September 2018

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Open Hardware, Open Software, and Building Bots

"Making Buildings Aware of What They Need To Be Aware Of"

Nicolas Waern
Nicolas Waern


Picture 1. Connecting Worlds. High-level overview of our place in the Building Automation Market.
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Directly after my last email interview, Ken Sinclair asked me a couple of questions regarding our product line. It was apparent that my rant about making buildings talk to people didn’t really explain all that we are doing. I will try to remedy this when discussing my perspective on open hardware and open software. As well as building, building bots, and what that might entail for the future.

Ken’s behind the scenes questions

Ken: “It looks like dingo is an alternate to raspberry does it run open Sedona?”

Raspberry Pi

Yes, the DINGO edge gateway is extremely modular, and as such we have a couple of alternatives for Compute boards. We have the Raspberry PI Com1 compute module as well as the newer version which is, the more Powerful Com3 Compute Module. Both are industrial grade components, and the DINGO cannot be compared with the hobby RPi boards you can buy at any DIY store. It can, but it would be like comparing a kickbike to a Range Rover. Both are fun to drive, but you know that only one of them will take you through any terrain in a secure, fast and robust way.

Sedona killer
Yes, we definitely support Sedona and we see some uptake in North America in regard to using it with our DINGO. It lowers the barrier of usage. However, there’s no doubt in our minds at least, that the true Sedona killer is definitely called Node-RED.  We are huge fans of Node-RED which you can see here.

The thing with Node-RED is that it supports the cloud part and cloud thinking 100%. Sedona not as much. But we want to stay open and offer choices for our customers, and the more the better.

Ken: “Dingo Builds heavy on open software but is it an open hardware platform?”

Open Hardware (and Software)

We are modular in terms of both hardware and software. We are soon up and running with a global hardware manufacturer and distributor which will ensure global scale up for real!

DINGO with modules   

Picture 2. Naked and a fully dressed DINGO with modules – Modular hardware solutions for the horizontal IoT Market

We enable anyone to build their own Edge-gateway, and we are selling dozens of Dingos each month, focusing on ramping up for next year with our global product launch at this year's Electronica in Munich, Europe. Our definition of an open hardware platform is that everything is based on modules which can be put together in any which way possible.

And this is exactly what I would like to talk about in this issue.

Open Hardware, Open Software, and Building Bots

These are very interesting topics, and I think they are very much aligned. At least, they need to be much more moving forwards. As everyone knows, a lot of the solutions out there are still proprietary. This is unfortunate since we need to get innovations going in and around the building automation industry. Not just for the fun of it, but because buildings represent 40% of the World’s energy consumption and also because we spend 90% of our time indoors. We need to open up the space and let others come in with innovative solutions in a much easier way in order to create better buildings faster.

Latest research clearly shows the negative effects air pollution have on people. That, for me, is one of the most important reasons why we have to act quickly. By opening up the industry for people to take advantage of “other” solutions, outside the Building automation industry, I think we’ll see a great deal of interdisciplinary innovations we haven’t even thought of. Mixing and matching from different vendors, also allowing anyone to write apps in whatever language they want, is definitely where we need to get to. We are doing some of this right now, where we take in data from any IOT-solution and converting them into Virtual BACnet objects. It could be sensor data in the building, outside the building or halfway around the earth.


Picture 3. Converting any “IoT” data to the any BAS, making them Go-IoT Ready

LEGO Building Blocks

What might be needed is a new way to do things and for everything to be more modular. And what is more modular than LEGO?

The LEGO reference to the building automation industry is quite fitting in a way. It has been dominated by a few global giants, offering great solutions but within their own proprietary setting. New companies have formed creating universal solutions which allow these building blocks to better communicate with each other and for total solutions to be made.

However, the major difference to that of LEGO is that these companies have glued things together, creating additional proprietary solutions on top of other proprietary solutions. Sure, these have been made fit for purpose, but the glue won’t come off that easily, if ever. And that’s the challenge. The world is changing in a much faster pace than ever and there is a shortage of skilled labour. We need to do things better, faster, and to do more with less.

I am not saying that edge controllers, or any backbone technology will shift as fast as we change mobile phones. But what I am saying is that solutions must have a much greater ability for modularity moving forwards. It needs to be easier to transform existing buildings into buildings that are robust, useful and attractive for its users. The basic building blocks should not change every so often, but the ecosystem it enables, needs to have the ability to quickly absorb or export data in a standardized way.

Will BACnet become the umbrella for everything IoT and buildings?

I think so. And this will allow everyone in the building automation industry to have access to all of the wonderful lego-pieces that are out there. And it also enables everyone without building automation industry knowledge to add pieces to an existing backbone that is enabled by open hardware and open software wrapped underneath a BACnet umbrella.

“An App store for buildings.”

We are not the only ones with this line of thinking, and some have already started. But I definitely believe more and more that an app store for buildings (probably several) will pop up as time goes by. This will enable not only industry professionals to create better solutions 100% tailored for their customers. But also, real estate owners, inviting others in to innovate with their buildings. And possibly even better, ordinary people, living in buildings, that have 1st hand knowledge of the problem, to create solutions for the building and for other users creating a hotbed of innovation easily transferrable to other buildings, having black boxed everything underneath a BACnet umbrella.

