Quiz: How many of us are familiar with SERF, Earth Advantage, Earthcraft or Class-C green certifications?).

The lives of typical tenants and building occupants are technology-laden with constant social and internet connectivity; they’re expecting advanced technology in buildings and smart building certification can meet those expectations.  We anticipate many owners will either forgo or complement the green certification and get their building certified as smart. (http://www.smartbuildingsinstitute.org/)

Hey, What Are You Looking At? Eye-Tracking

Studying human eye movement has been around for roughly 150 years, initially performed by simple observation. Eye movement is important because what people look at and how long they look at it influences their decision-making and comprehension. Today one of the more popular approaches to eye-tracking uses video cameras sensing reflected light from the eye, an approach which is not invasive and generally inexpensive. 

Eye-Tracking As you may have guessed, today’s eye-tracking is more about commercial applications. You’ll see eye tracking used in advertising, software interfaces, retail window design, web pages and almost anything associated with marketing and selling. Much of the eye-tracking is done for “prototypes” or “draft” products or ads, gathering data on how a consumer interacts with “visual stimulus” to perfect the ad or web page. The basic data evaluates what people look at, and how long  they hold their gaze.

There are eye-tracking applications that can control computers, monitor automobile drivers or pilots and even usages allowing paralyzed people to operate wheelchairs via eye movement.  And yes, eye-tracking has applications for building design and operation.  One example is a company that has several “mock supermarkets” or “shopper labs” in order to track eye movements as people wander down the aisles to determine what items or displays catch their eye. Eye-tracking can benefit a building’s interior design, signage, way finding, ergonomics of manual controls and kiosks. With eye movement directly related to decision making, we’ll start to see more use of research in the design and operation of buildings, touching on the “visual” structure of the facility, its layout, lighting, colors and placement of objects or controls. The results could be improved productivity in commercial buildings, wellness in hospitals and enhanced learning in schools.

Community Gardens Are So Yesterday; Community Microgrids Are Now

Control Solutions, Inc Community gardens have been around for centuries and are found worldwide. Essentially neighbors share a plot of land to grow fresh produce and vegetables, and they may trade their harvest with others so everyone has a little variety. The community garden is environmentally sound, creates a sense of togetherness, and lowers the cost of fresh produce. Now substitute the word “energy” for “produce” and you have a community microgrid. 

Just like community gardens, microgrids have to deal with the issues of ownership, management and diversity of energy (or produce). Microgrids have several unique advantages. One is improvement of power reliability; a microgrid with multiple generation sources offers diversity and therefore greater reliability. Second, microgrids have the potential to lower or at least constrain energy costs, for example, using power from the larger grid when prices are cheaper than the microgrid; or conversely, maximizing the use of the microgrid when prices from the larger grid are high. At the very least microgrids offer more flexibility for owners in managing their energy costs. Third is a slight increase in energy efficiency; microgrids eliminate or decrease the transmission and distribution energy losses and also have the capability to recover and use heat locally. The result is higher energy efficiency.

Many neighborhoods and large housing developments already own and operate their own water systems, and microgrids will be seen as comparable to a water utility and can offer local control and positive involvement with energy resources. Expect a microgrid next to the community garden and well water..

Cross Training Cross Training for IT and FM

In sports or exercising, cross training means a person trains in a activity that’s not their main sport or has a variety of  exercises to address different parts of the body. Cross training improves one’s overall performance. This is a concept that the IT and Facility Management departments will start to adopt. Each has their focus on IT or FM but some employees in each will be crossed trained in the other “sport”.

Typically companies do cross training so that one employee can cover for another. That’s not the case with IT and FM. It’s about broadening the skill sets and knowledge of employees to better understand and appreciate each other’s department roles, concerns and issues. The upside for employees provided such training is that they gain new proficiencies and understanding that benefits them personally and professionally.

IT is being pulled into supporting the building systems managed by FM; it’s not by choice but rather by necessity. In general, IT may know very little about the underlying mechanical and electrical systems in the buildings, unless they’ve had some experience in deploying or managing a data center where cooling and power is critical.  If IT approaches the building control systems as simply different types of networks with different protocols, different devices and different functions, cross training may be a little easier. There’s a lesson here for not only IT departments but also IT companies, especially those trying to penetrate the building operation and energy management marketplace; you’ll have little credibility with a facility manager without understanding the building systems and operational challenges.

On the other hand FM is dealing with the building systems penetrated with some sort of IT infrastructure and often times doesn’t have the internal resources to address those IT issues. Even if they did have the capabilities, FM would need to coordinate with IT.

The idea of putting both organizations under an umbrella of “Systems Engineering” to bridge this gap sounds appealing but it requires much more effort than simply cross training key personnel; and that’s what will happen in 2013.

Pilot Projects for Direct Current Infrastructure in Buildings

Pilot ProjectsThe argument for DC infrastructure in buildings is quite compelling. Most of the devices and equipment we use operate internally on DC. Some of the renewable energy resources generate DC and also power storage is DC. Plus, eliminating the conversion of AC to DC saves some energy. DC infrastructure or at least a hybrid of both AC and DC infrastructure seems to make some sense.

However, implementation issues with DC can be daunting:  relatively few people are experienced with the installation of low voltage direct current; circuit protectors, fuses and insulation materials may need to be redesigned. Products and devices may need to be modified, training and test methods need to be developed, and buy-in by architects, engineers and contractors is critical.

The best way to address these potential issues is through independent pilots in commercial buildings, most likely involving a hybrid AC/DC infrastructure with maximum use of DC in building systems, renewable energy and storage. The objective of the pilot programs would be to develop real world metrics and identify the work needed for full scale deployment. Most building owners don’t want to be in the vanguard; they want some assurance that that the comprehensive approach has been deployed elsewhere and there are some case studies documenting the outcomes. Even if the results of the case studies identify some problems, it’s positive for the DC infrastructure industry as well as building owners possibly interested in the technology or developments. The idea of using DC infrastructure in buildings has merit; implementation issues addressed in credible pilots will move the idea forward in 2013.

For more information, write us at info@smart-buildings.com.


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