What Is Smart Building? Technology, Automation architecture, and Solutions

Every year, your building comes more to life. Devices connect more data. Systems conenct more devices. And the Internet of Things bring it all together. Today, smart buildings are real — and soon, they will be common.

1. What is Smart Building?

Smart Building can be loosely defined as an intelligent structure that utilizes various technologies to build integrated systems to enhance functionality, efficiency, and sustainability. This intelligent structure is usually referred to Building Management System(BMS) or Building Automation System(BAS). This article will give you an overview of smart buildings, covering essential information like technologies that make smart buildings possible, key components of a typical building automation structure, and also some typical building solutions.

2. Technologies that Make Smart Building Works

Smart building involves the integration of Information Technology(IT) and Operational Technology(OT) to allow for monitoring, analysis, and control of the physical environment. The convergence of IT and OT has largely been driven by IoT technology. In most cases, IoT-enabled devices are interconnected and can be controlled over the internet, and the data generated by them can be analyzed through central platforms or APPs, providing individuals and organizations with better experiences with improved efficiency and better decision-making.

The rise of IoT in sensor technology laid the foundation for building intelligence. The early days of smart buildings were marked by the introduction of Building Management Systems (BMS). These systems focused on automating basic functions like lighting, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) to improve energy efficiency and occupant comfort. Early adopters also included features like timers for lights and occupancy sensors for automatic adjustments.

With sensors capturing a wider range of data points – from temperature and humidity to air quality and equipment performance. This data allowed for more sophisticated control strategies and remote monitoring capabilities. Open communication protocols emerged, enabling the integration of various building systems for a more holistic approach! BACnet and Modbus are two open communication protocols widely used in building management systems(BMS). BACnet was developed in 1987 while Modbus has been in use since 1979. These protocols enable BMS applications like energy monitoring, temperature control, and occupancy management.

The current stage is characterized by the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a key driver for smart buildings. AI-powered building management systems can analyze the vast amount of data collected from sensors, identify patterns, and predict future needs. Whilst intelligent buildings use automated building systems to increase building efficiencies, smart has a wider scope of ability to adapt and be flexible. This allows for unprecedented levels of automation and optimization.

3.   Elements of Smart Building Infrastructure

Smart Building infrastructure is the underlying framework and components that enable the implementation and functioning of a smart building. In smart building infrastructure, the integration of various systems ensures different systems, such as HVAC, lighting control, security and access control, fire detection, and alarm to work together effectively via different communication protocols.

3.1 IoT Field Sensors

IoT sensors act as a comprehensive sensory network, collecting a vast range of data that fuels intelligent building operations. Occupancy, light, air condition, air quality, and door/window sensors form a connected network. There are lots of smart building sensors, ranging from the very basic temperature sensor, and humidity sensor up to impossibly technical ones like electrical current monitoring sensors.

Electrical Current Monitoring Sensors are one type of sensors that deserve special hightlight.
Electrical current monitoring sensors are used to detect and measure the magnitude and direction of current passing through a conductor. These data provide valuable information about the electrical characteristics and behavior of a circuit, allowing for monitoring, analysis, and control of electrical systems. These information are valuable insights to optimize energy usage, identify inefficiencies, and improve overall energy management.

There are multiple sensors used in a smart building, but we are going to highlight the following types of sensors:

● Motion/Occupancy Sensor
Motion/Occupancy sensors help optimize energy usage by detecting the presence and absense of occupants in a space. When no motion is detected for a certain period, the sensors can trigger energy-saving measures such as turning off lights, adjusting HVAC settings, or powering down non-essential equipment. This helps reduce energy waste in unoccupied areas and promotes energy efficiency throughout the building.

● Security/Image Sensors
These provide visual monitoring of building interiors and exteriors. High-resolution cameras with AI integration can analyze footage for suspicious activity and recognize authorized personnel, enhancing security measures.

● Water Leak Sensors
These sensors detect the presence of water leaks, preventing potential water damage. Early leak detection can save building owners from costly repairs and downtime.

● Vibration Sensors
These sensors are attached to critical equipment and monitor vibration levels. They can detect anomalies that might indicate potential failures, allowing for preventive maintenance and avoiding equipment breakdowns.

3.2 Edge Computing Device

Edge computing Device is to process, analyze, and store data locally at the edge of a network, closer to the data source or the point of data generation. Edge computing devices are widely used in smart buildings to process data locally, reduce latency, optimize bandwidth, and enhance data privacy and security.

3.2.1 Edge Controller

Edge Controller can process data from field sensors, switches, and other input devices to make decisions on what outputs to turn on to complete the programmed task. This essentially eliminates the latency or delay associated with cloud computing. Performing data processing and control functions at the edge, it improves the overall network efficiency and ensures the control actions are executed quickly.

Seeed Studio EdgeBox Series: Industrial Edge Controller for Smart Building

EdgeBox-RPI-200 series is a line of Raspberry Pi-based industrial edge controllers designed for smart building and other automation solutions. They are all-in-one, highly scalable, rugged, and equipped with rich IO resources. Empowered by Raspberry Pi industrial software ecosystem, they can be easily deployed and integrated into existing systems, allowing for the expansion of automation capabilities as needed. Check our EdgeBox Series Comparision Table or contact [email protected] for a personalized consultation.

