In the Hype Cycle, the Internet of Things (IoT) has reached the peak of inflated expectations and may even be over-hyped. Many observers have commented on its adoption in home automation, high-voltage transmission systems, and smart cities. The state of IoT in commercial building automation is murkier.
In a recent survey of building professionals administered by CoR advisors, 41% of the respondents reported not being familiar with the term “Internet of Things.” Hype about IoT in building automation, it seems, is lagging, but its promise may be just as enticing in buildings as in other applications. Indeed, more respondents indicated that they think the IoT will have an effect on how their building is run over the next 2 to 3 years than those who indicated they were familiar with it.
At a certain level, machine-to-machine communications, the foundation of the IoT, have been present in building automation systems (BASs) for decades. In heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), a temperature sensor can communicate with a variable air volume box to modulate the supply of conditioned air. In turn, this variable air volume box communicates with an air handling unit that supplies the proper amount of air. In most buildings, this happens on the HVAC control network. The promise of IoT is for this to happen not on a network, but on the network, for any machine to communicate with other machines.
This integration is happening. Daintree Networks, for instance, offers seamless HVAC control, lighting control, and power metering. Similarly, Automated Logic has introduced solutions to integrate different control silos. One of the most interesting integrated deployments is the Government Services Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C. The building management system knows when an occupant badges in, where that person is going, and what temperature they want the space they’ll occupy. The next step is getting building automation to interact with a mobile phone or an automobile.
Unlocking the promise of IoT requires multiple companies and multiple systems to interact with each other. It requires disparate BASs to not only communicate with other BASs, but to also communicate with anything. Thankfully, the industry is moving in that direction. Over the past 20 years, open protocols, such as BACnet, LonTalk, DALI, and Modbus, have gained widespread acceptance. Unfortunately, they don’t communicate with each other very well.
Another survey, this one by Echelon (which recently announced an increased focus on the IoT), outlined the path to IoT in buildings. Seventy percent of respondents reported that they plan to integrate disparate BASs onto a common platform. Nearly a third of respondents indicated a plan to do so in the next 12 to 18 months. Regardless of whether the IoT is over-hyped or unfamiliar, it’s coming to commercial building automation systems soon.