Picture this: Your son or daughter races home from school, leaps off the bus, and tears through the front door only to find his or her PlayStation 5 (PS5) has been replaced by an original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Fortnite has been swapped out with Duck Hunt. All the games must be loaded by hand — not accessed from the cloud — and he or she must “blow the dust off” or wiggle the cartridges within the machine to make them work. The graphics are displayed in 256-by-240 resolution rather than 1080p or 4K. Online gameplay doesn't exist. Wireless remotes with haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, and built-in microphones are not available. Instead, players must use wired, two-button paddles.
While the children of the 1980s marveled at the wonders of the original Nintendo, today’s generation of gamers laugh out loud at its clunky, brick-like appearance and pixelated gameplay.
Conducting some “research” for this column, I downloaded an NES simulator onto my 8- and 10-yeard-old boys’ PS5 (thanks, technology!). While I was highly entertained by a few rounds of Mike Tyson’s Punchout and Mega Man, they simply shook their heads and left the room.
Much like technology has reshaped the video game world, technological advances have revamped the way commercial buildings operate. While the previous generation relied on pneumatic and analog electronic control devices to operate their facilities, many of today’s buildings are run by digital controls. Practically all facets of a comfort system, including temperature, pressure, humidity, occupancy, and efficiency — and the equipment responsible for these values — are capable of being monitored, analyzed, and controlled remotely from a smart device, from creation to distribution.
Remote technologies can be harbored in a number of ways. A building management system (BMS) can be used to oversee all aspects of a facility, including the HVAC equipment, lighting apparatuses, security offerings, etc. With the good, comes the bad: BMS systems are expensive. According to ENA Solutions, only 11% of commercial buildings under 50,000 square feet have a BMS, and 94% of commercial buildings fall under that size.
Direct-to-internet applications, or technology that allows devices to connect wirelessly through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth interfaces, grant users the ability to manage and monitor equipment through a smart device without a third-party mediator. Many boilers, water heaters, furnaces, etc., come equipped with some form of smart program boasting the ability to monitor and customize its performance based on an individual building's needs. Over time, such intelligence has improved tenfold, with some manufacturers implementing algorithms that allow equipment to adapt its output and speed based on numerous variables.
Interfaces, such as Modbus, LonWorks, Metasys, etc., are yet another way equipment can “speak” to BMSs or other analysis tools.
While operating “smart” devices independently is convenient, bundling all of a facility’s sensors/units into one BMS will allow a building to operate more efficiently. Data shows buildings that embrace connected, IoT-solutions not only tend to save money but operate more efficiently, more comfortably, and, on behalf of neuro-architecture, make us feel better.
Safe and Secure
A few weeks ago, my boys complained they were unable to play the PS5 games they’d downloaded from the server. Upon investigation, I discovered that someone hacked into our account. While my credit card information hadn’t been compromised, the hacker had assumed possession of our “primary console.” Luckily, a quick call to customer service righted this wrong, and we were able to reclaim ownership of our device. I’ve since activated two-step safety authentication to keep this from happening in the future.
The lesson here is that anything connected to the internet inherits risk, as connectivity opens a door for outsiders to enter your systems.
Many connected comfort systems are connected directly to the web, void of a firewall, thus the only thing keeping a user (or bad guy) from entering the system is a username and password. Unfortunately, hackers are fairly crafty when it comes to cracking into systems. In fact, hackers have created search engines that can locate connected devices, providing results by brand name or protocol.
Also, when a device is connected remotely, access is often granted to the vendor as well, so they can troubleshoot any issues. This allows hackers another window of opportunity. This played out in the worst way for a Florida water treatment center, as hackers broke into the center's system and changed its chemical levels, making the water from the location unsafe to consume.
Engineers, and others, are often granted access to BMS interfaces on their computers. In 2021, seeing that many are still working from home, such dashboards may be installed on home computers — the same devices where employees are checking their social media and personal email accounts. These sites are notorious for ransomware and phishing attacks, putting systems even further at risk. As a result, it’s always best to house BMS software on an application server or secluded workstation that’s secure and scanned regularly for viruses and attackers.
At the end of 2020, the average U.S. commercial building was about 53 years old. In technology years, 53 years may be the equivalent to 530 years. Thus, today's buildings are light years behind the functionality of even the original Nintendo. The technology operating many of America's buildings is essentially prehistoric. Do you work in any buildings where these dinosaurs are still calling the shots?
Do your clients a favor and introduce them to the advantages technology offers. And, when they do upgrade, make sure to share the Florida water treatment story with them as well so that they're adequately protecting their investment.
Buildings, and their occupants, will benefit greatly if engineers and facility managers opt to live in an immersive, connected world rather than one that's prohibitively capped by the capabilities of Pong.