It wasn’t long ago that the idea of a truly smart and autonomous building was somewhat of a pipedream, but smart buildings are starting to make some huge advances. What was once a technological dream to builders and engineers across the world is steadily becoming a reality, with the introduction of smart commercial buildings (office blocks, hotels, airports and shopping centres) that require limited human interaction to function, and come with reduced maintenance costs.
Historically, proprietary and closed solutions have made the idea of smart buildings expensive, complicated and limiting. As such, fully integrated systems have been considered expensive to design, purchase and install. This perception must be changed in order to unlock the true potential of connected buildings, and Bluetooth mesh technology is enabling this change, offering unrivalled scale and interoperability at an affordable level.
Clearly we’re not talking here about automating standard business I.T systems. Instead it is traditional building facilities, systems and services such as temperature control, lighting automation and security that can benefit most from smart applications. Mesh networking is just one of a vast array of technology integration possibilities that can progress automated building technologies. It increases range and removes barriers to communication, thus vastly expanding applications so they are suitable for the enterprise. This is particularly important for the organisations responsible for managing buildings on behalf of occupants as Bluetooth’s mesh offering, for example, allows devices to connect together seamlessly across commercial buildings and office spaces, providing the blanket connectivity that commercial building managers demand. Key to making this happen is availability of compatible devices and ABI Research recently forecast that shipments of Bluetooth-enabled devices will increase by an average of half a billion per year, reaching more than five billion by 2021, which will enable increased growth in this sector.
To give an example, imagine the first mesh application implemented in a corporate building is lighting. Being able to control all or one specific light from any location within the building is great, but what’s even more exciting is that the nodes in those light bulbs can communicate information to other Bluetooth-enabled services. For example, they could track individuals using their wearable devices or smartphones so that the air conditioning or lighting turns on when they enter a certain room. Essentially, mesh becomes more than just something that provides just one smart building service; it has the potential to enable a complete smart building infrastructure, enabling numerous services outside of the obvious lighting and heating applications.
The variety of devices and networks within a smart building is also important to consider, as all wireless technologies are limited in range to a certain point. Mesh addresses this issue by expanding range in commercial buildings, and enables devices to connect together in networks that can cover entire buildings. This in turn allows devices to communicate with each other over increasingly large distances, while maintaining simplicity and security. To support this, the Bluetooth SIG is actively working to develop a low power mesh standard with its members that will offer interoperability on a large scale. This work is particularly important in aiding the adoption and maintenance of smart buildings as according to analyst firm Gartner, 518 million connected things associated with smart commercial buildings will be in use by the end of 2016.
Mesh networking is about far more than just offering coverage and range, however. There is a huge spectrum of ‘smartness’ to look at when considering the possibilities of smart buildings. As more and more Bluetooth-enabled devices come to market, the adoption of applications for commercial buildings such as smart lighting, smart heating and cooling, locks and smart security systems are gaining momentum. Businesses are also increasingly demanding the ability to control a few discreet devices directly from a smartphone or tablet, alongside wanting to monitor and report on all aspects of their building through these connected devices, ranging from temperature through to security. By building intelligent software on top of this, it is possible to not only have a self-aware building, but also one that can act on the information it receives to automate a massive variety of things. Adding mesh capabilities to Bluetooth can do all of this, enabling truly smart buildings for all businesses, bringing with it the ability to measure anything from temperature to occupancy.
IHS Technology forecasts growth of 56% for the smart home device market, compounded annually through 2018, with 190 million products forecast to ship in that year alone. This seems likely to impact the commercial sector too, as there is not only the opportunity to create new smart buildings, but also the potential to retro-fit older ones with new and improved smart building technology.