Here in the greater Chicago area, like elsewhere in the United States, many commercial buildings already have fairly advanced building-automation networks in place. At work, for example, when I meet with colleagues, the lights turn on as soon as we enter the conference room, and turn off again after we leave. I’ve also been in buildings that automatically close heat registers at the end of the business day, and others that use sensors to lower blinds when the sun is at its brightest, or turn on the air conditioning when the outdoor temperature hits a certain point. These automated features save energy while making the workplace more comfortable and more productive.
The growing use of automation in new and reconstructed commercial buildings is due, in large part, to the push for greener, more energy-efficient construction. In California, it’s now mandatory that commercial buildings comply with Title 24, which calls for automated lighting, heating, and cooling functions. Many states have opted to follow the California guidelines, while others have chosen to use the recommendations of ASHRAE 90.1, a set of minimum requirements for energy-efficient buildings, published by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, in Atlanta.
Both standards recommend the use of technology, such as sensors and wired or wireless connectivity, to save energy while enhancing work environments. Sensors help regulate operation by monitoring things like motion, temperature, and light levels, and connectivity makes it possible for devices to communicate with each other and the control network. Wired connectivity, in the form of DALI, DMX512, and KNX networks, is a popular choice for automated lighting systems, and wireless protocols, such as WiFi, Bluetooth, and ZigBee, make the installation, deployment, and operation of sensor-equipped devices just that much easier.
What I’ve noticed is that the techniques specified by standards like Title 24 and ASHARE 90.1 are influencing more than just commercial buildings. I think it’s because when people have the experience of working in automated environments, they’re more likely to start wanting similar levels of comfort, convenience, and even productivity at home, too. More and more people are installing automated appliances, such as thermostats that learn preferences, sensor-controlled lights, and window shades that can be controlled with a smartphone.Home and building automation (HABA) is a segment of the Internet of Things (IoT), and, as such, is a pretty hot topic these days. A growing number of companies are making building-automation products available for the home market – just walk into your local do-it-yourself store or electronics warehouse, and you’ll find lots of options. Most these options had their start in commercial environments.
We’re still in the early days of smart home devices, but it won’t be long before our homes really live up to the name “smart,” using automation to make life easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable. Pretty soon, I’ll walk into my living room, and the room will know it’s me. The lights will immediately set to the combination I like best – with just the right level of brightness and color rendering – my favorite music will start playing, and the room temperature will adjust to match my level of activity. All these things are possible today. What’s needed now is a bit of ingenuity to make the technologies work together, for a seamless user experience – at work or at home.
TechZone page for wireless connectivity
NXP’s ZigBee home automation guide
NXP Bluetooth Smart connectivity
NXP solutions for wired lighting networks
NXP microcontrollers for HABA applications