Will IoT and Analytics Combine to Deliver Smart Buildings?

Today, with the emergence of IoT technologies, various applications are emerging that will impact commercial real estate, turning regular office buildings into “smart buildings”. Increasingly we are seeing technology companies target this emerging segment with robust new solutions. The simplest definition I’ve seen is from Intel, who defines a smart building as:

“an intelligent space that optimizes efficiency, comfort, safety, and more by collecting and analyzing sensor data to help building managers visualize information and make fast and precise decisions.”

So why does this matter? According to the Department Of Energy, currently there are about 4.8 million commercial buildings and 350,000 industrial facilities in the U.S., accounting for about half of total energy use in the U.S. (estimated at over $200B/year). According to the DOE, roughly 30% of that energy is used “inefficiently or unnecessarily.” In other words, there is room for major areas of cost efficiencies and reductions.

Property owners and managers have for many years tried to tackle this problem, but the upfront costs were simply too high. However, the landscape is rapidly changing, and multiple vendors are rolling out hardware and software solutions, including cloud based applications that target communications, environmental controls, video surveillance, and energy conservation, just to name a few. These include technologies for person-to-person, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine communications within the building and with the outside world.

These new platforms typically support WLAN, Ethernet, sensors, lighting and building management applications. Buildings are also becoming cloud connected as an essential part of smart grids and smart cities. New laws such as AB802 in California are providing more transparency to consumers, in order to make everyone aware of their overall energy use and their sources of energy use. The goal is to increase efficiency in energy use and use more effective technologies where possible. This trend is opening opportunities for many companies with interesting new products targeting this space.

VLAB is the Bay Area chapter of the MIT Enterprise Forum, a non-profit organization focused on connecting Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs, industry experts, venture capitalists, private investors and technologists. The organization hosts various events on relevant topics. This week they hosted an event on Smart Buildings. Here are a few of the companies who presented:

Andrew Krioukov (Ph. D. candidate at UC Berkeley, previously at Google, Intel and IBM), and Stephen Dawson-Haggerty, also from UC Berkeley with extensive experience in embedded sensing and networking, are the co-founders of Building Robotics. Their vision is to allow anyone working in an office to directly control their immediate environment (hot, cold air, etc.). Their product, appropriately called “Comfy”, is a software solution that enables personalized software in the workplace. The system plugs into any Building Management System (BMS) via BACnet, and provides access to controls for occupants via a website and smartphone app. Over time, as occupants use the system, Comfy uses machine learning to optimize each zone based on the users’ previous settings and habits.

Vladi Shunturov and Gavin Platt founded Lucid. Leveraging years of experience in commercial building monitoring systems and designing interactive web experiences respectively, the co-founders came up with BuildingOS. Their platform is a cloud based building management system that integrates and aggregates portfolio-wide building and metering systems data for simple, collaborative analysis. This platform leverages the existing infrastructure within each building to collect data from any utility meter, sub-meter, or controls system, and seamlessly access the data from a single, centralized repository. The end result is to give building managers real time data about various metrics within each building. This information in turn allows organizations to make smarter decisions that mainly are supposed to reduce costs and improve occupant comfort.

The company provides smart building control and operation solutions. Their ControlScope is a control, monitoring, and optimization solution based on open standards. The solution (either on-premise or hosted), includes lighting, thermostat, plug load, and general purpose control with data analytics for actionable decision support information. Their technology leverages a wireless mesh network consisting of three layers: Software (centralized management and data analytics), Networking (local controls), and End Devices.

James Pan (Ph. D. from Stanford) founded Luxul Technology in 2010. The company’s vision is to provide customers with high quality smart lighting products that increase efficiency while lowering installation and energy costs. Their main product is a patented LED tube lamp product. Luxul’s EazyLux T5 and T8 LED lamps are the world’s first LED tube lights that are compatible with existing fluorescent lamps. The net result is their LED lamps drive a 50% reduction in energy consumption over traditional fluorescent lamps. The company’s Match smart switch also allows the end users to control their lighting via a mobile app.

Their main product, the Paqet OS, is an operating system specifically for Sensor Hubs, Sensor Fusion Software systems, Wearables, and IoT edge devices. The OS is designed and optimized for very small edge devices that require extremely small code and have ultra low power characteristics. These devices are primarily ARM-based MCU’s (Cortex M0+, M0, and M3), and are embedded in edge nodes that require full connectivity and interoperability with the Internet. Their technology is currently patent pending.

There is no doubt energy efficiency and cost savings are an important segment of the IoT landscape. While many of the presenters focused on the features and consumer benefits of their products, notably absent was a discussion on ROI. According to several industry sources, most building managers require less than 24 months of payback period on their initial investment. In order for companies in this space to gain better traction and higher revenue, this is an area they should focus on.

BitNavi is a blog conceived by Karl Motey in the heart of Silicon Valley, dedicated to emerging technologies and strategic business issues challenging the industry.

Originally published at www.bitnavi.com on February 17, 2016.