A New Era of Building Automation Software
Imagine being able to take a virtual tour of your facilities worldwide, whether it be your corporate offices or your datacenters, and see all of your equipment in its actual environment being rendered in real-time; shadows falling on the walls and furniture based on where the light fixtures are located, color of the carpet and all surroundings accurately portraying fluorescent or incandescent lighting, energy meter read-out displaying the real-time consumption of your facility. And when you’re done looking around, drag your mouse over the thermostat on the wall and adjust the space temperature set-point for the room that you are practically in. With graphics nearing realism to the extent that it becomes difficult to distinguish between a photograph of a chiller unit and its 3D rendering, this virtual “real” environment is not so far-fetched. With information technology in its prime, and various breakthroughs in advanced multimedia platforms, it is inevitable that state-of-the-art software solutions will soon pervade the building automation industry. Innovative ideas such as real-time 3D rendering engines and XML based run-time compilers, amongst others, have now evolved in the market and are quickly gaining praise for their ability to accomplish tasks which merely a few years ago seemed impossible. As accelerated hardware with faster processors and greater horsepower continues to emerge in the automation space, the software has all of the potential to reach and surpass the sophistication of the gaming industry.
An example utilizing the power of the Rich Internet Application environment, besides the inherent benefit of being able to access your facilities from any internet enabled computer in the world, is the ability to convert numeric values such as space temperature into a color gradient, essentially creating a heat-map, which is then overlaid on top of all the floor plans of a given building and displayed on a single screen. This concept gives the end user the capability to pinpoint an imbalanced zone temperature at a glance, whether the imperfection is on the second floor, or seventh. Dragging the mouse over the problem floor plan, dynamically expanding its size and zooming in on the issue, the user now has the ability to see the numeric values of all the related data-points associated with the given zone (including space temperature) in a tool-tip which automatically gets populated with real-time data. At this point, clicking on the area of concern takes you to a graphic of the equipment responsible for the imbalanced zone, allowing you to pinpoint whether it is a simple set-point issue or a more complicated equipment malfunction problem. All of this is done in a matter of seconds, on a single screen, without the need for pop-ups or extra windows. The user becomes more efficient in taking appropriate action to resolve the issue, whether it is correcting a set-point, or reporting the equipment malfunction to the appropriate personnel, the ability to do so quickly translates directly into cost savings.
Rich Internet Application technologies such as Adobe’s Flash Player and Microsoft’s Silverlight have become main-stream for their ability to incorporate advanced special effects and user interaction within a web environment in addition to running cross-platform and in virtually any browser. With a handful of companies beginning to utilize these technologies in the mass market to build elegant software on top of popular application platforms such as Tridium’s NiagaraAX framework, we are entering a new era in the capabilities of accessing facilities data and control.
Where interface workflows used to be cumbersome, requiring extensive and awkward site navigation and multiple window manipulation to get to the desired metrics, there is now the ability to sail through a sea of data to display meaningful information with a single click of a button or a mouse-over effect.
State-of-the-art applications equip the user with the tools necessary to display information and command equipment that is important to him, eliminating the problem of insignificant data cluttering up the screen. With the assistance of animated components, dynamic data display and real-time updating, the user becomes more efficient in being able to identify problem areas and take immediate action.
To take this topic even further, the mobile revolution is well underway. With the availability of smart mobile devices such as smart-phones and PDAs increasing exponentially, the building automation industry is set to greatly benefit from these web-enabled gadgets.
Although most mobile device browsers are currently limited in their capabilities of running multimedia content beyond a simple webpage and a few movie-clip formats, with Adobe’s “Open Screen Project” (http://www.openscreenproject.org/) and the vision of creating a “consistent runtime environment,” the technology to run Rich Internet Applications on most mobile devices is upon us.
With the ability to access their building automation software on the go, facility managers and building owners, have the power to take action from anywhere in the world, regardless of whether they are sitting in their office in front of a computer or walking their dog in the park. This enabling technology will prove to be a powerful tool in optimizing automated buildings even beyond the capabilities of today’s state-of-the-art systems.
As hardware continues to evolve, with smarter controls and more powerful servers, the necessity for sophisticated automation software will become increasingly apparent. Because of the advancements in the current multimedia platforms and rich internet environments, we have now entered a new era of building automation software; an era which will make the end user faster, smarter, better.
Although there are currently only a handful of companies pushing the envelope in this industry, the market will soon be saturated with state-of-the-art software solutions from numerous players claiming to be domain experts. But like any industry, it is the companies who have enough of a vision and the necessary expertise to be able to take full advantage of emerging technologies that will rise to the “market leader” status and begin to revolutionize the automation space once again. Keep an eye out on the availability of new intelligent software and keep in mind that we have entered a time in which the existing technology is sophisticated enough to shatter the limitations of software that was previously thought to be revolutionary.