May 2021
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“The Future is Now”

Change has thrown so much at us over such a short period that everyone, literally every single human on the planet, has had to adapt to a new reality that simply didn’t exist a little over a year ago.

Phillip Kopp, CEO Conectric Networks

https://conectric.com/


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During last month’s editorial we considered how the building industry and the people that use buildings must adapt to endure the constant of change. Change has thrown so much at us over such a short period that everyone, literally every single human on the planet, has had to adapt to a new reality that simply didn’t exist a little over a year ago.

 

phillipIn my article titled “The only constant is change”, we explored the concepts of structural versus behavioral adaptations. Over the last year we have mostly found ourselves reacting quickly and behaviorally to changing conditions. And for the most part, the structural systems needed to support the rapid environmental changes we have endured simply did not exist. Infrastructure and resources needed to address the global crisis was missing, supply chains were disrupted, buildings were emptied, while others became highly demanded and under capacity. The same for varying types of human workforce labor and skillsets. This leaves a lot of work to be done into the future, and that most surely being a future in which every approach to planning considers the need for flexibility and resilience at the forefront.

 

While assessing our need to develop more structural adaptations, I have suggested that our buildings may become architectural shells, with flexible, adaptable infrastructure and software programmable technology that can serve many uses at once, or change uses over time as needs or the environment around the building changes over time. A demand driven building may need to be completely repurposed from an office to a hospital in under a week. And then into a cold storage, while finally ending its life as a multi-family dwelling. Or perhaps, all of the above at the same time! The adaptable building would have all the capabilities inbuilt to undertake these requirements by plugging in new systems and modules brought in on delivery trucks. With wireless networks bridging these systems together to eliminate the constraints of fixed reading and control points, programmed remotely in real time, and automated to meet the specific requirements of the current use, capacity, and environment. It may even be customized for local energy supply and demand conditions, as mated with other on-demand buildings and movable energy resources.

 

Taking this a step further, on demand buildings would require the building industry to restructure so that the initial construction process is really deemphasized. The owner is primarily charging for land use, and the ongoing operation of the building and its various uses would be provided as temporary service offerings by “building use providers”. Making the “building use plugin” operator the real value provider, and primary cost driver in occupying or using a building.

 

If you want to draw an easy parallel, look at the evolution of the cell phone. You used to get a vertical offer provided by a monolith like Ma Bell. She would sell you the vertical system, “communication in a box.” You would pay an exorbitant amount for everything, hardware, service, contracts, plans, coverage and overage. And be stuck with your provider that only works with its proprietary sets. If the service was bad, your call dropped. If you wanted to call out of area to into another network, get ready to pay a huge toll. Not at all different from the state of building systems today.

 

In comes a little technology, a little anti-trust regulation and fierce competition. Now you buy your phone hardware and can take it to whatever provider gives you the cheapest services. The phone maker no longer provides the apps, but an ecosystem to thousands of app providers, each whom you pay independently of the handset maker and the carrier for the individual use function you want to get, and for the amount of time you want to use if for (i.e. monthly). As of now, most carriers have even removed the annual contract and there are few restrictions to switching service providers at will. I proffer, this path will be a direct analogue of the building industry.

 

2  4

 

The original “bag phone” is not that much different than the operational technology found today in buildings. In the future our buildings will be more flexible, using modular technology and independent service vendors.

 

In comes this month’s automatedbuildings.com theme, the “digital family “(twins, triplets, quadruplets, parents and great grandchildren). If you have already managed to wrap your head around the idea of a flexible, modular building use service let me extend us another step forward into the realm of possibilities.

 

Today we are frequently having conversations about “Digital Twins.” Although there are many better articles to learn about digital twins, for the readers sake I can describe the cliffs notes version. The digital twin is a representation of physical assets, their environment and current state of use as digital parameters, recorded in near real-time into a digital database, so that they can be visually represented in software to the user, and recorded for future analysis.

 

Some would argue that there are already millions of digital twins present in existing databases, troughs of data points collected about everything from your building automation system, to your personal health devices (i.e. Fitbit’s data could provide a digital twin of “you”), and even your car. You might call this digital twin “V0.1”. This data is usually collected for the benefit of the asset or devices [OEM] manufacture, or a related service, and may not have been organized or designed in such a way that it can be easily analyzed by 3rd parties or shared with others by the user that creates it. Although the data may be analyzed by the related parties through their own tools, it is challenging to build additional context around the data because it cannot be seen through a different vantage point. It cannot be combined with other data that is possibly impacting the current state of that data, or visualized in an advanced solution that allows multiple parties to interact with the information at the same time from different locations. You might liken this to “Fault Detection Diagnostics” (or FDD, another popular topic of conversation). FDD is the ability to look at the operating characteristics of something and identify whether it is regular or “irregular”, so that it may be serviced or improved. Although some value is generated for the manufacturer, owner or user of the asset, a substantial amount of “hidden value” cannot be found without being able to join that asset or devices conditions with those of other around it or affecting it.

