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March 2018
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Smart Buildings User Interface Technology

One thing that seemed a certainty was that we all see with almost total clarity that a new age is rapidly approaching, the IoT combined with edge computing and the smart cloud is inevitably going to be the norm rather than an ideal.
Dave Lapsley

Dave Lapsley
Econowise Group of Companies

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Imagine a wire free device that enables automatic creation of simple to navigate human machine interaction environments; complex condition based monitoring and asset analytics. Previously reserved merely in the minds of those possessing imaginative foresight, this functionality is now tantalisingly closer than we all realise?

An amalgamation of mobile computing technology and modern coding systems are edging us ever closer to providing a single device that will ultimately be embraced as the Holy Grail, providing users with control over pretty much every aspect of their lives.

Already expansive in their capabilities mobile devices are now being thrust into the spotlight as the new platform to provide control over not only our work and social lives but also the environments in which we reside.

The much discussed Internet of things is now seen as the foundation on which we must all build in order to provide the standard; here though currently lies the issue that has caused many a mere mortal some confusion, exactly what is the IOT and how will it be shaped by the slow yet unstoppable hands of time?

Is the intelligence really going to sit outside of the boundaries that we are attempting to control and monitor? Our innate mistrust of things lacking tangibility is likely to prevent this from being adopted for some time to come. As an engineer that has spent much of their time at the coal face I find it much easier to visualise smart buildings complete with intelligent controllers and peripherals bound by local mesh networks.

One thing that we can perhaps all agree on is the inevitability that smart buildings will increasingly benefit from connectivity to remote locations, with cloud based solutions ultimately being the infrastructure that provides the conduit for data that will undergo subsequent analysis in an attempt to add some sense to our ever changing whims, changes will then be effected, perhaps this will largely be via human interaction at this point in time, ultimately though AI is likely to play its part in the not too distant future?

The integrated technology behind what we would term ‘Smart or ‘Intelligent’ buildings is perhaps far more evolved than most would consider. Quite literally any electrical or mechanical system within a building including the HVAC, lighting, security, access, lifts, telephones etc, can be integrated into one highly intelligent system that is able to function almost as a singular entity.

Benefits of true integration may seem quite obvious and yet this type of system is still a Utopia that many businesses fail to achieve. The technical capability is there and in fact has been for some time, so why do we continue to see buildings where systems are disjointed, resulting in wasted energy and inconsistent environmental conditions which will inevitably affect mood, morale and wellbeing of occupants.

It is fair to say that in a lot of cases poor integration is often a result of inherent difficulties, often caused by manufacturers false claims and failure to provide suitable interfaces, or specifiers not understanding what they are actually forcing on their unsuspecting clients; this said no engineer has ever claimed that integration is simple, a current and well-documented fact that there is a severe decline in engineering skills is also having a severe negative impact on the building automation industry.   

So what are we really alluding to here? Proven Technology currently exists in our everyday lives that can provide untapped connectivity and power over our environments. Stop and consider the possibilities that mobile computing technology has to offer?

Let’s consider going completely off piste? How do we make it easier to achieve a fully integrated building, could we consider the unthinkable? Is integration at a hardware level really required in the conventional sense at all?

Given the versatility of modern mesh and wireless networks is it not time to consider alternatives? Yes there is always going to be the case where techniques involving wireless networks are not appropriate but this will typically become a rarity.

With the advent of standardised IP networking becoming more and more prevalent in the building automation industry new opportunities are upon us. Initiatives such as Project Haystack, which has seen involvement from leading industry experts and associations such as CABA is providing data sets that are standardised, allowing conventions to be established; this in turn is providing new and exciting thought processes to be applied, we do have to consider though that conventions such as ‘Haystack’ are not currently standards, change over time is almost inevitable and so we must provide adaptable platforms allowing open conventions as well as protocols to be implemented.

CABA's new deal white paper has now been released as a guide to the Building Automation Industry in how customers can be better served by the industry; it details 3 main tenets, Open Standards, Digital Twin & Service Transparency. Whilst the white paper is not biased towards any specific manufacturers technology it is a very clear indication of the functionality that should be adopted and it is worthy of some very careful consideration.

Light weight coding protocols combined with known but adaptable data sets are providing opportunities for engineers to think outside of the box, this has evoked development of agile systems that are capable of connecting simultaneously to multiple control nodes spanning disparate systems; empowering users with control without integration.

Mobile phones and tablets can now have apps installed on them that provide full and automatic visualisation of connected systems; add in the already proven ability of these devices to communicate with almost anywhere on the planet and we may have stumbled upon something? Has this not created edge to edge capability whilst bringing cost of ownership into the realms of the many?

Implementation of Intelligent edge technologies has already proved to provide clear benefits for adopters; measured control along with actionable data will inevitably lead to improved efficiency, comfort and reliability.

