IoT Makers in Legoland

AllAboutDesk_ArupLike kids set loose in a roomful of legos, IoT product developers around the world are making brand new things to connect to the Internet out of smartphone components and open source software stacks. Makers are taking advantage of the supply chain built by the mobile computing industry. They have low-cost compute devices like Arduino and Raspberry Pi as well as affordable sensors (accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, GPS, temperature, etc) at their disposal. Open source organizations and big tech companies are trying to harness Maker Movement power by sponsoring hackathons, contests and test bed sites. Even the US Department of Energy now sponsors a crowd-sourcing initiative with the specific goal of jumpstarting citizen building technology innovation. DOE’s JUMP program brings innovators together with national laboratories and private sector partners to help them test their ideas and secure funding. The impact that Internet of Things makers are going to have on Smart Buildings shouldn’t be underestimated. Here’s a few of the concepts to watch:

Design-thinkers at Arup are experimenting with all sorts of emerging technologies. They’ve created desks with features such as extra low-voltage DC power charging for mobile devices. And they’ve deployed rapid manufacturing techniques including open-hardware 3D printing to realize their concepts.

Why adjust temperature across a whole space when occupants can adjust for their comfort themselves through their furniture? That’s a question that launched a project at the Center for the Built Environment, University of California at Berkeley, which evolved into the PCS Hyperchair from Personal Comfort Systems. This personal heating and cooling chair adjusts to the sitter’s preferences like a car seat. Chairs include Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity to share useful data about occupant preferences with HVAC systems. Chair settings can be controlled via a mobile app or directly.


The PCS Hyperchair is covered in this CityLab article: “To Save Big on Energy, Heat People, Not Air.” There are a few other IoT Maker-Movement inventions in that story as well. Providing occupants with connected furniture might seem like a big expense. However, manual overrides of thermostats in response to occupant hot/cold calls is often the first step on the slippery slope toward control programming that is non-functioning. Simultaneous heating/cooling, full-blast services overnight and on week-ends, and other common patterns of energy drift in buildings start here. Compared to the cost of that waste, these chairs could be an economy.

More IoT use cases are showcased in this video about new digital services at The Edge in Amsterdam, touted as the world’s “greenest office.” Check out the occupant mobile app for room booking/environmental control and the QR code-activated system for lockers.

The price of entry into the Maker Movement is low and Do It Yourself (DIY) assembly is easier than it has ever been. VizLore presents its simplified vision of the management of EnOcean sensors and switches in this video. EnOcean devices require no cable and no battery. They can be used to switch lights, control blinds and get sensory information like temperature, humidity or presence detection. Data captured by the IoT devices can be managed through VizLore Cloud Services.Wi_Ocean_Video_Vizlore

Makers look to open source communities for the connectivity software to integrate their IoT devices with existing systems. To build viable products for commercial building and industrial settings, they need to be concerned about more than just connecting through a standardized communication protocol, they need to design for security, use standard semantics for naming, and accommodate efficient transport of metadata. Connectivity is not data interoperability. VizLore lists open-source initiative Project-Haystack as one of the protocols it supports to streamline semantic data modeling.

Two complementary open-source initiatives aimed at data interoperatiblity among industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices announced their intentions to cooperate this month, just in time for Hannover Messe 2016. Both are based on publish/subscribe (pub-sub) communications familiar to mobile app users; however, the OPC Foundation supports OPC UA and the Object Management Group supports DDS.  The agreement between the two organizations clears up some market confusion that was believed to be holding back IoT developers and buyers. In a move that should increase market confidence in a future of more seamless data interoperability, Microsoft just announced extended support of the OPC UA open-source software stack in Windows devices and the Azure cloud platform. This announcement should please the makers.

This IoT wave is more about empowering people than fitting within existing enterprise department and practices. Its adoption curve could resemble the BYOD (bring your own device) movement that has transformed enterprise IT over the last ten years. Prior to BYOD, IT staff could hold to the policy of only supporting hardware and software that they selected, procured and distributed. But, when everyone from the CEO on down joined BYOD, IT departments eventually had to acquiesce and work with their vendors to figure out how to license applications and provide data security for a much larger range of devices and more mobile workforces. Building operations managers could be under similar pressure to change as occupants demand more personalized control over their temperature, lighting and other digital services made possible by this Maker Movement.

