Building Automation & The Internet Of Things
As the Internet of Things continues to flourish, what will be the role of building automation?
There is a fair amount of press about the concept of the “Internet of Things” — or as it is commonly abbreviated, IOT. The concept of IOT is simply defined as a network of physical devices.
Analysts are tripping over each other to estimate how pervasive this trend will be. One predicts 20 billion devices to be connected by 2020, while another counters that it will be 30 billion. Certainly this seems like a phenomenon! Still, for those of us involved in BAS, this seems like a rehash of the same trend played out over and over again. Remember when it was called M2M (machine to machine), and back before that when we just called it controls? After all, is IOT really any different than what we have been doing with networked — and in many cases, internet-connected — controls for the last several decades?
The answer to this question is complicated. In many ways, building and industrial control systems have largely pre-dated IOT. What is a BAS other than a network of sensors, actuators, and control logic? The evolution of BAS has included moving from proprietary to open protocols, and from the use of exclusively dedicated networks to the ability to co-exist on an enterprise network. In many ways, the many millions of connected nodes on BAS networks are already part of the IOT trend.
At the same time, it is fairly probable that the movement to IOT is also going to change how we look at BAS, controls, and integration. Here are some likely changes to expect.
- IT standards. Look for future devices and systems to be even more compliant with information technology (IT) standards. Most BAS installations are compliant with standards at some level, but look for this to move down into smaller controllers and even to sensor and actuators.
- Cybersecurity. There is a lot of work going on in the world of IOT to define how to make devices both accessible and secure. This is a challenge for most BAS systems today, so using what is being developed for IOT has a lot of potential.
- Ancillary services. Today, most BAS projects provide data to the building operations team. Look for future systems to be able to provide data to a number of different users (including occupants) along with various services for analyzing and decisionmaking. These same systems will be able to use data from a variety of sources such as utilities, weather services, and other equipment in the facility.
- Deeper integration. Look for more devices in a building to become IOT-enabled. Examples may include light fixtures, office equipment, plug strips, appliances, etc. There will be lots of opportunity to exchange data with these new systems and what has traditionally been part of the BAS.
Of course, all of this raises an interesting question: “Will we have a BAS in the future, or is it just part of the IOT?” My opinion is that we will continue to need a way to safely, efficiently, and reliably control building systems. The need to have qualified designers, suppliers, contractors, and operators who understand electrical and mechanical systems (as well as controls and IT) doesn’t go away. Perhaps what we call a building control system in the future changes, but the basics of good control remain the same. ES