Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
Brad White, P.Eng, MASc, President,
SES Consulting Inc.
promise of truly open systems is purported to be the driving force
behind significant change and upheaval in the building automation
industry in the years to come, but is there real substance behind the
hype? Contributing Editor Brad White will be moderating the session: Next Generation HVAC Controls: Open Hardware – Open Software
at the upcoming AHR Expo in Atlanta. In this interview, Brad offers his
thoughts on how open systems are poised to change the BAS world and
offers a preview of what attendees can expect.
We hear a lot of talk about the promise of open systems, but can you
give our readers an example of how open systems are already changing
how you do your work?
White: We spend a lot
of time auditing, analyzing, and optimizing our clients’ BAS. This is
largely an exercise in pouring over building automation system data,
trendlogs, programs, etc. We watch how things are working and look for
opportunities to make them work better. Even in 2018, a large
proportion of BAS is limited to a couple of weeks of stored trendlog
data, if we’re lucky. This becomes a real limitation when you’re trying
to understand how a building is working across the whole range of
Of course, every BAS vendor has their
own archiving solution, but these tend to be somewhat expensive, and
usually requires getting your controls contractor or integrator
involved, adding to the cost. When you’re doing an investigation where
budgets in the low 5 figures are not uncommon, the cost of
vendor-supplied archiving can be prohibitive. We needed something much
less expensive that we could rapidly deploy with the onsite staff.
This is where Volttron
comes in. Their platform suited our needs perfectly. We can download
the open source software for free, install it on a relatively
inexpensive piece of hardware connected to a BACnet compatible BAS, and
quickly and securely be harvesting long-term trend data for our
engineers to analyze. Because it’s open source, we aren’t dependent on
3rd parties for ongoing support, and we can easily develop our own
applications that make use of the data Volttron collects. In a newly
developing market that sees a lot of flux, with products appearing and
disappearing from the market constantly, having something that we can
control has a lot of value. For more information read this interview "Open Source Finally Arrives."
Sinclair: Every good open source platform requires a strong community behind it, does Volttron have that?
White: The folks behind
Volttron have been putting a lot of effort into incubating a strong
community that is capable of sustaining the platform independently of
DOE and PNNL, who originally developed it. This has taken a big step
forward recently with Volttron joining the Eclipse Foundation, who have a long history of cultivating open source projects.
There is a large community of service
providers who can benefit from the kind of low-cost open access to
building data that Volttron can facilitate. Over the past few
years, we’ve had the opportunity to collaborate on co-developing
features for the platform with other community members including master
systems integrators and analytics software providers. Each of us has a
somewhat different use case for the building data, but there is a lot
of common ground where it makes sense to work together and pool our
resources in order to make accessing the data as easy as possible. With
that part taken care of, we can focus our efforts on what really drives
the success of our respective businesses, finding ways to derive the
most value from the data.
Sinclair: Is your session in Atlanta going to cover other areas of open source development in the industry as well?
White: Yes, definitely!
We have a great group of diverse panelists; you can read a bit more
about each of them in our interview last month.
In addition to my views as a consultant, we have integrators, BAS
vendors, and other product manufacturers represented, meaning that
we’ll be talking about both open software and hardware. I expect that
we’ll delve into such topics as the Sedona Framework, the impact of
low-cost hardware like Raspberry Pi, and lessons that the BAS industry
can learn from open source initiatives in the IT world.
Sinclair: What are the other sessions will you be participating in this year?
White: I’m really looking forward to these other two sessions as well. The first session is our annual “Future of Building Automation Session”
where, together with master system integrator extraordinaire Scott
Cochrane, we’ll be discussing industry trends and speculating wildly
about where we see things going in the future. This year’s theme is
Creating Our New Persona "Building Emotion," which should provoke some
My second session is Smart Building Automation Evolution from Ethernet to Emotion with Tridium’s Therese Sullivan. In that session, we’ll take a deeper dive into the human side of automation.
I see the word emotion popping up a lot in the session titles. That’s
not usually a word associated with our industry, can you tell me more
about that choice?
White: Emotion is all
about people and recognizing that, at the end of the day, all of the
work we do is principally in the service of trying to make people happy
in their space. Historically, our industry has a rather poor track
record in that regard with the majority of occupants routinely
expressing dissatisfaction with temperature control. This has to change
as we enter an era where occupants will be exposed to rather advanced
automation in their own homes with features like voice control,
self-learning, and seamless integration with smart devices.
But I am a firm believer that in every
challenge there is an opportunity. For example, rather than simply
seeking to minimize occupant complaints, I see a chance to provide a
positive user experience that actually makes people feel happier about
the workplaces in which they spend large portions of their life. HVAC
controls become more about psychology than physics at that point, but I
think that’s where we’re headed as an industry.
Sinclair: Anything else we should be on the lookout for in Atlanta?
White: There is always
far too much to pack into 3 days. I would certainly recommend checking
out the other Automatedbuildings.com sessions. I am particularly
excited about this session
on Digital Mindfulness with Dr. Lawrence Ampofo, which looks like a
great complement to our sessions on Emotion in buildings. I also always
enjoy the Connected Community Collaboratory,
nowhere else do you ever see so many industry titans in one place
sharing their enormous experience and wisdom. Aside from that, you’ll
probably find me strolling around the Building Automation and Control
showcase. Look forward to seeing you all there!
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