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Putting a Value on open, standards-based BAS

Last month I wrote about how open source communities are fertile ground for launching new companies and about how they spurn any software that seeks to trap data into proprietary silos. Two pieces of news over the last weeks prove those points. The latest news is that GE Current just acquired Daintree Networks for $77M.Daintree’s founders chaired several working groups on wireless standards bodies, including the open-source ZigBee Alliance. In 2007, it began developing and delivering ZigBee-based lighting and building control products and services. The GE acquisition puts a value on that open IoT platform strategy. The other news is that Google’s Nest shut down the Revolv home IoT hub due to lack of resources, amid stories of internal problems threatening the viability of Nest itself. You may remember that Google bought Nest Labs for $3.2B at the end of 2013 to get an IoT platform. It launched its own ZigBee-competitive Thread protocol with Nest as central player soon after. In this article entitled ‘Internet of Broken Things’ a Computerworld reporter says, “If you want to protect yourself or your company, you should look to open-source software and open standards. Now, more than ever, they’re the only way to have real ownership.”

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Open Source is the New Marketing- Part 2

The internet democratized software development, creating the open source movement. And now, the open source mindset is democratizing how marketing is created, analyzed and measured. Participation in open source communities can be a vector into the buying process. You need people on your marketing team capable of engaging with developers. I work in words, but the way I work now is not unlike how a software developer participates in an open source community.

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From latest slide deck by Ben Evans, mobile tech analyst with Andreessen Horowitz.

Today my clients and I use software-as-a-service tools to collaborate, like Google Docs, Slack and Adobe inDesign. We might work on three or more pieces at once – a product description, website copy, a training document and a blog post, eg. When we discover new better wording for one document, we make sure it ripples through all of them. We can see each others’ suggestions, accept or reject changes, text or video chat, on the fly, from a common interface. We make our contributions with real-time visibility and help each other to learn and move forward as fast and efficiently as possible. The opportunity to be working on the wrong draft or drifting off and wasting time on a direction that isn’t on target just isn’t there.

To succeed with this workflow, you have to be knowledgable and good at the craft. I’ve learned from clients working in some of the bigger enterprise software companies that the type of content development that I do is called Solution Marketing.  Solution Marketers are assumed to be engineers capable of being developers. So, for content creators like myself, it’s not only the ways we are working that are being reshaped into the software developer’s workflow, the names we call ourselves are changing to better fit that mindset too. (After writing for, about and with engineers for two decades, I’ve earned the equivalent of associate engineering degrees in several disciplines. I could get tested through a Massive Open Online Course and add some certification letters to my signature. That would really give me some developer cred.) 

However, I also identify with the profession I chose at the start. I like this quote from another one-time technology journalist, Dan Lyons:

Over time, most people get better at what they do. They become wiser, calmer, more self-aware. They’ve also put in the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell says are required to become expert in a skill. Why would companies not want employees who have gained that expertise?

The push mechanism in this Open Source era of marketing is social media. So, I also spend much of my day on LinkedIn and Twitter. One’s experience with these platforms is a function of the people in your network and how you’ve tuned your feeds. I started gathering contacts with similar interests in buildings and data in 2007 and I’ve continued to grow my network on that common theme. Today the shared updates and tweets that reach me are rich with good information to help me and my clients continue to hone our messages.  When you’ve built a social network with an express theme in mind —like I have around data & buildings—the signal to noise ratio in your social feeds is quite good. Having great clients helps me put out valued tweets and shares. I get validation of that by having more qualified smart building and data professionals ask to join my network. Some of those new contacts become clients.

Dan Lyons, who is quoted above, is the author of the new book “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble.”  He writes about working at HubSpot, a marketing automation software company that promotes the practice of posting often and cleverly —but not necessarily with information-rich assets. The Hubspot method is to offer lightweight infographics, white papers and ebooks in exchange for readers’ information, in order to build lead lists. Lyons reports that HubSpot’s success stories are few and mainly in well-established B2C markets like insurance sales where the target is just about anyone with a car, home or business. 

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The method does not have a track record for success in reaching todays’s smart buildings and IoT market. I don’t think the kind of system integrators,  data scientists and developers that populate our early adopter market are receptive to this content-for-your-email lure. 

To summarize how Open Source thinking and Software-as-a-Service tools have changed marketing:

  • It’s easier than ever to create your marketing and hone and test your message in social media, as you are developing a product or service.
  • Don’t put off marketing tasks because you think you don’t have the time and only you can get the job done. There are solution marketers that can speed the job along and bring new perspective and skills to the work.
  • Join open source organizations and participate in social media discussion groups tuned specifically to your market. You may meet early customers

How does this specifically apply to Smart Buildings and IoT? We’re still in an early adopter market. You need to work hard for early customers and stay in tight communication with them to get feedback on your product.  As a rule, it is too early for the type of keyword advertising and marketing automation programs that better suit volume markets.