 

With this in mind, the current conversation is around digital twins where data from all kinds of related parties and systems is conjoined, connected and can be looked at as a much bigger, broader and deeper data set. One in which the current state or condition of a specific asset can be more closely linked to that of another or any other number of related factors. Perhaps this possibility of sharing data between data sets into a common tool, visualizing it as Augmented Reality or global dashboards or even in Virtual Reality is what we commonly think of today as the digital twin and should be called “V1.0”. This kind of digital twin will help make it very fast and easy for different teams, with different skillsets, and different perspectives to look at data sets and quickly identify where problems and opportunities might be found, or where resources need to be immediately dispatched or controlled to enhance safety, optimization, performance, etc…

 

6

A digital twin of Tampa Florida built by Imerza using the Unreal Engine (source: architosh.com)

 

In comes the master of future systems and a close and trusted colleague, Nicholas Waern, “the building whisperer” in his recent interview with Ken Sinclair on “Digital Triplets”, and their various family extensions. Could we already be leapfrogging V1.0 into V2, V3, V4 and beyond? What exactly does this mean in the context of “flexible buildings” in an ever-changing environment? In my humble opinion, almost everything actually!

 

Although the first two steps by themselves are already quite a lot to grasp, what Nicolas is really talking about is more than just an extension of a software solution. It is one part science, and one part magic. In essence, the digital triplet is our coming ability to predict the future.

 

8              10

“Prediction then”                                                                      “Prediction now”

Predicting the future is no longer just in the domain of the gypsy fortune teller, it is built into the software we use every day and soon to be much more powerful with the Digital Triplet

 

While this feature exists to some extent in our V0.1 as “predictive analytics”, the potential scope and accuracy is quite limited by the amount of data that can be analyzed and projected. That is because the “context” is missing as to why the source data underpinning the prediction is what it is. It is impossible or difficult to tell what the “root cause” is. That means that even if an imminent failure is predicted based on the current state of a machine, because say a vibration sensor, or a power quality reading has deviated from the norm, we still don’t really know the underlying cause. Is it because of an operator error? An environmental condition that device was subjected to? The failure of an individual component because of a bad production batch? While we can replace the device and solve the problem before it becomes catastrophic, we do not really learn how to prevent it from ever happening again in the future.

 

With the digital triplet all information, from all sources are taken into context. It becomes possible for advanced software to look at the surrounding conditions, the operator behavior, the systems linked to that system and even the individual components and their life cycle history. Did the motor fail because the brushes for that motor were produced on an incredibly hot day and encountered a small, but undetectable stress defect? Which became apparent only under the very specific conditions that the failed motor just underwent. Can we then apply that to all similar motors, produced with the same component, and being used in other sites to identify potential failures? Then predict those failures based on the projected operating conditions in those installations, which may line up with the specificities found in the failed example? With a digital triplet this vast amount of corollary data will lead to incredibly accurate and detailed predictions about the future of everything!

 

I started my company Conectric Networks over 5 years ago with the specific concept in mind to enable a “data utility” to be able collect and sell information to “AI” consumers (or as we are now calling them, digital triplets), everywhere. We collect large amounts of human, environmental, machine state and energy data in near real-time using wireless sensors from applications where it otherwise might not be available or extractable. This data then gets forward into databases and analytics, or “digital twin” platforms exactly as described above. Specifically, I believe that the energy grid of the future must be able to meet a very complex requirement to match supply and demand in a highly dynamic world where even cars are mobile “power plants”, able to both consume and produce energy that will be used to provide building related and lifestyle services. I believe that we must have a massive network of granular data feeding into the global digital triplet to effectively predict future energy needs, and therefore match supply and demand based on past, current and future resources.

 

This data cannot be limited to just the feeder system, or even the individual low voltage transformer as it is in today’s grid, but literally every single potential energy consumer, asset, device, machine, etc… connected to the system. In the end, the future of civilization and our ability to grow and prosper will depend on having high quality, reliable and abundant energy. And more so than ever, this energy source must be renewable and non-harmful, distributed, and resilient. It must be able to meet the dynamic requirements of the “on-demand” building structure, the “on-demand” transportation, the “on-demand” end use needed, just at the right place, at the right time.

 

And this current reality is how I see the immense power and value of the digital triplet emerging. These things together are the enablers to our future growth and advancement as a resilient, adaptable civilization. Where we can not only manage risks as they emerge, but we can predict them before they happen and harden ourselves structurally so that even the very worst scenario just isn’t that bad after all.

 

And although we are not quite yet able to impact the regulated energy grid system in the way I would like to, we have developed an amazing solution to be able to deliver digital triplet use cases in commercial office buildings, by helping building owners and tenants provide on-demand, flexible office environments. We can connect buildings with their occupants on an as needed basis, and ensure that the services such as Facilities Maintenance (FM) and janitorial services needed to support a highly dynamic office occupancy are equipped with the future prediction abilities to support a seamless, interactive and transparent hybrid office experience. And in my attempt to step towards that interactive grid, we are even tying together those hybrid work experience environments with building management systems to automate the heating, lighting and access control to optimize equipment efficiency, reducing the energy and carbon consumption, based on real-time and predicted future demands (that subject could encompass a whole different article on its own!).

 

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Male and female office restroom usage is analyzed and predicted based on low cost, non-invasive Conectric wireless sensors and the AI enabled Facilio.com analytics platform that records and reports usage in near real-time

 

Magic is no longer just for fairy tales, but humans and our machines have literally attained the capability to see into the future. And as more digital triplets and their families emerge, this capability will become more and more powerful. As I like to envision it, for the greater good of humanity. Or as I often say, for a safer, healthier, more productive, and environmentally sustainable world!

 

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me to learn more about how you can realize these benefits in your own scenarios and see why the Future is Now.


















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