Challenging our own creativity will now simply result in significant developments with this type of technology, where will realism blur into fantasy? Technologies that could easily be incorporated include, smart alarming, voice interfacing, way finding, room booking and Camera Feeds, each in its own right a justifiable opportunity, that if embraced will ultimately lead to the creation of agile and lean working environments where a building not only understands it occupants but applies requirements in their specific localities.

Whilst the principle benefits of low cost high tech products can easily be quantified, studies have identified that there are in fact underlying benefits that should not be overlooked.

Another and perhaps more intriguing factor behind the progression of smart buildings in commercial environments is the increase in competition to attract talent into the workplace and retain employees. Graduates are becoming increasingly choosy about who they work for and studies have shown that they typically lean towards the most exciting, forward thinking and innovative companies, overt technology adoption can be a key factor in their decision making process.

Sitting in a seminar room at AHR recently, during my annual pilgrimage to discover both new products and those that are nearing our horizons I listened intently to speakers such as ken Sinclair and Scott Cochrane, and there were others, all speaking about not only current trends but also their own foresight with respect to how they see future developments within our industry.

One thing that seemed a certainty was that we all see with almost total clarity that a new age is rapidly approaching, the IOT combined with edge computing and the smart cloud is inevitably going to be the norm rather than an ideal.

Whilst I realise that perhaps not the oracle on these matters, my thoughts along with our own current developments were in fact worthy of a mention; which as you have perhaps all gathered by now has prompted these words.

Considering the information in hand it is with total clarity that to me, the role of the System Integrator will be fundamental in ensuring the future for our children, their children and many generations to come. Developing technologies that will assist us all in delivering a healthy, happy and perhaps less fraught future is vital.

Succinctly, now three years into the road map of an undertaking that has at times been a very difficult and challenging process, a product worthy of introduction to our fellow industry professionals is now complete, or perhaps in hand would be a more appropriate claim, complete is quite possibly never going to be a word that any of us trying to achieve the perfect smart building will ever be able to claim, the inevitable truth is that requirements will be ever evolving and we should ensure that our frameworks allow flexibility for certain changes.  

Our own journey began with the knowledge that we needed to develop a system that was flexible, agile, simple to deploy and cost effective. There are always going to be early adopters of cutting edge technologies, these would typically be large corporate entities with resources that allow considerable investment in not only their infrastructures but also corporate image. Agreed they should be commended for this approach but it should not be reserved only for those with deep pockets.

Combining the expertise of both building automation and software engineering teams has resulted in something that we believe could prove to be a revolution, providing functionality typically reserved for very high-end systems.

Bubll is a software solution combining both web and mobile applications and can be installed onto mobile computing devices such as phones and tablets, once paring is complete, connection can be established over either WIFI or hard wired networks to enable the associated device to scan building automation systems; automatically creating, simple to navigate user interfaces without the requirement of complex engineering, users are prompted to enter the devices address details and activate a system scan.

Control Solutions, Inc The question is always going to be asked, is this really that different from what is currently available? Does it really solve any current industry problems? Perhaps biased in thinking that the answer to this is a resounding yes, only our peers and fellow professionals in the building automation industry are truly qualified to provide impartial answers to this question.

With all of the functionality implied in the preceding words the system comes complete with a native occupant wellbeing interface, multiple languages at the touch of a button and the ability to provide operational and occupant emotional data from disparate systems to either local or cloud based server solutions. Condition based monitoring, user behaviour and analysis of this information will ultimately provide the answers in our overarching quest to achieve the exacting levels of environmental comfort whilst maximising asset efficiency.

Successful testing has been completed with a large proportion of the industry leading systems including Trend Controls, Easy IO, Tridium, Honeywell, Delta, Distech, Innotech, WAGO and JCI to name but a few. In essence if a system complies with industry standard open protocols the connection process will be simple. All systems simultaneously or in isolation of one another, Bubll offers total flexibility allowing system designers complete freedom of choice.  

Data released by GSMA Intelligence suggests that the number of mobile computing devices now outnumber the worldwide population that own them, no other technology has impacted on a global scale the way that the mobile device has, it is simply a manmade phenomenon, Zero to 7.2 billion in 3 decades.

Surely it is simple common sense to make use of the power that a large percentage of us already carry just about everywhere we go? The expectation or dream that all mobile devices will one day be connected to our building environments is perhaps taking things a little too far, but let’s provoke a thought here; the realisation that this will be true of just a small percentage will provide a significant opportunity?     

Where will we find ourselves over the coming years, how much further can we push what is now considered every day technology in delivering cutting edge functionality at the rapidly evolving Digital Face?


About the Author

Dave Lapsley currently holds the position of Managing Director for The Econowise Group of Companies; leading a team of dedicated Building Automation and Software professionals in both the day to day activities of a System Integrator and developing and implementing cutting edge solutions for improving efficiency and reducing carbon footprint within the built environment.

Prior to founding the Econowise Group of Companies around 12 years ago Dave spent upwards of 25 years serving in the Process & Automation Industry working on system from manufacturing equipment through to Commercial and Residential environmental controls, more latterly holding senior management roles.   

                                                                                                                          

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