Beyond the Biodome: BIoT to Uproot Commercial Automation

When the Building Internet of Things (BIoT) becomes ubiquitous, commercial integrators will have to adapt.

George Tucker

The old saying goes, “Everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it.”

The environment is everywhere, affects everyone and is becoming big business in the integration world. Obviously we cannot control the weather, not just yet anyway.

In the 1950’s, futurists predicted that we would, in fact, “be able to do something about it.” From controlling the weather at large with seeding clouds to suburbia being filled with homes and property covered in ‘glass’ domes.

Enclosing a space to create a self-sustainable micro environment occupied populists like Arthur Radebaugh, of the ‘Closer Than You Think’ futurist series. It also had the attention of high level engineers looking for ways to sustain life in places like deserts, the bottom of the sea and on exoplanets (and an increasingly polluted planet).

Making a space hospitable is no small matter and in fact can decide if a location will flourish or wallow. A very real example can be seen in how air conditioning lead to the Southern states of the U.S. exploding in population.

Starting in the 1950’s with the introduction of affordable home AC units made cities in the south possible. More importantly, it allowed these states to attract companies and their employees. A more modern example is the city of Dubai — imagine a city of its scale without AC — exactly.

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The integration industry has made some great strides by incorporating energy management into what was once just audio visual communication. Manufactures who once only sought to have third party control of established thermostats and lighting have taken big market shares. It also may have been one of the salvations of an industry which buckled at the knees during the Great Recession.

The future may in fact look a lot like the aforementioned Arthur Radebaugh’s vision, with the current experiment in such micro-environments as the Biosphere. The reality will go beyond just a single home or suburban track. The “micro” will refer to large swaths of urban centers or connected regions.

This may be about to change, and in paradigm shifting ways.

Running in conjunction with InfoComm in Las Vegas, the 2014 Realcomm featured speakers who are engaged in creating interconnected environmental and energy zones. These zones are not only interconnected but interrelated in a manner many call the Building Internet of Things (BIoT). In this network the connected buildings and entire regions share energy information and manage usage, cooling, heating, etc. as one entity. 

The purpose of BIoT is not only the mass of metrics to guide operations but also providing a means to purchase energy as a buying group, lowering initial costs. This is where the true impact, and real growth, of the Internet of Things (IoT) will spark.

We as an custom install industry have seen, and often mocked, the consumer centric applications such as alerting the homeowner to low toilet paper supply. The news out of CES is nothing; the next step is so much more than we ever imagined.

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How is this to be a major sea change to the integration industry and why should we be pricking up our ears now?

Consider for a moment just who makes up the membership of Realcomm. As stated on the about page, the organization “is a worldwide research and event company at the intersection of technology, innovation and real estate operations.” These folks are not technologist, they are corporate real estate managers who look for an ends to a means. 

Here lies the challenge for not only the commercial integrator but all of us involved in the industry. The client will no longer be a single business or office but a corporate entity focused on macro oversight. The equipment will be specifically dictated by the estate management with very little option for alternate devices by ‘others.’

From the overheard conversations and direct statements of presenters at the 2014 Realcomm show, the intent is to strictly control the means and method. These managers are not looking to the established automation industry.

A quick look at the sponsors provides a list of data companies, eschewing many of the established commercial environmental giants. As a business management process the plan makes a lot of sense with cheap, easily installed and replaceable devices. 

For the installer, the shifting sands pose large elephant in the room questions.

Will this mean an end to the standard CI installers’ reach into the comfort controls? For those who continue, does this mean becoming subcontracted installers rather than a design/sales team? Once BIoT verges on ubiquitous will the next sight be on the standard control market?

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