No individual truly knows what will happen in the next 5 or 10 years, yet we must make decisions on the controls we should use in our buildings, based on what?

This is the dilemma, should I stick with what I know or push the envelope. The former is what most people would do with the odd maverick prepared to take the risk, but I would argue that if properly thought through the latter is not a risk but common sense.

If you were told that the computer or phone you have been given today would have to last 10 years and that if you wanted to update it you can’t as there would be no support for the hardware or operating system, I would imagine most of us would be less than happy. Built in obsolescence is something we accept in technology and the fact that mobile phones for example are upgraded so frequently supports this opinion.

It is perfectly reasonable to expect your mobile phone to last 10 years and from a design point of view the electronics are likely to be rated to achieve this. There is of course consumable such as the battery, but if that can be replaced the battery should achieve such an operating life. In practice the manufacturers want you to change mobiles more frequently, so they build in obsolescence based around the hardware and operating system.

New features will only work on the latest operating system so upgrade to get that feature. I accept that mobiles are different to controls in our buildings, but the technology isn’t so different. We tend not to directly interact with building controls as they are seen as something that operates in the background and perhaps this is their genius in not being so visible.

There is of course a big however, and this is based on the technology used to operate the system. Often the operating system is proprietary and restricted through the hardware or software and in many instances the core operating systems can be decades old.

These systems function well enough, but they are from history and not really relevant to today and certainly will limit the operation of your building in 5 or more years.

Imagine trying to browse the web with a phone from the 1990’s and finding it doesn’t support a browser, e mail, Facebook, WhatsApp etc. Perhaps this is a little harsh but if we look at the first real smart phone released in 2007 from Apple, this was a revolution in technology and yet, most of the applications and features we use today didn’t exist. The market rapidly adopted the technology and apps and connected applications started to flourish from a number of companies, across a range of markets.

Lighting control and ultimately the Internet of Things (IoT) will have to work across a multitude of different platforms to provide us with a stable solution that allows the building operator to link disparate devices together. The technology used will be a mix of wired and wireless and in many instances the protocols used may be common such as Bluetooth or Thread for example.

To achieve integration, you need to have some idea of how technology will evolve in the coming years and how the systems you install today can interface with ever evolving technologies.

One way of achieving this is through standard software protocols such as TCP/IP, IEC 62386 (DALI-2), Bluetooth, Thread, Zigbee , etc. Utilise hardware platforms that support DALI-2 commands for example and that provide a gateway that supports a browser and that can be updated to provide additional functionality through life. In other words, design for today and carefully consider tomorrow and use platforms that provide you an Open solution that empowers the designer and user of the system to achieve the full potential of their building or space.

We will soon be talking about how smart a building is and changes in the Energy Buildings Performance Directive (EPBD) aim to promote the Smart Readiness Indicator (SRI). This is a way of benchmarking how intelligent your building is and although this is still under discussion, it may have a significant impact on the value of office space as any measurement system obviously favours the high performer. If for example you have a building rated at B and you want to upgrade that building to achieve an A rating for example, how flexible is your infrastructure and how easy is it to upgrade.

Always keep a watchful eye to the past but design for today.

Stewart B Langdown FSLL

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