Buildings that can “hear” and “see” their environment and react accordingly: Science fiction or reality?

Guest: Julia Fichte, Manuel Hollfelder
Date of publication: 12 May 2021

Moderator:

The potential of the Internet of Things is well known. But how do we actually implement it? How can people and companies benefit from it? In this podcast, we meet experts from infineon, partners and customers every two weeks who tell us how it can work and what it takes to Make IoT work.
My name is Thomas Reinhardt, I am your host, and I am excited to have this great opportunity sharing this podcast with all of you.

Buildings that can “hear” and “see” their environment and react accordingly: Science Fiction or Reality? 
This is the topic I will to discuss with my guests today. I am pleased to welcome two of my colleagues: Julia Fichte is working as a Manager Emerging Applications for Smart Building at Infineon. And together with her is Manuel Hollfelder, also Manager Emerging Applications for Smart Building at Infineon. Hello Julia, hello Manuel, thanks for being my guests today.

Fichte:

Hi Thomas. The pleasure is mine.

Hollfelder:

Thanks for having us invited.

Moderator:

Before diving into use cases and technologies, let’s start with some trends and numbers. Let’s begin with urbanization: According to projections by the United Nations, more than 7 out of 10 people will live in cities in the year 2050. This pushes the development of megacities with high-rise buildings, large apartment buildings as well as huge office spaces and public buildings. The second megatrend we see is digitalization: According to the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association, in 2025, there will be around 154 million active IoT connections in smart buildings - in Europe alone. Therefore, the demand for smart homes and smart buildings is becoming increasingly stronger. But what exactly is the difference between smart homes and smart buildings?

Fichte:

When we talk about the smart home, we mean the residential home, the house or apartment we live in. When we talk about smart buildings, we mean public and commercially used buildings like airports or office buildings. These can also be entire apartment buildings that are operated for economic reasons. The individual apartments within such an apartment building can then in turn be a smart home. But regardless of whether smart home or smart building: both concepts have similar goals: By adding “smartness”, homes and buildings should become more comfortable, more secure and more energy-efficient.

Moderator:

Easier, safer and greener, so to say. As a resident of my own small smart home, I at least know what advantages this offers. But what do companies get out of a smart building?

Hollfelder:

Two major advantages are to mention: First, increasing energy-efficiency and creating cost-savings in general. When you consider that 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions in the EU are caused in buildings, you can imagine that this also means enormous energy costs for operators. In addition, the achievements in Industry 4.0 and the smart home market make digitalization the new normal in the building industry. Therefore, tenants, residents or workers of buildings expect a minimum “smartness” of buildings. And of course, companies can reduce their operations costs and actively contribute to lower their emissions by making their buildings smarter. Especially for companies that offer building equipment smart buildings open a big business potential for smarter products.

Moderator:

Okay, the benefits and goals are obvious, but how do you actually make a building "smart"?

Fichte:

We have to break down the building into its elements to make it smart. A smart building becomes smart through its connected and intelligent devices that are placed inside of it. That can be numerous elements or domains: heating, ventilation and air conditioning, elevators, access control, lighting, fire detection, energy supply, water heating systems – just to name a few. These elements itself are not smart. However, when equipped with the right technology, they are able to “see”, “hear” and “understand” their surroundings and perform appropriate actions. Sensors are the neural system of a building that collect in real-time data about a building’s operation, environment and its devices. Microcontrollers process data in all types of building components so that actionable insights can be gained out of the collected data. Power semiconductors set things in motion while guaranteeing high efficiency in energy conversion. And robust connectivity is the heartbeat: it unleashes the full potential of smart buildings. Only seamless communication between the elements and devices, the cloud, and the network can ensure that the full potential is utilized. Wired technologies such as Power over Ethernet or wireless technologies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Bluetooth Low Energy make up the spine of the smart building. In a nutshell, it’s the interplay of those technologies and the elements of a building that makes a building smart.

Hollfelder:

Let’s think of lighting or air conditioning systems. They are not “smart” at all. But equipped with the right technology, they are able to detect if people are in the room and can adjust the temperature or switch the light on or off. For presence detection, one could think of Infineon’s PAS CO2 sensor or our 60 GHz Radar, as an example. Or let’s take an elevator, for example. It takes people from one floor to another. That’s it. Of course, this requires a lot of hardware, but that alone does not make the elevator intelligent. Add sensors, connectivity and software, and the elevator becomes smart. And that opens up a whole new range of possibilities. After all, I don't want to get stuck in the elevator because it's broken. It is much better if the anomaly is detected early. That enables building operators to evaluate features to proactively respond to issues before they become costly failures.

