Making the IoT Work for Building Managers

May 4, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

iotThe emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) is perhaps the biggest telecommunications and information technology story of the decade. Suddenly, it is possible to measure and control processes and procedures at a granular level unheard of in the past. It is, for better or worse, revolutionary.

It is also difficult to implement. Slapping a low-power sensor on something is a big part of the job. But it isn’t the entire job: The massive amount of outputs gathered by the sensors must be collected and delivered to a place where something useful can be done with them. The difficulties are multiplied when more than one attributed is being tracked.

That’s a bit vague because the types of data collected vary so widely. An example of the challenges – and benefits – of working through the tall weeds of the IoT is a product nearing commercialization from N2 Global Solutions, which is based in New York City.

The company’s SuperGrid hardware and software platform is an overlay to an existing building’s wiring system. The heart of SuperGrid, according to Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder David Katz, is the replacement of the contents of the electrical junction boxes with its electronics — called SandBox — and the deployment of proprietary snap on face plates. The face plates include software that provides a wide variety of customizable functionality enabling the system to track things such as lighting, gas and electrical use, security and computer systems and the presence of dangerous gases and mold and moisture.

The junction boxes/SandBoxes throughout a structure connect to a coordinator/concentrator known as The Wizard and, ultimately to the facilities’ server. (The SuperGrid features a backup server called The Nitro.) Software in the SandBoxes sends sub-meter data — HVAC, lighting and other building systems – to building management systems (BMSes) in the bigger buildings where they like are in use. Where BMSes aren’t available – generally smaller buildings – the data is sent from the coordinator to the company’s N2 server. All this communications is done using ZigBee (IEEE 802.15.4), which is a low power, short range wireless technology that is configured in a  mesh to ensure connectivity even if a SandBox unit goes down. Wired Ethernet or LTE can deliver the data to offsite locations.

The goal — a holistic and modular platform — illustrates the growing pains that the IoT world is going through. For the mountains of data it produces to be useful, clever ways must be found to make it ubiquitously and universally accessible and available. The race is on to create this infrastructure, and N2 thinks that they have the best approach for facilities. “We are really in the ‘Interim of Things’ today,” Katz said. “The reality is that because there are many different wireless protocols that are specific to each manufacturer, they prevent true machine-to-machine integration. Even if they are from the same manufacturer, the devices may not use the same language. The issue is that until there is one common language or communications platform that allows these multiple languages to be integrated, the [full vision of the IoT] is never going to be a reality.”

In its literature, N2 suggests that it is the company to do that, at least in building management sector:

N2™ encourages potential competition to join in its network of best-of-breed solutions in a cooperative engagement, like teams, that become a part of an environmental and community coalition to deliver best practices—similar to rival sports teams competing with each other to coexist by providing value as a formalized league.

Paul Amelio, N2’s Chairman, Co-Founder and Co-Inventor of the SuperGrid, says that two alpha tests – one at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering and the other at unnamed locale — currently are underway. The next step will be certification by Underwriters Laboratories and, ultimately, manufacture and commercialization. SuperGrid will be available in the late summer, Amelio said.

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