Smart Building Challenges

by George Milis

We spend 85-90% of our lives in buildings and we require them to offer a comfortable and safe environment. Moreover, we want them to be operated in an efficient manner for economic reasons, as well as for compliance with EU and national regulations (e.g., Nearly-Zero Energy Building Directive 2010/31/EU). As a result, most commercial buildings are already equipped with Building Automation Systems (BAS) and sub-systems that monitor and control heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), and possibly other parameters such as air quality, lighting, water distribution and security.

Today’s BAS solutions typically assume pre-deployed devices, as well as pre-designed monitoring and control intelligence. However, the emerging level of maturity of the Internet of Things (IoT)  paradigm and the subsequent proliferation and high penetration of smart portable and embedded devices (including sensors on mo-bile devices) that can be deployed in buildings [1] taking advantage of the readily available wireless internet infrastructure, turn the BAS market into a rapidly growing market, expected to grow at an annual rate of 16.7%, from €5.6 billion in 2016 to €16.2 billion in 2023. 

It is estimated that by 2020 the number of connected and data exchanging devices may exceed 50 billion , suggesting a future where Building components will interact with each other and the environment in a context-aware framework [2].Consider the following use cases: A room is equipped with a sensor which measures light intensity, to control the window blinds. If the sensor is broken, the automated system cannot work. Now, consider the case when an intelligent system decided to request the use of the luminosity sensor from a mobile device of a person who occupies the room, to replace temporarily the broken sensor. Such an intelligent system could also retrieve through the internet open data from a local weather station (e.g., temperature and humidity) and combine this information with the window opening measurement retrieved from the security system of the BAS, in order to select the most appropriate HVAC controls.

What’s more, an intelligent system may enable the HVAC to utilize a newly installed electric heater to supplement its actuation capacity to effectively control the temperature considering cost-optimality. Moreover, a temperature regulation system could be reconfigured automatically to utilize the output of a newly installed occupancy sensor to lower the setpoint value of the zone temperature when the zone is not occupied, thus saving energy.

Finally, the security system could detect occupants' presence in a room using information from a CO2 measurement installed for the air-quality system. Such flexibility is not provided by current monitoring and control systems utilized in Commercial Buildings.The research community has recently identified the above-mentioned challenges [3], suggesting to build interoperable components (sensors, models, algorithms, actuators) that will exhibit plug-and-play capabilities and exploit technologies to deal with automatic discovery and composition of services, from the Web domain [4]. The objective would be for the monitoring and control applications to deal with dynamic compatibilities between cyber and physical IoT components. 

To respond to the IoT flexibility challenges, new system architectures have been designed in relevant academic research [5][6], able to facilitate the online recognition of IoT devices, the acquisition of their capability characteristics and finally the self-reconfiguration of the monitoring and control system to incorporate the new capabilities. The proposed architectures suggest the use of a Supervisor system which undertakes to communicate with all deployed components in a building, as well as with human operators and cloud services, “understand” what monitoring and control capability is available in the building and “think” on behalf of the building operators/engineers to appropriately (re-)configure the monitoring and control systems to meet the human comfort and energy efficiency specifications.

Our team is expanding its Domognostics product towards:

The Domognostics+ Platform, which will collect data from existing BAS components, as well as commercial IoT sensors for air quality, heating, ventilation, water flows, etc. 

The Domognostics+ IoT gateway device which will interface with generic sensors/actuators to provide connectivity to the Platform and fuse data using open and standards-based interoperable interfaces

The SEMIoTICS Architecture  and its Semantically-enhanced Supervisor that will be built on top of an ontological knowledge Graph to facilitate the devices’ semantic annotation through dedicated Prolog  and/or SPARQL . The Supervisor will offer logic-based semantic reasoning capabilities to achieve monitoring and control system re-configuration towards energy efficiency and increase of occupants’ comfort.

Smart Building Apps repository, which will be populated with existing cyber modules that the Domognostics+ Platform can use to expand its capabilities. The platform will be also integrated with existing localization services  to track the location of IoT devices and enrich their semantic annotation, as well as third-party systems like Room Booking systems of hotels in relevant applications, relevant open data sources, local weather stations, etc.