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VizLore Interview: How Will the IoT Create More Intelligent Buildings?


VizLore platform is physically divided into two computational strata: a) Edge Computing is applied and distributed across connected devices and networking elements. It enables tactical data processing and serves to improve service resilience. b) Cloud Computing: Orchestration of distributed computing and service integration across the edge devices happens in the cloud, as well as more strategic oversight and workflow control. Here’s a video that explains the architecture.

VizLore platform is physically divided into two computational strata: a) Edge Computing is applied and distributed across connected devices and networking elements. It enables tactical data processing and serves to improve service resilience. b) Cloud Computing: Orchestration of distributed computing and service integration across the edge devices happens in the cloud, as well as more strategic oversight and workflow control. Here’s a video that explains the architecture.

In covering the growing power of the open source/open data movement in commercial buildings, I learned about VizLore and its Software-Defined Network (SDN) approach. SDN is an open programming model that is foundational for new Platform as a Service (PaaS) IoT applications like  VizLore’s. VizLore soft sensors and analytics derive insight and value from data sources that range from occupant personal devices, building infrastructure, and public-domain information. Sometimes it feels like experienced Smart Buildings practitioners and those that want to bring hyperconnectivity and the Internet of Things into buildings speak two different languages. Not true with VizLore. CEO Dragan Boscovic explains in this interview how It’s all just moving data.

Therese Sullivan: There is a drumbeat right now about how the current incarnation of Smart Buildings has left people out of the equation and about how the next incarnation – the Building Internet of Things – will be driven from an ‘occupant productivity and comfort -first’ perspective. How will the IoT give rise to truly intelligent buildings that fit this description?

Dragan Boscovic: While IoT will be a radical and beneficial change to the way we currently live, work and play, the reality of IoT is that we will have a lot of connected devices, sensors, wearables and appliances that all come with their own set of functionalities, but that don’t know how to talk to each other and make sense of the data they collect in a way that is meaningful as a whole. So, to derive actual long-term value from IoT, you need a way to make sense of it all. The way to do that is to implement a smart software defined network that will act as a private in-building information backbone that can, in addition to providing better security and data privacy, also orchestrate all the devices and flow of data. In return, you get actionable insights into things like your operational efficiency, use of resources, geospatial analysis, or even the social dynamics of your building.

Why is it essential for an intelligent building to have a platform that supports both edge and cloud computing?

Since the software part of the network sits in the cloud, it can be easily updated and re-defined to suit any future need and to maintain security, without needing to have an IT person on premises to deal with it all. When this software defined network (SDN) is complemented with edge and fog devices (such as switches, firewalls, IP cameras, sensors, bluetooth beacons) it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the creation of added value IoT services. For example, you can create automatic commands for the building so that you can save energy or enhance security. The fact that VizLore’s SDN picks up sensory data across the connected edge devices means that it can compile information from different sources and transform it into a “software sensor” (or soft-sensor) that can then be combined with lots of other soft-sensors to provide actionable recommendations.

How does your soft-sensor approach democratize data analytics?

Our cloud SDN is open and nonproprietary, so any types of devices, sensors, appliances, wearables etc. can be connected to it, and data extracted, in a way that is ultimately useful to the end user. Democratizing this process is necessary to allow the IoT to function at its full potential. If you have a bunch of cool tech solutions throughout your building but they have no way of communicating with each other, how are you going to use them to create an impact for your tenants or for your building management team?

How does the combination of a SDN and open source platforms (like EnOcean Alliance, AllJoyn and Project-Haystack) add value to a building?

Not everyone’s SDN platform is open. Well-known open source technologies like Project-Haystack for self-describing data models, EnOcean for self-powering wireless devices and AllJoyn work well in the context of our private software-defined network precisely because it is open. Project-Haystack is working toward standard tagging and semantic modeling of building elements (such as lights, thermostats and HVAC equipment ).  AllJoyn allows devices to become discoverable amongst each other to create ad hoc networks for information sharing. An open SDN means that these platforms, and others like them, can be integrated within the network infrastructure, and in turn can be used to create soft sensors that will extract information from each side and repackage that data to make it more understandable as a process in the larger context of the building’s operations. You can have real-time information flow about the whereabouts and functionality of certain critical building components, where a suspicious dataset could trigger an automatic response and message to the facility manager and/or maintenance crew.

VizLore is a Google Technology and Service Partner and builds upon the Google Cloud Platform and Google Compute Engine. What are the advantages?

