October 2009

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Control Solutions, Inc. - Minnesota

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Functional Mobility
Functional mobility currently provides significant benefit to millions of tech savvy users; placing access to their email, weather updates, text messaging, Global Positioning Services, telephone, etc. in the palm of their hands.

Dave Ross
Dave Ross
iSYS Automation, Inc.

dross@isysautomation.com
 

Cutting edge technology opens the door to exiting new applications in remote connectivity, bringing functional mobility to the fingertips of everyone with a mobile device. Recently, at a seminar I met the Global Innovations director of a top 20 company in the Fortune 500. We discussed new technology, shared our insight into the industry and where we thought useful applications were going to be successful. We were both staying over after the seminar and flying out in the morning... so we decided to drive in to San Francisco for dinner. We were looking for a particular restaurant down on the Wharf, when he handed me his iPhone and said something to the effect of “why don’t you get us there”. Now, I’m the type that can get lost in a lunchbox... but with the web browser to get an address and the maps application to guide us there, we made it in time to get a nice table tucked away in a quite corner. As we enjoyed a good glass of wine, he said something that got me thinking about the opportunities for my product controlPhone®; and where I would be most successful. He said, “if you want to create a successful product, I believe you have to provide value and benefit to the person running the home”. That comment has been ringing in my head ever since.

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So what defines value and benefit when discussing functional mobility in the automation industry. My thoughts are: the value opportunities are in the energy sector and all areas of cost avoidance, benefits are the things that a product like controlPhone® do to make a person's life easier and make them more productive. The energy sector opportunities are obvious. With Smart Metering a person can gain control over their energy consumption and make realtime decisions in Demand Response and electrical load control, providing value to the end user. A good example of load control is: instead of using a set time to pre-condition your home before you arrive... waiting until you are on your way home to activate your occupied temperature settings, avoiding unnecessary energy consumption if you stop to meet friends for dinner. The benefits that can be provided to the end user are almost endless. What may seem very practical to one, may not address the needs of another. That is why I believe that a good software application is adaptable and easy to use/modify. I’m a horse person... so my needs may be outside the normal needs of a suburban housewife who just loaded her kids into the car, and looks up at the house to find that her children have left all of the upstairs lights on. Eventually, I believe that she will turn those lights off remotely without leaving her kids in the car for ten minutes while she runs around the house turning off lights. Another example of providing value and benefit is something that would provide a valuable service to me. As I said, I’m a horse person, and my horses are constantly pulling the piping apart at their water buckets. Having a flow sensor that would detect a broken pipe and notify me so that I could remotely shut down the section of broken piping until I could get to the ranch to fix the broken pipe provides me with value, in cost avoidance of wasted water and benefit because I want my horses to have access to fresh water at all times. Soon, I will incorporate video into controlPhone and stream video of whatever areas of a home or property someone wants to monitor. These are just a few of the benefits of functional mobility as we move forward leveraging new technologies to improve our lives and avoid costs.

With the advances in microprocessors, mobile firmware and streaming technology the possibilities seem endless for valuable solutions to enhance remote connectivity. With small footprint servers leveraging Push Technology, Cloud Computing and a lot of creativity... programmers can create exciting solutions to meet the needs of end users. Some of the most exciting developments in the personal computer marketplace have been around for years in the automation industry. We’ve pushed data from servers to workstations, pagers and email for decades. Cloud Computing has been leveraged by our industry for years prior to the term's popularity in the personal computer marketplace. The best Human Machine Interface (HMI) developers have provided their clients with cloud computing for years; by creating applications and thin clients which consume services from multiple locations, then aggregate the information onto a single page, displaying critical data and providing drill down capability to disparate sites and disciplines. I feel this is one of the few innovations that our industry has taken the lead on, as opposed to following the personal computing (PC) industry, usually lagging behind by several years. The definitions of various technologies vary between disciplines. My definition of cloud computing is simply: leveraging connections and services from various sources in disparate locations. How does cloud computing fit into functional mobility in the automation industry? The best example I can think of reiterates my point of how our industry has leveraged the cloud for years: in 2005 we developed controlPhone® to notify building engineers, building managers and service contractors of pre-determined conditions at the facilities for which they are responsible. If a piece of equipment failed, the products under our brand notified them and gave them control of the equipment at the site which in many instances allowed them to bring on auxiliary equipment to provide vital services. These functions have been performed on equipment from out of state, out of the country and even miles off the coast of the North American Continent in the Pacific Ocean. That is our vision of functional mobility... taking control from anywhere in the world. Push technology has also been around for years. Without going into the various models of “push”, my definition of push technology is simply: “data transfer initiated by the server”... as opposed to the end user having to contact the server and requesting information. With push, the end user sets up the parameters to initiate data transfer (subscribes to the server) and the server pushes the data when conditions warrant a transaction. This ties into streaming technology quite nicely, particularly in the security market. An example is: you lock up your office and arm the security system. Someone gains access to your office and your automation server sends you a message asking if you want to start streaming video to your mobile phone. You acknowledge the message, and in the future a product like controlPhone will display *.mp4 video so you can see who is in your office.

PlantPROCORE Functional mobility currently provides significant benefit to millions of tech savvy users; placing access to their email, weather updates, text messaging, Global Positioning Services, telephone, etc. in the palm of their hands. While I don’t believe (that anytime soon) people will be using cellular phones to change channels on their televisions... I do believe the ability to access data remotely or have information (data) pushed to their mobile devices in the areas of energy consumption and demand response, security, environmental monitoring and asset protection provides value and benefit. In the not too distant future we may see appliance monitoring and control, water usage and leak (broken line) monitoring, residential enthalpy based economizer packages, etc. being accepted as applications that consumers expect. Hopefully incentives to the consumer, and investment by the utilities in cutting edge technology will make these technologies feasible. I’m confident that consumers will see the benefit of having control of just about anything they want from a mobile device that they already possess.

Finally, I have some strong beliefs in how to successfully move a particular technology forward. Most importantly, I think that an environment of creativity that focuses on success, yet acknowledging that failure is a part of the creative process is paramount in creating new applications. If a person has a good idea, but has been scoffed at before for a previous idea... they will be hesitant to share what could be the next big thing. Also, a good product is like a large yacht, there is room onboard for plenty of good people, and everyone should enjoy the ride. I am always interested in talking with people in the industry that have well thought out opinions of new technologies and the opportunities they present. I’m a firm believer in partnering, particularly with aggressive, ethical individuals that bring value to the table and with that in mind... I’ll get back to work.

Note:  The links to the site are isysautomation.com and shop.isysautomation.com; (isysautomation.com) is best viewed with internet Explorer 5 or higher.

* controlPhone, LonPhone and LonSense are registered trademarks of iSYS Automation. LonWorks is a registered trademark of the Echelon Corp.
 

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