June 2022
Interview

AutomatedBuildings.com

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Why AI in buildings?
 Ken Sinclair Founder, Owner, Publisher
AutomatedBuildings.com



 INTERVIEW

Keith E. Gipson & Ken Sinclair 

keithKeith E. Gipson, CEO/CTO facil.ai Corp. https://www.facil.ai 

Keith E. Gipson has been a technologist and industry visionary leader for over 25 years. Starting out as a Technician with Honeywell Inc. in 1987, an Engineer at Johnson Controls in the mid-90's and at Pacific Gas and Electric in 1997. Keith co-founded in 1997 the world's first, internet-based Enterprise Energy Management company, Silicon Energy Corp. Silicon Energy was acquired by Itron for $71M in 2003. 

Most recently he was Co-Founder and CTO of Phoenix Energy Technologies, an EEM/IoT monitoring company that provides a managed service for Retail and Commercial Buildings.  

Almost three years ago Keith founded facil.ai Corporation to pursue his vision for making autonomous buildings – a reality. 

Keith was Awarded United States Patent number 6,178,362, Jan 23, 2001, as Co-inventor of: an Energy Management System and Method utilizing the Internet to perform Facility and Energy Management of large corporate enterprises. 

Keith can be reached at keith@facil-ai.com 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/keith-gipson/


                    



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Ken: This month we’re asking the question “Why AI? In Buildings” 

I have Keith Gipson, CEO and CTO of facil.ai Corporation which sells a SaaS subscription AI-based Advanced Supervisory Control (ASC) solution that optimizes HVAC/mechanical systems remotely from the cloud, through connecting to the installed building automation system. 

Ken: Keith, it’s been a long-time since we’ve been in touch. What have you been up to and what are you doing now? 

Keith: Thanks Ken. Almost three years ago I left my previous company Phoenix Energy Technologies, an EEM/IoT monitoring company and founded facil.ai with a mission to make autonomous buildings a reality. I’ve been in this industry for over thirty years now,  and it has occurred to me that true “automated buildings” – really aren’t prevalent – at all. 

Ken: Keith, please expand upon that. 

Keith: Sure. Ken we’ve both been in this building controls/automation industry for decades. I “grew up” in this industry. It’s all I’ve ever done. 

I’ve used the tagline #automatedautomation for a couple of years now. 

facil.ai Corp consistently saves 10-20% on the HVAC equipment operation, through reduced runtime with greater efficiency. Comfort is enhanced. Maintenance and truck rolls are reduced by up to 40%, in our experience. Our solution accomplishes this through the substitution of machine (Artificial) Intelligence  instead of human intelligence.  

It adds a level of both precision and accuracy to the underlying BAS. Goals are realigned. For example there is no longer just a rudimentary PID loop trying at all costs to make a (sometimes hopeless) temperature set-point, wasting the maximum amount of energy possible by the way. But rather weather, occupancy, cost, and kW demand, among other things, are all taken into account.

I think Troy Harvey CEO of PassiveLogic said it best: 

“Most Building Management Systems are packaged to look modern, but under the hood they are the same old 1880s thermostatics, 1930s style proportional control systems, and 1970s procedural programming, Impossible to tune, and never optimized."

Human beings can’t scale and must be replaced by machines from the on-going configuration and “tuning” process in building controls because we can’t help ourselves. We’re hopelessly biased. We also have at times, perverse incentives.

 Ken: But Keith. Why AI in buildings? 

Keith: I might pose the question a different way: Why not? 

Ken: I have a feeling you’re about to really dive in deep on answering this question! 

Keith: Ken, you know it! 

Let’s come at this from another angle. I want to discuss the (HUGE) “elephant in the room”. 

Service.  

The HVAC/Controls contracting business is based on an economy of providing services. Rolling trucks. Constant and continuous HVAC service calls to resolve the constant flow of comfort calls. We can send a “man to the moon” and yet comfort calls and lack of energy efficiency continue to plague our industry – and our customers. 

We manage buildings. We manage maintenance programs. We manage energy. And we manage alarms. 

Yet the (service) phone keeps on ringing. And the (service) trucks, keep on rolling. 

Ken: How is AI going to help solve these issues? 


ai

Keith: Eliminate the (human) bias and the perverse incentives. Put the “machines” back in charge. The automated driving car is an overused analogy, but I think in this case, it is very much appropriate. Imagine if a manufacturer came out with a “self-driving car” – yet the caveat was that the car can’t really “drive itself”; there must always be a human operator…just in case. 

This is the current state of our, so called, “automated” buildings. They’re not autonomous. They don’t function well without constant “tweaking” and human intervention. 

One of my favorite quotes is by Warren Bennis: 

“The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment” 

 The Pollen Consulting Group goes on to say: 

“The next factory will be a human-friendly and robot-friendly factory. It becomes a place of knowledge and knowledge creation. That’s why the factory is evolving into a communication platform for operations. More and more developed automation increases flexibility and makes people a sovereign player again. The high degree of automation of the factory of the future will mean that in the future, humans will be even more supported by machines in production during monotonous or physically demanding activities. The requirements will shift more to the areas of control, planning, maintenance, and process control – Image a factory with no people inside and a NASA like control center.”

https://pollenconsultinggroup.com/showcase/the-factory-of-the-future-will-have-only-two-employees-a-man-and-a-dog/ 

This “Factory of the Future” is my vision for the “Building of the Future” and represents what facil.ai is all about. AI/ML doesn’t take the place of performing legitimate service calls or routine preventative maintenance. It can’t remove the two-by-four that’s stuck in the damper – yet! 

But it’s over for building automation contractors rolling trucks at $600 per truck roll to power down reset (re-boot) the master supervisory controller or to “re-tune” the zone/boiler control/central plant/etc. every summer from winter “switchover” – and every winter when the building transitions into summer (cooling) mode. These buildings can be fine-tuned continuously, every five to fifteen minutes. ‘Round the clock, 24/7/365 – at a fraction of the cost. Our solution scales to thousands of buildings, remotely connecting via software gateways with ZERO installed hardware – at the sites. 

This is not “pie-in-the-sky” or “science fiction” – it’s happening…right now. With existing and legacy Building Automation Systems, regardless of manufacturer. And without "ripping out and replacing" the existing BAS assets. 

3

Ken: Keith, this sounds fascinating! But there also seems to be some level of apprehension of putting AI completely in control of operating the building. Any final thoughts? 

Keith: Yes. Some people fear AI. And perhaps they should fear it. Because if they’re part of the problem instead of the solution then they should be replaced. Not eliminated. Replaced. 

Of course, there is a place for people to focus on higher value work. Not “baby-sitting” the Pharmacy temperature or attempting to fine tune (optimize) the Cooling Tower control strategy in a Central Plant.

 Deborah Leff, Industry CTO of AI and Data Science at IBM said: “AI is not going to replace managers, but managers who use AI are going to replace those who don’t.” 

This is upon us. AI is here in the Building Automation Controls industry, and it’s not going anywhere.  

Ken: Thank you Keith! Always great to catch up with you to find out the latest on what you’re up to. Keith E. Gipson, is the CEO and CTO facil.ai Corp. https://www.facil.ai Keith can be reached at keith@facil-ai.com  

Follow him on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/keith-gipson/ 

Keith resides in Los Angeles, CA with his wife Andrea and family, and is always on the lookout for “the next big thing”! 







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