With Google infrastructure behind our cloud-based platform and software-defined network, we don’t have to worry about managing infrastructure, provisioning servers and configuring networks. We focus on how we can help customers optimize critical business processes through soft sensors and data analytics. Google wants to stay at the forefront of innovation in machine intelligence, so it’s a natural partner for VizLore.  Our soft sensors bring together data formats familiar to Smart Building practitioners, like Wi-Fi, Zigbee, AllJoyn, Project-Haystack. And they  are dynamically created and managed through APIs to our cloud-based platform hosted by Google.

What kinds of IoT Apps can be built upon such an open, flexible and secure framework? Can you give an example of an IoT application for intelligent buildings?

Lots of cool new modern services can be supplied through an IoT-enabled building structure, not only to building managers but also to tenants. One potent example of this is a revolutionary enhancement to an old, ingrained building system – the intercom. By connecting the electric door to the SDN, residents can now use a smartphone device as a virtual key to access the building! Real-time access logs are created that integrate surveillance camera feeds for every entry. The VizLore app for smart access also lets tenants create virtual key codes for their guests. Imagine you have a dog walker that comes by once a day, or an out of town guest that is here for a long weekend – now you can issue them a personal code to enter the building (instead of cutting a key). The virtual access codes have either a one time or multiple use life span that you decide when you create it. You can cancel the access code, or block a lost or stolen device from having entry rights, at any time, from the app or an online web portal.

Building managers have a further array of options for building security purposes: they can override any codes created or any devices granted access, block a specific tenant or unit from generating access codes, update the tenant directory online, and schedule events (like directory updates and blocked access) to coincide with move-out dates. With an IoT-enabled intelligent building, you can build any service to bring old processes into the 21st century. Your imagination is really the only limitation.          


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‘Death of Controls Industry’ as Explained by Darren Wright of Arup


The Controls Industry as it has evolved over the last half-century needs to die. Status quo practices have resulted in broken, brittle processes at each step of the chain of control software development and deployment.

Darren Wright, a Director at Arup, has released a video stream of his presentation on the history and future of the controls industry on youtube. It’s a very on-point statement on the topic from the viewpoint of an experienced building commissioning expert. His understanding of the development of control automation goes all the way back to ancient Greece, but he quickly advances to what is happening now—and that is open source control software. He predicts radical change in how controls are designed, installed and maintained over the life of a building, and when he says ‘Death of the Controls Industry,’ he means that part of the industry that relies on proprietary-protocol lock-in to limit the options of building owners and their partners in design, construction, operations and maintenance.  As a further demonstration of its commitment to open-source building controls communities, Arup has just joined Project-Haystack as an Associate member.  Here are a few key points from Darren Wright’s presentation:

BMS Lock-In

We are told that BMS complies with an open communication language. We assume this gives us the flexibility we need to design systems and to hire contractors to build and maintain. Unfortunately this is not true. Systems are still designed to lock us in. But, now the lock-in is embedded further down in a BMS controller, at a software level that you cannot access. Below the line, control and services do not follow the open protocol. Closed, inaccessible software has stymied responsible people at each step of the process. As a result, about 90% of the buildings that I visit have some problems with the BMS, occupant satisfaction or both. 


How Open Source Will Fix Controls

Right now the buzz is around 3 things: smart buildings, IoT and Big Data.  But, more data and communication can only identify the problem. Real solutions will only come from knowledge of the unique building, its mechanical and electrical services and the occupants. Only then will we be assured that the systems we design and install meet the desired performance expectations.

If I were king of controls industry, software would be open-source.  Designers, contractors, applications engineers — all would have access. They would be able to control their BMS software. A BMS has 1000s of inputs and outputs, but today these are non-intelligent devices locked away via a closed-strategy controls layer of code. A building’s future control plant will feature intelligent devices communicating via open-source programming.  The Internet of Things is moving us to this new future. Devices such as temperature sensors are becoming intelligent so that data can be collected bypassing a BMS controller to collect all these inputs.

Open source software development methods are already prevalent in IT.  Open source organizations share development of solutions and applications across the whole industry. Errors and omissions in the software are more easily spotted and dealt with because everyone contributes.  There is still a license, but those that need access have it. Open source will provide us more opportunity to link control with other devices, data and information.


The BIM and dominant controls companies are just waking up to open source.  But, it is possible to envision how enterprise IT data and applications and realtime operations data and apps will be combined into a single solution with open source at its heart. Such solutions will arrive in the not-too-distant future.

I’m advocating a revolution. We have to get to the point where we are in control of our controls. Where you get what you ask for. Be brave and ask for something truly open that provides you with access and choice.


