By late 80’s, mobile phones had started to become common — from 1G to second-generation (2G) digital cellular network. But not until early 2000’s, these phones could still be classified as dumb. Fast-track it by two decades — to date — and smartphones have penetrated our lifestyles and have become an indispensable personal assistant of the average man — both old and young. What major features differentiate the present-day smartphones from the earlier ‘dumb-phones’?

What are those exclusively-unique features of Smart Homes?

With the above analogy in mind, take a moment and visualize the transgression of buildings from traditional to smart. In an earlier write-up, we posited that the various components that make up a smart home be holistically-integrated. In other words, there should be a unifying infrastructure that ties together all the components of a smart home — Structural and Technological. This integrated nature informs everything about smart buildings — from design to fabrication, to delivery, to post-occupancy and maintenance.

In this write-up, we will discuss some very unique features that are only made possible by the foundational framework upon which smart buildings are built. For you to appreciate these innovative features of smart homes, picture smart homes as lifestyle assistants of the millennial.

  • When you visualize smart homes as prefabricated ‘gadgets’, you could start to realize why they could be powered by direct electricity for example.
  • Or why they could have just a single faceplate type.
  • Or why they could have an operating system etc.

UNIFORM INFRASTRUCTURE

Have you ever thought about some time in the near future when there is a single type of faceplate in a home?

  • No dedicated faceplate for data.
  • No dedicated faceplate for power.
  • No dedicated faceplate for RF (radio frequency) signals.
  • Of course, that implies that every gadget and device in the home have same power adapter.
  • How far away in the future do you visualize that happening?
  • How many power packs do you want to have for all the devices in your home?

The backbone of technological integrations in buildings is the cabling. Wired signal flow is superior to the wireless solutions, both from stability and security standpoints.

There are two major parts to a cabling infrastructure — the cable and the termination.

Presently in the building industry, there are numerous cable types and innumerable termination types.

  • Some are optimized for power transfer.
  • Some are optimized for audio signals.
  • Some others are optimized for video signals (RG-6, HDMI).
  • And yet some are optimized for RF signals etc.

This complexity is traceable to the origin of signals — the analog. 

However, it cannot be overstated that signals are migrating from analog to digital.

Thus, if all we’re left to deal with during signal transfer is bits and bytes; then the cabling infrastructure can as well be standardized. One ultimate cable type. The direct implication of a standardized cabling infrastructure is a standardized termination type. This, in turn, translates to standardized faceplates. Another implication is that every physical connection in a smart home becomes IP-addressable. Speaking of infrastructure, however, the cables are arranged by signal types. They are also color-coded to differentiate signal types — to industry standard.

DC ELECTRICITY

The most popular icon of innovation is arguably the electric light bulb. This is probably because humanity is yet to recover from the sensational presentation from Thomas Edison, when he turned darkness to light by the flip of a light switch. This he did via Direct Electricity technology.He eventually tried to scale this to power the city, and ultimately the world — if only he heeded the advice of his apprentice… But did his beliefs really fail him?

Why is Direct Current preferable to Alternating Current?

If smart homes are to have unified cables for all signal types — including power — then there’s a limit to the voltage they can permit. High-voltage transmission is a major pitfall of Alternating Current. This was a necessary ‘evil’ to transfer current through a long distance. This, however, results in great power losses in the process of stepping up and down.

The great news is that current transfer through homes does not travel a long distance — if the power is generated within the home. This is where solar power supply (grid) comes in. When solar panels are utilized for power generation in homes, you don’t need wide gauge cables to reduce resistance.

With the use of POE (power-over-ethernet) technology, same cables can be used to transfer (DC) power over ethernet. It is no argument that DC is a safer source of power than AC. It is equally obvious that DC is less-wasteful — over a short distance — than AC. This explains why it’s a more preferable electricity model for smart homes.

This goes to underscore the integrated approach towards the design and delivery of smart homes. 

Take a moment once again and picture smart homes as lifestyle assistants of the millennial… for what next?

OPERATING SYSTEM

What do you think informed the greatest deal of the 20th century? IBM was the grand-king of hardware, but with all her expertise and worth, she couldn’t compete with an emerging startup, Apple.Why; you ask?She didn’t have the right operating system. MS-Dos was in to save the day, and a historic deal was struck with a very young chap — Bill Gates — who sought out a competitive operating system…

Which Operating System — what language — would the future smart homes run on?

