Technology needs a platform to launch itself from, similar to the launch pad of any rocket attempting to place a person into space or launch a satellite. The platform is the framework and support structure that allows the rocket to stand and support its weight at launch. It isn’t the technology that is ultimately lifting this heavy object into space, however its pivotal in enabling the technology to function.

Similarly, in SMART buildings we have a range of new and exciting tech that will allow us to do fantastic things yet we never talk about the framework or launchpad.

Wired or wireless, we need power to operate these new devices be this high or low voltage and in each instance this power is often delivered on tried and tested frameworks that have been around for many years.

That’s not to detract from the new tech, but merely to highlight that all innovation is more evolution than revolution.

If we have smart devices, then we need to design them as part of the electrical infrastructure and therefore basic rules apply. We have an input and we have an output!

The challenge is how we integrate new technology and to what level of integration. Hybrid is a term I use to describe smart technology connected to multiple devices as opposed to a one to one scenario as so often promoted by companies selling the Utopian dream. Ultimately, they are quite correct in that true integration comes if every device is connected, however, we all face the stumbling block that is cost.

Ever since we have had control of any device we have sought ways to reduce the number of control points and the Internet of Things is no different in that budgets often restrict the degree of integration as the developer is working on a model that delivers the highest return for their investment.

If I can control a room with one intelligent interface, then the cost per control is a factor of the number of devices per room. I still maintain 90% of the functionality and yet I have purchased one intelligent node and have only had to commission one device.

This is a Hybrid system where the smart technology, be this wired, or wireless is connected to a gateway that controls and regulates a number of devices using a subnet such as DALI-2.

Done well, this type of system will function flawlessly and so far as the end client is concerned will deliver an acceptable level of control.

I’m not advocating Hybrid solutions, but the reality is that a commodity such as lighting where there are so many control points will ultimately embrace Hybrid as the new norm.

Projects will determine their own level of integration and much will depend upon the use of that building. Commercial offices will have their own specific needs, as will, Retail, Industrial and other sectors, all slightly different but in essence very similar.

Hybrid is not a bad thing if we consider how we construct buildings and if we take the example of a design and build projects where the developer is speculating and the end client has yet to be found then excessive cost at this stage may impact on rental and the ability to let that space; better to have the ability to upgrade at a later stage.

If you have designed the building with a smart Hybrid system that provides flexibility, then the end client has the opportunity to upgrade their services to match the specific needs of their organisation.

Although we all want to see a world of true connectivity we have to be aware of the restrictions of CAPEX and although this could be seen as a limiting factor, if managed correctly then a truly smart system can be upgraded through life.

The key is to choose your partners well and avoid proprietary solutions that have one foot firmly planted in the past. Innovation will win through ultimately but until we change our working practices then we need to be realists and embrace Hybrid technology.

After all it’s worked for automobile industry and now every manufacturer has a hybrid variant that is a launch pad to an all-electric future.

Stewart Langdown FSLL

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