Seeed Studio reComputer R Series: Edge IoT Controller Designed for Smart Building

The reComputer R1000 is a high-performance and cost-effective edge IoT controller based on the Raspberry Pi solution. It features dual Ethernet interfaces and three isolated RS485 interfaces, supporting Modbus UDP/TCP and BACnet protocols, which makes it a perfect fit for smart building and energy management, such as controlling HVAC systems and other subsystems like lighting, sensors, and access control. With powerful IoT expansion capabilities, reComputer R1000 is integrated with various wireless transmission capabilities such as 4G, LoRa®, Zigbee, Wi-Fi, and BLE through internal slots.

3.2.2 Human-Machine Interface

Think of the HMI (Human Machine Interface) as the control panel for our conductor. It provides a user-friendly interface for building managers, occupants, or authorized personnel to interact with the smart building system. This interface displays vital information:
● System Status: Get a real-time snapshot of your building’s performance, including energy consumption, temperature levels, and occupancy data.
● Setting Adjustments: Need to fine-tune the lighting or adjust room temperature for a meeting? The HMI empowers you to make these adjustments with ease.
● Function Control: Want to schedule automated routines or activate specific features? The HMI puts you in control.

Seeed Studio reTerminal Series: Versatile, Flexible, and Customizable HMI 

reTerminal and reTerminal DM are two versatile, flexible, and customizable HMI device. They’re fully open-source and compatible with a rich Raspberry Pi software ecosystem. They come in 5” and 10”, suitable for both hand-sized and large-scale deployments, and are adaptable to different environmental conditions, whether favorable or harsh. With their rich interfaces and multiple wireless communication options, reTerminal and reTerminal DM can be retrofit to fit your specific needs. We offer a 5-year lifecycle and a 2-year warranty, with RoHS, CE, FCC, REACH, and TELEC certifications.

3.3 Smart Building Protocols

Communication protocols used in smart buildings can be classified into two types: open protocols and proprietary protocols. Open protocols are independent of any specific hardware or software. They have publicly available communication rules and can be used in a wide range of building management system applications. Open protocols allow for easy integration of devices from multiple manufacturers, promoting interoperability. Examples of open protocols include BACnet and Modbus.

Proprietary protocols are specific to a manufacturer and not openly shared. These protocols lock down the building management system, limiting compatibility to the vendor’s equipment. A proprietary protocol can restrict desired functionality and tie the building owner to a single vendor for service, support, and upgrades. It also hampers scalability as the system may struggle to adapt to evolving requirements.

Open Building Management System Protocols: 

  • BACnet 
  • Modbus
  • KNX 
  • MQTT 

Popular BAS/BMS Vendors:

  • Honeywell – Niagara Framework
  • Schneider Electric – EcoStruxure Building Operation
  • Siemens – Synco IC
  • Johnson Controls – Metasys/BCPro
  • ABB – Newron

4. How We Can Benefit From Smart Building Solutions

Smart automation system enables us to build smart building solutions that offer numerous benefits, including improved energy efficiency, cost savings, enhanced occupant comfort and productivity, sustainability, predictive maintenance, security, and data-driven decision-making. These solutions are instrumental in optimizing building operations, reducing environmental impact, and creating smarter, more efficient, and more sustainable built environments.

  • Energy Efficiency 
  • Cost Savings 
  • Enhanced Comfort and Productivity 
  • Sustainability and Environmental Impacts 
  • Predictive Maintenance 

5. Building Management Case Study

The Edge, The Smartest Building in the World

Digitalization at the Edge is revolutionizing the way people work. With necessary sensors to collect data and HMI to present these data, a central dashboard provides real-time monitoring of various aspects, ranging from energy consumption to the timely refill of coffee machines. Moreover, an automated electric car and bike parking system ensure seamless arrivals. Upon entering the Edge, the garage entry process is automated. Utilizing advanced camera technology, your license plate is captured and matched with your employment record. However, Seeed could take the whole car parking experience a step forward by demonstrating the parking slot count and notifying you. Want to make your Parking System Smarter? Know more about this smart parking slot count system and make it connected with the whole smart building system.

Smart Parking System: Building an End-to-End Data Pipeline with Raspberry Pi HMIs, AWS, TensorFlow, and N3uron.

Since 2008, Seeed has supplied edge computing devices to various industries, including manufacturing, automation, smart buildings, and retail. As your trusted partner in AIoT/IIoT, we offer cost-effective options utilizing Shenzhen manufacturing resources, an efficient supply chain, and a warehouse. Explore our Edge Computing Device Catalog Now!

If you want to stay informed of the latest updates, special offerings, real-world success stories, expert interviews, and webinars about edge IoT devices and be connected with the system integrators and solution providers from vertical industries like smart building, energy management, automation, we welcome you to subscribe to our dedicated Newsletter:

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April 2024