Navigant Research Blog

Smart Dust Has Yet to Settle, but the Hype Flourishes

— September 7, 2017

Smart dust … it sounds like a magical substance sprinkled on dumber things. Which is kind of true. The concept has been making the hype-cycle rounds late this summer and setting off some industry buzz among megatrend watchers during an otherwise lackluster news and information cycle.

But smart dust is not all that new a concept. Not long ago, it might have been known by the more mundane and geeky term micro-electromechanical systems, or MEMS, which is common in the computer chip world. Lump it together with the much hyped artificial intelligence (AI) notion and presto, smart dust gets new life.

Motes Not Dust Mites

So, what is smart dust? It is a swarm of tiny electronic sensors, some evidently smaller than a red blood cell, designed to float in the air and do various things. These tiny devices, known as motes, are self-powered. The idea is to unleash hundreds or thousands of them, have them interconnect wirelessly, and then perform a task or set of tasks. Think of releasing a batch over a farm for testing soil chemistry or pesticide levels.

Smart Dust for Energy Management

This smart dust could also be used in homes or commercial settings to reduce energy use. That was one of the use cases imagined by Kris Pister, a professor at the University of California Berkeley and smart dust pioneer. He has been tinkering with smart dust since at least 2001, when California was in the midst of an energy crisis. Back then, he worked on the technology with colleagues at Berkeley’s Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) in an effort to find new ways to conserve energy. The idea never quite took off as imagined.

The idea for dust networks goes back further to when the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and RAND Corporation worked on the idea in the early 1990s. One can imagine the use of smart dust over a battlefield, feeding field commanders with relevant data in real-time to get the upper hand on an enemy. The idea can even be traced to novelist Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy; dust in the books is a mysterious cosmic particle that is a central plot device.

A Cloud of Potential

Needless to say, smart dust motes have not made much of an impact outside the labs. Nonetheless, given the potential and the many swirling technologies of AI (e.g., deep learning, machine learning, smart robots, and the rest), smart dust’s future could be quite amazing, though that remains on the horizon. For now, one can keep the idea of smart dust on the radar while focusing on the more practical emerging technology trend affecting the grid and other industries, namely the Internet of Things, a topic extensively covered by Navigant Research.

 

IoT Provides a Changing Landscape for Lighting

— September 5, 2017

The commercial lighting landscape is shifting these days, giving way to a less siloed market. While historically, lamp and luminaire manufacturers have focused primarily on lamps, the emergence and growth of LEDs with their increased lifespan has led to a stronger market for luminaires, which in turn has negatively affected the lamp market. This has decreased lamp revenue for many incumbent lighting manufacturers.

In order to differentiate themselves within the shifting lighting market, traditional lamp and luminaire manufacturers are looking toward controls and new business use cases. Some use cases provided by lighting controls fall within the Internet of Things (IoT) landscape. Many lighting companies are entering the controls and IoT markets through mergers and acquisitions, rather than focusing solely on internal expansion into those areas.

OSRAM Makes Play toward Increasing IoT Offerings

The German-based lighting manufacturer OSRAM, a spinoff of Siemens in early 2013, has agreed to purchase Digital Lumens. Founded in 2008, the Boston-based industrial and commercial IoT solutions company offers software, products, and systems integration. Digital Lumens’ SiteWorx platform integrates intelligent lighting control, energy use, security systems, and air quality monitoring. The IoT platform will allow OSRAM to strengthen its portfolio for IoT applications. There are currently plans to integrate some of OSRAM’s existing digital services into the platform, such as location-based services utilizing Bluetooth primarily in a retail environment.

Competitive Landscape

While OSRAM has clearly positioned itself to advance its IoT offerings, it faces competition from other lighting incumbents interested in expanding their IoT offerings. Earlier this year, Acuity Brands announced its Atrius Brand, the company’s IoT business solutions portfolio. Atrius provides connectivity through a network of intelligent LED lighting and controls and its software platform that enables indoor positioning, asset tracking, space utilization, spatial analytics, and energy management.

Philips Lighting is also an incumbent that has expanded into this space with its indoor positioning for retail applications and connected lighting for offices utilizing Power over Ethernet (PoE) and SpaceWise wireless technology. Another is Eaton, which has partnered with IoT platform, sensor, and solutions company Enlighted to integrate the company’s hardware, software, and services into Eaton’s LED lighting and controls portfolio.

The technology developments, acquisitions, and partnerships all demonstrate the shifting market and provide a glimpse into the future of commercial lighting. Startups, systems integrators, IT companies, and network providers are mixing with the traditional lighting manufacturers in this market, providing more collaboration and merger and acquisition opportunities. Navigant Research’s upcoming IoT for Lighting report will look at the key players in this industry and provide an overview of the market, including drivers and barriers, technology issues, and a global forecast of hardware, software, and services.