Building Bots and invisible technology

BBB, Building building bots, will definitely be interesting moving forwards and who knows which road it will take. I always say to everyone that technology shouldn’t even be visible. Some say that children of the future will talk to their buildings and expect for the building to talk back.

I have also heard that in modern buildings you would tell the building that you would like to have 22 degrees in whatever space you are in, and it will make it so.

Both of these assumptions fall short of what I think will happen. The thing is, technology should be an enabler to make us more human. And perhaps, we need to make technology more human as well. So the next step would be… what? Saying that you are cold and the building understands your desired temperature based on your personal settings?

No. Even better. The great late 90’s prophet, Ronan Keating, said it best.

“It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart. Without saying a word you can light up the dark”… “ You say it best when you say nothing at all.”

What I mean by this is that you won’t say “turn down the temperature by 2 degrees.”
You won’t say you are cold and the building knows what you want.

Absolutely not. Technology will never be visible to the user;

“The creation of intelligence is hidden away in the engine room, always there and always on, but never visible to the user.” Ken Sinclair

The building, and everything around you, will know that we have been to the gym, it will know that we are tired because a camera can detect it and compare it with our heart rate, our blood pressure, sugar levels, etc, etc. And it has already prepared a succulent meal together with the robot chef powered by IBM Watson. The building will know how we feel, what our needs are, much faster than we would be able to tell it what to do. If anything, the building might want to give us some examples based on what it knows we want. But from our perspective, the interaction would be very sporadic at best.

Internet of things moving towards an Internet of People

IoT, Internet of Things, will slowly but surely turn into an IoP, Internet of People. I didn’t coin this phrase but actually a Building Information Modeling expert at Zynka BIM. They specialize in digitalizing the built environment with stellar looking BIM renderings and together we are in discussions to create true digital twins. Daniel Månsson showed me a rendering where they had connected it with beacons, and they could track people in real time, showing it in a digital twin. Getting data based on the movements of the people will be the future for sure.

“The biggest building bots will be us, humans.”

We are getting more connected, and we will create cognitive buildings, and the building(s) will learn from its user and adapt accordingly. The example above might have been for home automation, but it’s definitely something that will happen in large commercial buildings as well, and we’ll see true Smart City Ecosystems soon enough.

What needs to be done and what will happen?

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Well, as I see it, we need to democratize the way we innovate with buildings and that can only happen through open hardware and software and better tools to easily configure logic at the edge/in the fog and on cloud level. Will this demand open source or just open, in terms of API’s? Talk of the town is that open source might not be secure or reliable enough. “What about Linus Torvalds” – is usually the follow up to that one. So, there will most likely be both. API’s however only acts as the tongue and I would argue that BACnet, with its 60% World domination, will continue to be even more important moving forward. Otherwise, we’ll risk getting stuck in API-Hell.

And by opening up the industry from both sides, building automation to the world, and the world to building automation, we’ll see a lot of great things happening. Creating building bots in terms of Edgebots will definitely be important for the future, and this will be so much easier moving forward. These bots will continuously collect data from users, through cameras, social media posts, user data given away freely, and we are not far away from the Mall Scene scenario from Minority Report. These will definitely help bring about change, but as I argued before, they will emerge like fireflies, and they will eventually die pretty fast as well.

Make Humans great again!

What is the real goal of building automation really? Aren’t we missing the whole point? Technology should enable us to enjoy more of life. However, that is rarely the case. If we employ technology as it was intended, and if we will see huge time-savings. Will these time savings go to enjoying more of life, or actually working the same hours as before, perhaps even more? That might be for another column, and it’s soon 2.40AM here. I wish I had a couple of edge bots right now in my home. Not sure what they would do, but I am sure that my life would be much better!

Final Words

Open hardware and open software is definitely the key moving forward. We’ll be talking about this in January in Atlanta under the topic “Next Generation HVAC Controls: Open Hardware - Open Software.” Not sure if we will include Building Edge bots in the conversation but the advent of new and innovative solutions is the outcome when interdisciplinary fields are allowed to meet. Creating better buildings has never been as important, or as easy as it is right now. And as I said last month as well, the technology is here, just go out there and start something!

About the Author

Nicolas Waern is the CEO of the fast-growing Nordic IoT company Go-IoT and is usually accompanied with the hashtag #Thebuildingwhisperer on Linkedin and Twitter. He loves what he does, and he knows he’s in this business for the long run, having the time of his life. Go-IoT makes it easier for others to harmonize data in buildings as well as simplifying the transfer of any data to and from the edge to any cloud, leveraging all that is BACnet with their dynamic BACnet server on the edge. Their offering consists of open and modular software and hardware solutions which form a powerful edge gateway under the name of DINGO and Go-IoT Cloud. Their solutions have the power of converting any sensor technology into BACnet objects, creating a BACnet umbrella for everything making SCADA systems, BAS, BEMS and anything in between, IoT-Ready. Why not take advantage of all that the API economy has to offer?


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