Moderator:

So with the right technology it is possible to prevent device’s failures – or get informed before an incident happens?

Fichte:

Yes, or at least it is possible to predict when devices fail and to conduct maintenance activities accordingly. And this is really important. Predictive maintenance can lead to 70% fewer breakdowns and 25% fewer maintenance costs, while well-maintained equipment can extend its lifetime by 20%. However, in order to implement predictive maintenance all those elements that we just discussed – the sensors, microcontrollers, connectivity – are needed. Putting all of that together and then even taking the next step and adding software to go from mere condition monitoring to actual predictive maintenance can be quite challenging. That’s why we recently launched the new XENSIV™ Predictive Maintenance Evaluation Kit to offer a perfect starting point for quick and easy evaluation of sensor-based condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. It was co-developed with the IoT service provider Klika Tech and is powered by the cloud service provider AWS so that. We can offer an end-to-end solution for customers. The kit includes hardware – means sensors such as our XENSIV™ barometric pressure sensor DPS368,our XMC4700 industrial microcontroller, embedded security with OPTIGA™ Trust M and last but not least a Wi-Fi connectivity module - and software as well as CloudFormation templates from our partners Klika Tech and AWS.

Hollfelder:

We as Infineon, we deliver the hardware for all this. It is the basis. We have years of experience and the perfect products for the different target applications that involve heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment as well as motors, fans, drives, compressors, refrigeration and other components of Smart Building. Together with the connectivity and software we support our customers to easily evaluate sensor-based condition monitoring and predictive maintenance features. Of course, predictive maintenance is driven by software and data-enabled intelligence, but the underlying basis, the fundament, remains the hardware. Without the right sensors, microcontrollers or connectivity solutions, you end up having a piece of a software algorithm running in the cloud that misses the link between the real and the digital world, namely the hardware itself.

Moderator:

That’s a great example which proves that Infineon really makes the IoT work! However, a lot of people still have concerns when it comes to the connectivity part: with the connection to the cloud comes the risk. And to stay with the elevator example: No one wants to end up on floor 22, when they actually wanted to go to floor 12. Or worse, get stuck in the elevator because someone has gained unauthorized access to the elevator controls.

Fichte:

I totally agree. Security is therefore a basic requirement. For this reason, hardware-based security is already built into our kit.

Hollfelder:

Authentication is also important to avoid the built-in of fake products. Therefore we use the OPTIGA™ Trust M embedded security solution for secured connection and authentication as well as AWS multi-account registration. As data is the fundament a smart building operates on, it is especially important that the building management system can rely on the data and knows that it comes from a module that is not compromised due to security or authentication issues.

Moderator:

But still - such a smart building that “sees” and “hears” and “understands” its surrounding and acts accordingly, that sounds one the one hand really exciting – but also a little bit like science fiction to me.

Fichte:

It is very exciting, but not science-fiction anymore! Smart buildings already exist today. Let me give you an example: One of the pioneering smart buildings is The Edge in Amsterdam – a 40,000 m2 office building with a completely-glazed façade. Around 28,000 sensors are fitted in the building. They measure parameters such as humidity, brightness and temperature and together with microcontrollers and actuators can adjust the elements inside the Edge accordingly. Stuffy air and rooms that are too hot or cold are thus a thing of the past. Employees are always provided with ideal conditions at their workplace. Thanks to all those sensors and other smart building technology, The Edge can optimize its operations and manages to consume 70 percent less electricity than conventional office buildings.

Hollfelder:

However, it is important to remember that this only works in conjunction with all the stakeholders in the ecosystem: component makers, module makers, system integrators, device manufacturers, building management platform providers, architects and so on and so forth. Collaborations among hardware, software and services providers are the genesis of the custom IoT and Cloud solutions that are enabling companies to reduce their development efforts and expedite time to market. This holds especially true for smart building and smart home applications. Only if all partners work together and bring in their expertise along the smart building value chain - as we are already doing with AWS, Klika Tech and others - can we take this development further.

Moderator:

Collaboration and partnership - such important prerequisites in so many areas. Thank you for your insights into this exciting topic! This brings us to the end of this episode. Dear listeners, for more information, please visit infineon.io. We will publish the next episode soon. In this episode we will talk with Vikram Gupta about connectivity as the IoT’s heartbeat. Take care and until the next time.