 

Embedded Digital Assistants Increasing Awareness about Energy Devices

— August 9, 2017

The smart thermostat space is filled with a range of big players, as depicted in the Navigant Research Leaderboard Report: Smart Thermostats. Alphabet backs the Nest Learning Thermostat, Honeywell offers the Lyric, and Amazon supports ecobee thermostats. Finally, another major technology provider is joining the game: Microsoft.

Microsoft’s Smart Thermostat

Microsoft recently revealed that it will be releasing a smart thermostat called GLAS in partnership with Johnson Controls. Much like the Nest Learning Thermostat, GLAS reportedly senses when a user is in the room. It also determines indoor and outdoor air quality and adjusts the temperature accordingly. Though the company has not unveiled details on the thermostat’s release date or pricing, what is clear is that the thermostat is built on Microsoft’s Windows 10 IoT Core, it will support Microsoft Azure cloud services, and perhaps most importantly, it will be embedded with Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana.

Digital assistants are increasingly making their way into smart home devices. Leading thermostat provider ecobee recently released the ecobee4 thermostat and a light switch embedded with Alexa. General Electric will release its Alexa-embedded Sol lamp in September. Apple offers another digital assistant, the Home app, that allows users to control HomeKit devices via Siri. Google’s Assistant can be used to control its Home Wi-Fi speaker, its Pixel smartphones, and even its Chromecast smart TV device. Voice recognition is quickly becoming a significant part of the smart home experience, as my colleague Neil Strother pointed out in another blog.

Digital Assistants Can Coordinate Energy Savings

While energy currently takes the back seat to other use cases like security, comfort, and convenience in the smart home, interfaces like voice activation can help consumers take more interest in controlling their connected energy devices. Consumers do not often think about their energy consumption, a fact made clear in a recent consumer survey. The survey indicates that in 2016, the average consumer of a regulated US utility spent about 8 minutes annually interacting with their utility through digital channels. However, energy devices have a convincing value proposition because they can help consumers save energy and money—it just takes more interaction with these devices to increase awareness around their benefits, which digital assistants can foster.

 

Capitalizing on Data for Intelligent Buildings Market Expansion

— August 9, 2017

The intelligent buildings market continues to evolve, and an increasing focus on the value of data opens the door to inventive offerings that speak to critical pain points for commercial customers within the market. Energy efficiency remains an important value proposition for intelligent building solutions, but cost savings associated with utility bills is an insufficient driver for market transformation in facilities management. The push toward the Internet of Things (IoT) as the framework for digital transformation of commercial buildings and the next iteration of the intelligent building capitalizes on the multitude of nonenergy benefits derived from facility data. The next frontier is moving from energy efficiency to energy optimization and from data-driven improvements to the occupant experience.

Smarter Interactions with Energy

Building-to-Grid Integration, an upcoming Navigant Research report, presents big picture energy opportunities for intelligent buildings. Data, and the insights derived from it through analytics, elevate business opportunities for managing energy in commercial and industrial (C&I) buildings. A growing number of intelligent building solutions utilize data to direct an orchestration of systems to optimize energy use—the focus is on advancement and a more sophisticated use of technologies than simply using data to create dashboards that report on system performance.

Building-to-grid (B2G) is an emerging construct that creates an opportunity to generate new value streams with energy services as a foundation. The B2G platform is the framework for transactions around the energy supply and demand associated with the facilities and distributed energy resources of C&I sites. The bundling of advisory services, data communications, controls, and analytics will likely be the foundation of B2G solutions that enable the aggregation and coordination of C&I facilities to meet specific economic and corporate objectives. These objectives include power reliability, sustainability, and revenue growth.

Fundamental Shift in Enhancing the Occupant Experience

The Intelligent Building Technologies for Value-Added Services report from Navigant Research explores how utilities can leverage IoT as a platform for new offerings to improve customer engagement and satisfaction. The benefit of the focus on data creation and analysis showcases the many nonenergy benefits that align with shifting customer expectations around technology. The number of commercial customers already investing in IoT solutions should result in changes to the consumption and demand patterns utilities use for resource planning. Furthermore, rapid growth in IoT for intelligent buildings market represents a significant revenue opportunity for new offerings. At the same time, it represents a threat to existing revenue streams for traditional electric services as these technology-enabled customers reshape how their building operations and energy consumption align.

IoT value-added services can be designed around financial incentives and expert advisory that builds off the existing core capabilities of C&I demand-side management programs. IoT intelligent building advisory offerings can leverage existing core domain expertise around energy efficiency and domain management, but would be amplified by partnerships with IoT players currently in the market.

These new Navigant Research reports underscore the expansive opportunities associated with intelligent building data. Early solution provider adopters will need to develop strategic partnerships and revisit branding and positioning, but the upside to these challenges will far outweigh the costs.

 

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