Implementing an integrated Cyber-Physical system utilizing open standards and inexpensive components

Cyber-physical systems are transforming the way we view and interact with everyday objects and processes and have led the way into the 4th Industrial Revolution. These systems hold the promise of revolutionary advances in fields from medicine to public safety to manufacturing. Who would have imagined internet-connected parking meters just a few decades ago? From 80s-style imprint credit card readers to touchless payments with immediate purchase alerts, cyber-physical systems are everywhere.

A State of The Art Office Space

Imagine a switch to turn a whole office with all settings perfectly aligned to the specific user’s last set of preferences and the current weather. Over the next decade, we will see accelerated change in this pervasive embedding of not only technology but of cloud connectivity and machine learning that helps people directly. This is due in part to increased access and maturity in cloud computing, pervasive network connectivity and growing expectations of smart devices.

We are nearing the completion of a six-month building project for IntelliTect’s new corporate office. At IntelliTect, we strive to cultivate a culture of innovation by pressing into leading-edge technology, so we were excited about integrating cyber-physical technology and wanted to push the envelope with our project.

Cyber-physical systems are simple physical devices with integrated networks that compute to achieve a more holistic tangible outcome. In our context, this could be a smart door lock where keycodes are managed online, along with a trackable history. It could be a heating system that uses weather data to determine the best heating and cooling algorithms. But for our purposes, we wanted to see how far we could take building integration.

Dreaming of Possibilities

Like any other building, we have the typical systems: heating, fire, security, video, access, network, lighting, leak detection, etc. Each of these systems has individual controls. As is our penchant, we started exploring and dreaming about what might be possible.

Would it be possible to have a single control for all our systems? Could we make a single dashboard that would show our building’s health? Could we press a single button and shut off the lights, adjust the heating, ensure all doors were closed and set the alarm? Also, once we walked out, could it lock the doors behind us? Could the building alert us to a leak or overflowing condensate on an A/C unit? Could we see temperature trends, correct them for weather and be warned if our heating equipment was beginning to fail?

Forging the Way

Our initial discussions with our contractors led to frustrations and disappointment. It turns out that most contractors are averse to embracing new technologies. It was quickly apparent that we had two options. Either we would need to live with basic physical systems or spend a tremendous amount of money on a fully-integrated, technically-antiquated, building control system. But, both options seemed antithetical to our corporate culture.

It is hard for us to sit idly by and watch the implementation of what we believe are sub-par technical solutions. So, in order to realize our goals, we had to be the driving force in architecting our building’s integrated cyber-physical vision. We believed that we could design a system based on open standards and inexpensive components that would meet our needs.

The vision was threefold:

  • Goal 1 – Internet-enable all critical building systems so we can control and monitor everything remotely. Additionally, this interface needs to be standardized so that we can integrate with it.
  • Goal 2 – Integrate the individual devices into a holistic cyber-physical building management system combining on-premise and cloud-based resources. Then, leverage our expertise in development to maximize the potential of each device through feedback, data analysis and automated next steps.
  • Goal 3 – Present the building’s cyber-physical systems through an elegant, easy to use interface that would be available both on premise and remotely. The interface would allow both monitoring and control.

Realizing Our Vision

Based on the state of non-billionaire building automation, we had an ambitious challenge. Many of the pieces have come together nicely. And although we’ve gone through many ups and downs of pushing technology in new ways during the implementation process, some components didn’t meet our requirements. However, the market is headed in a direction to deliver them in the near future.

We were able to construct an initial solution by combining our vision and a disparate set of devices with some clever software. By utilizing OpenHab, an open-source Internet of Things (IoT) control system, we created our underlying infrastructure and user experience. As a result, we’ve consolidated all of our devices and overlayed them with a web-based user interface. The key feature OpenHab provided was the ability to write logic between the touch screen and the actual devices. Subsequently, this allowed for things like arming the alarm only after ensuring all the doors were closed and giving enough time for the person to leave the building.

Our Path Forward

The real excitement is that we have a platform for innovation – a place where we can experiment, learn and press the boundaries of cyber-physical systems. In short, we have hardly scratched the surface of what can be achieved by melding of physical and cyber systems. But, we hope it will serve as a springboard for inspiration and innovation.

What leading-edge technology do you want for your office space? Comment below.

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