– Lindsay Baker and Ken Sinclair
Lindsay Baker is the VP for Research and
Marketing at Building
a new venture-backed software startup. She is responsible for client
relationships and occupant experience at BR, as well as leading
marketing efforts for the new software, Comfy. A former consultant to
Google’s Green Real Estate Team, and the initial team that developed
the LEED Rating System, she has extensive experience in implementing
and evaluating energy efficiency programs. Lindsay is a LEED AP and a
Ph.D. candidate at Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment, a
leader in occupant comfort and behavior research.
by the People For the People"
a software layer that
incorporates occupants as sensors for the building, saving energy and
improving comfort at the same time.
You are a new company in the
intelligent buildings marketplace, what is Building Robotics?
We are a software company, a
venture-backed startup, working on radically new approaches to the
software that runs buildings. We’ve started off with a piece of
software called Comfy, which is the world’s first intelligent software
for personalized control in the workplace. A lot of people think of it
as a ‘Nest’ for commercial buildings- there are some similarities
there. Essentially, we’ve carefully designed a way for occupants to
have a real, satisfying, efficient relationship with the heating and
cooling in their workplace.
Comfy is a piece of cloud software that plugs into existing Building
Management Systems, which we do via BACnet. We’re very focused on
making these connections clean and simple, which has been a chronic
problem for the BMS world up to this point. In fact, in terms of what
we’ve spent our development time on, Comfy is almost the icing on the
cake- most of our work has gone into the underlying architecture to tie
into these software systems, making everything perform cleanly and
How did you get interested in this
Andrew and Steve, our two co-founders,
were doing PhD research in Computer Science, looking at ways that
advanced computer science can help address energy issues today, through
their research group at UC Berkeley, LoCal
decided on building
automation systems, because of the enormous unmet potential of
high-performing computing that exists- so many sensors and actuators,
so little being done. Part of their work led to the development of an
open-source protocol called sMAP
(Simple Measurement and Actuation
, which is being widely used now.
But then we started looking for how to use this core technical
capability towards something that’s really needed in buildings. Comfy
was born out of conversations with researchers from the Center for the
Built Environment at UC Berkeley
, as well as colleagues from VITAL
, who saw the opportunity to use artificial
and clean user experience design to optimize zone temperatures in
So how exactly does Comfy work?
Comfy is a software layer that
incorporates occupants as sensors for the building, saving energy and
improving comfort at the same time. We provide an interface for
occupants that they can access via a web browser or mobile app, giving
them 3 simple choices: Warm my Space, Cool my Space, and I’m
Comfortable. When they click the warm or cool button, we actually
provide 10 minutes of warm or cool air to their space, immediately. But
then after that 10 minutes, the zone floats back to the original
setpoint- the occupant hasn’t changed the set point directly.
But this is just the beginning- we are really using people as sensors.
Comfy has a machine learning algorithm that incorporates the patterns
and preferences of people in various spaces over time, while reducing
conditioning where it isn’t needed. Empty conference rooms, or areas
where employees don’t come in until 10am, these are big opportunities
for energy savings. And, we’re helping to tackle the issue of
over-conditioning in office spaces, which is not only freezing
employees, it’s also a huge energy waste. Now that occupants are
providing feedback to the system, zone temperatures in many areas can
be closer to the outside air temperature and improve comfort at the
Why are you working on such a
difficult aspect of
building automation? A lot of people would say that occupants can never
be happy, that this not a problem we can solve.
At BR, we think these are the kinds of
problems we need to be solving, and they can be solved. Internet
companies are making this happen every day, in many different
industries. You have to incorporate behavioral psychology, user
experience design, and other disciplines, to design really well for
Comfy reveals who shares a thermal zone with you, and what changes
others have made. This is critical for the psychology of how Comfy
works. We’re taking a lot of things that used to be confusing and
opaque, and making them transparent. We also have systems in place for
larger shared zones. Comfy prevents wide temperature fluctuations,
while giving occupants tools to facilitate cooperation with their
Where are you seeing the most
interest in Comfy?
We’re seeing this really resonate with
two groups of customers. The first are companies who are genuinely
invested in their employees, where they want to do things to make
people more comfortable and productive at work. Tech companies here in
the Bay Area are a great example- they are competing for talent, and so
great office environments mean a lot to them.
But since Comfy is also saving energy and saving facilities team
resources and time, we’re also getting a lot of interest from
innovative building owners and facility managers, who are committed to
creating comfortable and innovative spaces for their tenants while
When will Comfy be available to a
larger market, and how will it be sold?
We're currently demonstrating the
technology with a select set of innovative early customers,
encompassing a wide range of buildings, occupants and climate zones.
We’re working very closely with these clients and are already seeing
significant energy savings and comfort improvements. At the end of this
phase we will begin to offer Comfy more widely.
Comfy is a service, keeping occupants
comfortable and saving energy
dynamically over time. We’re adding new features continuously, and
providing ongoing support to occupants and building management. Comfy
will be offered on a subscription basis and is priced by the size of
the space being serviced. We’re also working with channel partners for
Comfy, and will be pursuing this further in the coming months.
What are you most excited to work
on, in the future?
We envision a near-future where
buildings are able to join the connected world, and the pace of change
will radically shift to a new level of intelligence and efficiency. One
of the key challenges has been dealing with the diversity inherent in
buildings, including physical, mechanical and control system
differences. Over the last four years we’ve developed new systems to
deal with these differences, so that software services can be
deployable across a global portfolio of buildings with the click of a
button, no manual integration or custom work needed. This paradigm
shift has the potential to unlock energy savings on a global scale.
A lot of folks have gotten excited about using the Comfy system as a
platform for other features, like occupant Indoor Environmental Quality
(lighting, acoustics) satisfaction feedback, lighting control, and a
number of other ideas. We’re also excited about tailoring Comfy to
other space types, such as healthcare facilities, where temperature can
be a real health issue.
It’s all exciting work, really, because it has a great potential to
make so many buildings run better for people and the environment. We
agree with a lot of analysts who are saying that the next fove years
be a huge growth phase for the building automation market, as scalable
and cost-effective solutions like ours emerge. It’s a really
interesting time to be in the building automation community.
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