On the Edge: Will Smart Edge Devices Lead to Autonomous Buildings?

If cars can drive themselves and drones can fly themselves, how long will it be before buildings will manage themselves?

While it may take more than a decade for full autonomy, with the rapid pace of the evolution of smart building technologies, the day of the autonomous building is within reach.

Edge devices, such as fire alarms, motion detectors, actuators and energy meters, have long been the peripheral doers of building automation. Traditionally, most of these devices serve a simple, discrete role — identifying the presence of smoke or measuring temperature — sending this information to a control panel or central building automation system (BAS), where decisions are made as to whether changing conditions require a response. The edge devices execute these control decisions to provide a safe, secure, comfortable environment for the occupants while optimizing energy and operational efficiency.

The smart building movement started in earnest with cloud computing, which enables building owners to use intelligent, connected technology to deliver additional value. Connecting BAS to the cloud provides the ability to aggregate, analyze and visualize vast amounts of data across a portfolio of buildings. Analyzing data from a fleet of buildings over a long period of time provides insights to optimize energy and operations. For example, our recently launched offering, Honeywell Forge for Buildings, enables building owners to transform facility operations from preventative maintenance to predictive maintenance thereby increasing asset life while reducing maintenance costs.

Edge devices are also getting smarter by embedding communications and intelligence at the edge. They are no longer simple measurement devices that send the data off to a cloud-connected BAS. Instead, they can form an intelligent network of edge devices and quickly interpret the data generated by edge nodes to take appropriate action without an intermediary. This essentially eliminates the latency or delay associated with cloud computing over what has become an increasingly clogged information superhighway. Smart edge device networks can process information and make quick decisions at the edge while also sending data to the cloud for further analytics and reporting. Essentially, a hybrid architecture using a network of smart edge devices along with cloud analytics offers the best opportunity to transform next generation building technology.

Consider building security – the traditional security camera in a commercial building is connected to a network video system. The footage is sent to a recorder, analyzed on the back end and fed to operators watching a screen. An intelligent IP camera can perform its own analytics, such as face or license plate recognition and trigger a gate to open, providing seamless parking experience to building occupants and visitors.

Smart edge can be defined with following characteristics:

  • Smart Edge will fully adopt wireless technologies. In a standard building automation project, it’s not unusual for 20-25% of the project effort goes towards wiring. Smart edge devices will adopt wireless technologies (such as Bluetooth, WiFi, ZigBee, etc.) creating a self-forming, self-healing network called a mesh network. When buildings are reconfigured for different uses, traditional edge devices can be difficult to adjust, especially when it comes to manual test and recommissioning. Smart edge devices will automatically adjust to change on the network or their physical placement. 
  • Single-click installation and commissioning. It can take days or weeks to install a traditional or passive edge device network. Traditional edge devices require a lot of wiring to be connected to power, other devices and controllers. The devices need to be manually checked to make sure they are properly commissioned and put in the right place in a particular part of the building. Smart edge devices can be installed and commissioned in minutes.
  • Self-diagnosis and maintenance automation. Smart edge devices can maintain their own health by identifying the need for replacement or maintenance. The device sends an alert or even a text when something is wrong with it before it fails. Compared to today’s schedule based preventative maintenance using manual labor, smart edge devices will result in tremendous savings in total lifecycle costs.
  • Reduced lifecycle costs. Not only do building owners save money because it takes fewer people less time to install and maintain the technology, but smart devices also save money by reacting quickly to subtle changes, e.g., air temperature or occupancy levels. They detect, process and rapidly adjust to optimize comfort, energy use, safety and security.[1]
  • Near real-time response. Smart edge devices can detect and respond in a fraction of a second, which is especially important for situations requiring an immediate response, whether it is a security issue, a fire threat or simply adjusting the temperature and humidity of a room when conditions change from an influx of people.
  • Regulatory compliance. Smart edge devices can help a wide variety of businesses, such as banks, utilities, data centers and pharmaceutical manufacturers, demonstrate compliance with federal and state regulations. For example, pharmaceutical manufacturers need to show that during production of a drug, only the right people have access, and that the temperature and humidity are maintained at certain levels. A smart edge device network will autonomously maintain regulatory compliance while simultaneously connecting to cloud to provide single-click compliance certificate along with long-term trend analysis to continuously improve the compliance and overall system performance.

The day is not far off when we will have highly intelligent edge devices that don’t need heavy control systems but can do just what the space demands or occupants need at any given time. Such a network of edge devices can directly communicate with the cloud for data analytics across a fleet of buildings over time to optimize an entire portfolio. Then buildings, like cars and drones, can truly join the autonomous world.

This is the first article in a series about what’s happening “On the Edge” to bridge today and tomorrow. Upcoming posts will look at how innovations such as advanced sensors, mesh networks and artificial intelligence are improving outcomes and the user experience in next generation buildings.


[1] Global Annual Revenue Associated with Edge IoT Spend in Commercial Buildings Is Expected to Near $8 Billion in 2027. Navigant press release, Jan. 15, 2019. https://www.navigantresearch.com/news-and-views/global-annual-revenue-associated-with-edge-iot-spend-in-commercial-buildings-is-expected-to-near-8-b