Open Source Building Automation

  • June 07, 2013
  • Feature

By Bill Lydon, Editor

I attended the inaugural Haystack Connect 2013 event held April 29th - May 2nd, 2013 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The event was modeled after concepts of open source software where people come together to solve problems and implement new ideas in a public, collaborative manner. Nearly 200 technology suppliers, systems integrators and end users gathered to exchange knowledge, share experiences, and discuss new ideas about smart building technologies, energy management, operational efficiency, sustainable buildings and advanced smart-device applications.

Haystack Connect was put together by volunteers rather than a large trade organization. As a result, the event had a different feel than most events I attend. Marc Petock, Vice President Marketing at Lynxspring, one of the organizers, opened the conference with some thoughts about the Haystack Connect philosophy – a collaboration to bring more value to customers by fostering a culture of innovation and technology exchange. Petock highlighted that the event fosters “ecosystems of non-traditional partners and allies that lead to radical ways to work together.” John Petze, Partner of SkyFoundry and another key organizer, thanked participants for taking a chance on a new event.

Responsive Control

George Hernandez, Staff Engineer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory DOE (Department of Energy), discussed what he realized at a recent building energy conservation conference. The facilities energy conservation industry and building automation systems are still functioning as they did 30 years ago. The percentage of buildings with intelligent building automation systems is only a couple of percent. He believes that the building management systems in place today are in the “Stone Age” in terms of technology and function.

Hernandez cited Kevin Kelly’s book, “Out of Control,” as providing a vision of where the industry needs to move. The book presents the concept that control systems need to be more like biological systems in order for them to function responsively to their environment. These systems would consist of devices that are relatively autonomous creating a highly distributed system model. Hernandez noted that some coordination of some control functions would be needed.

A big issue moving forward is the connectivity of all the sensors and controls in the building in a reliable and economical manner. He suggests a biological-like system in shape, form, and execution will help achieve the goals of providing capabilities including auto-mapping, auto-programming, auto-commissioning, auto-diagnostics, and auto-healing. This will make buildings a “living, breathing thing.” If this can be achieved, buildings would become “completely” responsive to occupants and energy efficiency would be continuously responsive. Hernandez suggests as buildings get more responsive there needs to be a “financial settlement” that happens automatically to provide users with an incentive.

Hernandez closed by describing his commitment to open source systems and services.

Open Source Data Modeling/Addressing

Brian Frank, President of SkyFoundry, described how Project Haystack is an open source project launched about two years ago with its roots in work that he and others were doing on analytics for buildings. The initiative has developed naming conventions and taxonomies for building equipment and operational data based on standardized data models for sites, equipment, and points related to energy, HVAC, lighting, and other environmental systems. By using these conventions, users have a straight-forward way to find information stored in databases, controllers, and smart devices.

Haystack includes a REST (Representative State Transfer) API to exchange data over HTTP. Haystack defines semantic modeling including naming conventions and taxonomies with the goal of making it more cost effective to analyze, visualize, and derive value from operational data. Haystack is built on entities such as buildings, equipment, and points. Entities have facts associated with them and there can be project tag names for the project. The Haystack community and all associated intellectual property are managed as an open source project using the Academic Free License 3.0. Anyone is free to participate as long as contributed IP is licensed under the AFL. This ensures that Haystack IP is open and freely available for any commercial use.

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Bridging Tridium NiagaraAX

Two applications were presented during the event that converted NiagaraAX data to Haystack data for use with other applications that use the Haystack semantic addressing. Mike Jarmy of J2 Innovations described the NHaystack open source NiagaraAX module. The code module is available under the same open source license as Haystack. The function of this software is to serve up Haystack data from a Tridium AX station. