Smart technology is all around us from smart phones, TVs, and cars to the electrical grid and meters for our homes. Smart technology starts at the device level where the device is intelligent itself or communicates to other devices in an effective way that adds intelligence. Cloud computing and storage is a good example whereby the cloud can store and process more information to offer new capabilities at the device (phone) level such as voice recognition or mapping. In summary, devices that are connected to interoperate with other devices or systems to add function are more intelligent or “smart” compared to devices or systems that simply operate on their own.
In terms of business and home environments, there are many devices that are connected together to form a system, which performs a function. Examples of these systems might include: Video Surveillance, Access Control, Intrusion Detection, Fire Detection, Temperature Control, Electrical Supply, Intercom and Communication systems. These systems typically operate on their own, but when multiple systems are connected and become interoperable, the aggregate function is augmented and becomes more intelligent or “smart”; smart system.
A good example might consist of connecting a video surveillance system to the intrusion alarm system and further integrating the monitoring station. When an alarm intrusion signal is received by the monitoring station, the video surveillance system begins recording the event in high resolution and sends the video images to the alarm monitoring company for video verification. Both systems function independently, but by linking them together, an operator can associate video with the alarm in real time, verify if it is a real alarm and dispatch the authorities accordingly. With two separate systems, the video would not work with the alarm and would not transmit to the monitoring station at the same time. No quick video verification would be possible. The video would be used for investigative purposes only.
There are hundreds or even thousands of scenarios whereby advantages emerge by connecting or integrating systems together. When many systems are connected and operate together in a building; we call this a “smart building”. (See smart building)
When many systems in multiple buildings operate together, we call this a smart campus. Many new capabilities and levels of sophistication emerge when many buildings are connected. The smart systems in each building are able to coordinate efforts in order to perform a specific function. (See smart campus)
Obstacles to Integration
Today some manufacturers cooperate with each other to integrate two systems. Sometimes one manufacturer simply purchases another and creates a better system. There are two problems with this method. First, when one manufacturer changes its system, the other manufacturer’s integrated system must also change so that both systems continue to have interoperability. There are hundreds of manufacturers and thousands of systems. Over time, the manufacturers rarely keep the interoperability updated. The second problem exists when one manufacturer purchases another. In this case, there are competition issues whereby the purchase of a different type of system puts the purchasing manufacturer in a competitive position with other manufacturers who were not completion before. Any previous integrations then fall apart as the two companies stop cooperating.
Standards : The Solution
The best way to resolve these two obstacles to integration is to develop standards for systems to communicate with each other. Since 2000, many new standards have been developed and are beginning to be utilized in the building automation industry. Popular standards include:
By use of these standard, system integration has become the job of the integration or installation company. Manufacturers simply put the protocols into their products, and the integrator enables the functions and commissions the systems to assure that they are programmed properly.
Once these systems are connected, a higher layer of intelligence begins to emerge. This layer is the command and control layer or platform, which receives, monitors and controls all of the subsystems. This platform applies rules and logic engines to produce automatic and/or supervised responses to events. The responses are based on policy that the managing organization wants to enforce. There is no end to the number and complexity of the rules and rule logic ability of these systems. Further, this layer provides workflow, user roles and workspaces with a man-machine graphical and audible user interface so that operators can monitor and control the systems based on ability, login credentials, and workload. Lastly, the devices and systems themselves are beginning to utilize artificial intelligence in order to learn the environment they monitor and control. These building systems can monitor and control events and situations much more efficiently and effectively than humans in many situations. It is always prudent to have the control and management platform analyze and make a suggestion while waiting for the final command to come from an authorized operator who knows the situation and can make an informed decision. (Please see diagram below)
Integration of building systems will certainly continue and become more and more sophisticated over the foreseeable future. As smart sensor systems, artificial intelligence and new awareness systems dominate the management layer, new possibilities will emerge that are sure to add function, reduce risk and save energy. (For more details and specific brands of equipment, please see Emergency Operations & Command Centers under the products section)