Bio: Darren Wright, Director at Arup, is a global business area leader for its Controls and Commissioning group. He is a Chartered Engineer with over of 25 years experience in the building controls industry. He has particular interest in the commercial and contractual practices that define the controls industry, particularly as they apply to Arups’ primary role as a systems designer. He guides a team of engineers that deal with all aspects of building control systems in many market sectors. Arup and its blue chip clients have been strong proponents of global ‘open’ solutions for their building portfolios.

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Selling to Developers: Open Source is the New Marketing

SellingPanicI hope you’ve seen the new Project-Haystack Connections ezine for Spring 2016. Here’s a link. Project-Haystack is certainly growing in strength as an open-source software organization as it advances the technology of semantic tagging and data modeling for smart devices, buildings, energy systems and the general Internet of Things. The new zine was launched with the mindset of informing and delighting smart building app developers.  Under that umbrella I’m referencing not just the traditional building controls systems integration professionals, but all the energy & sustainability managers, facilities and property managers, MEP system design engineers, building equipment product management teams, utility account managers, etc. that are starting to wrangle with BMS, lighting, fire & security, access control, and other building operational data. Actually, the Project-Haystack app development network is even bigger than the Smart Buildings world.  Haystack tags and data modeling technology can also be deployed to bring contextual data about the built environment into a healthcare app, an automotive app, a smart grid app etc.

More and more, we are an industry of software developers selling to other software developers as adoption of mobile app and Internet of Things concepts grow.  Here’s an article by a marketing company that conducted a detailed study of developers, as a target audience. To summarize this piece, developers care first about understanding the technology, so provide them with content that is full of useful resources and links. I think we achieved that goal with this first issue. There is a stereotype from the past of a briefcase-wielding salesperson knocking on the door of the more traditional IT buyer. That was the start of a relationship fueled on high-gloss marketing materials, lunches, ROI calculations, dinners, co-written RFPs, ringside seats to sports events, champagne toasts after proposal submissions, and eventually a sale. The building controls software industry never fit this stereotype and our world converged with enterprise IT just as that whole paradigm was imploding with cloud apps and ’the as a service’ model gaining acceptance.  So we missed that : (

Today,  more direct and educational marketing tools like our ezine are preferred by developers and are best-practice for selling software and services across the board.  Another factor that shouldn’t be missed is the role of the open source movement in marketing and sales. While open-source developers are first motivated by a desire to deeply understand a new technology, other outcomes are also often achieved. Open source communities regularly give birth to multiple commercial professional service and product companies. Consider all the companies that started within the .NET Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation, the Linux Foundation, etc. Developers that participate in open-source communities benefit from the opportunity to ‘try before you buy.’   In this way, open source becomes a vector into the buying process. Participation in an open-source community can give you an early customer base, it builds credibility.  Project-Haystack is not our industry’s only open source community. There is Sedona and there are many communities gathered around the Open Data movement and Internet of Things and Machine-to-Machine messaging.

I greatly appreciate the Project-Haystack members and supporters that contributed content to this first issue of Project-Haystack Connections, a few who enlisted my help in getting some great thought-leadership articles and customer stories written up and pre-published at sites like and ASHRAE Journal. Many more of you said your stories were just not ready to tell yet or that you were too busy. I hope you’ll all contact me soon so that you will be in Issue 02 of Connections. More than that, I hope that the new zine and the more recently published CABA white paper on Project-Haystack encourage you to join the organization if you haven’t yet. Some of the community are gathering at the Continental Automated Buildings Association Intelligent Buildings & Digital Home Forum coming up April 26 – 28, 2016 in San Diego, CA. You can meet them face to face there.  Most importantly, budget and plan for open-source participation in your marketing mix. As we move into a time when data wranglers and app developers are on both the buy and sell sides of any business, it could be the most important marketing you do.


Project-Haystack Connections ezine Launched


Click here for your copy of the new  digital magazine.

Project-Haystack is an open source initiative to streamline working with data from the Internet of Things.

Today’s systems, equipment, smart devices and IoT applications are generating tremendous amounts of data. However, the data can be very hard to organize, integrate and use across different applications for a number of reasons including inconsistent naming conventions and different terminologies, the many different formats and the limited data descriptors. In essence, it lacks information to describe the meaning of the data, and without meaning, a time-consuming manual effort is required before value creation can begin.

Project-Haystack is an open source collaborative initiative that is making it easier to unlock value from the vast quantity of data being generated by smart devices, smart equipment and smart systems with a simple, flexible meta data tagging methodology. The work developed by the Project-Haystack community provides an easy to use approach to describe the meaning of device data, consensus approved taxonomies and tagging conventions and open source implementations to streamline adoption in enterprise applications and devices.

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