In a previous write-up, we discussed the various technology systems that make up a smart home. We identified the primary challenge as the need for a holistic integration of the diverse solutions in the market. Such that would effectively communicate the structural and technological components of the building via a unified user interface.

Historically, certain protocols have been created with unified control in mind. The most predominant being BACnet (Building Automation Controls Network). Older protocols include Modbus and LonWorks. More recently, however, there has been some more sophisticated solutions. These solutions have approached the goal via a hardware-software architecture.

Notable here is BOSS (Building Operating System Services). This was popularized by Dawson-Haggerty Stephen and his crew at the University of California, Berkeley. This solution operates via a SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) architecture, as a set of distributed services. With this model, the various technology systems are on a lower layer, while the OS queries and integrates them via a common language. The only shortcoming is that these solutions are inclined more towards the commercial sector.

Therefore, the quest is still on to build a residential-focus Operating System, with a millennial feel — on Artificial Intelligence.

DATA-AS-A-SERVICE

When Shawn Fanning co-founded Napster on a peer-to-peer (digital audio sharing) architecture back in the early 2000s, it faced stiff opposition, and eventually ceased operation on copyright grounds. The music industry enjoyed some (phyrric) victory, but more importantly, the impact on web2.0 would not fade just so fast. Tech giants like Google learned from it, and today it has birthed so many applications of the HTTP…What is a RESTful API?

What is the place of Local Area Network (LAN) in future Smart Homes?

The Internet Protocol has made the world a global village via the world wide web. So many other protocols, applications, and languages have been built on it. Of particular importance to smart buildings, however, is the ‘cloud’. RESTful (Representational State Transfer) web services anchoring on HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) are a great tool to secure and manage the numerous data generated by smart homes. By inference, the operating system of a smart home supervises, controls and acquires the data generated by the various technology systems in a smart home. This OS, in turn, communicates with a server in the cloud — managed by a dedicated service provider.

In other words, the OS performs local activities in the building via the LAN and communicates through a firewall with the cloud server — via IP (Internet Protocol).

This communication architecture ensures that the smart home is fully active in the case of internet failure — high tolerance. However, the most direct advantage is security. The firewall manages all incoming and outgoing traffic, whereas the dedicated cloud service secures and manages the outgone data. This data management is performed on a data-as-a-service model — on an as-need basis. Hence, encourages quality, agility, and cost-effectiveness. The services include internet provision and the management of the entire technology systems.

NEXT-GEN VALUE CHAIN

Back in 2014 when Autodesk launched her 2015 products releases, a new feature was birthed: the BIM 360 toolbar across all her AEC design software. The goal was simple: to unify the design process in the spirit of collaboration.This quickly expanded to become a series of Enterprise Cloud Services including BIM 360 Docs, Glue, Team, Plan, OPS, Layout, and Field. Most of these were built on an innovative FORGE platform…

How does a web interface for design tools affect building design collaboration?

The Building delivery methodology has come a long way. From the ages of the Master Architect to the birth of specialization. From 2D drafting to the emergence of 3D modeling — from CAD to BIM. Today we can perform numerous analyses, costing, phasing, visualization right before any stone is turned on the site. Prefabrication and digital fabrication all make the entire building delivery process more efficient.

However, with specialization came specialized software too; which in turn makes true collaboration harder. This was made worse because these software tools reside in laptops and desktops scattered across the globe. Unlike web technology, design and delivery became a closed process; until Autodesk Forge came into the scene.

To move BIM to a next generation, Autodesk launched a Quantum Project. The goal is simply to provide a (unified) web interface for the numerous AEC design tools.

When the virtual version of a building is hosted on the web — accessed via HTTP, everyone becomes truly part of the delivery vehicle — even the end-users.

Just recently, the initially-mentioned BIM 360 services have been merged into a suite called the BIM 360 Design. This bridges the gap between the desktop and the web.

With their RESTful API today, people are beginning to utilize design data in bespoke ways. Lots of plugins and (web) applications have hinged on FORGE to change design and delivery process for good.

At Blaze, we offer three major services:

  1. BIM Software Training
  2. BIM Execution Planning
  3. Enterprise Integrations – e.g. BIM 360 Design Suite

If You need any of the services,

Place your request here.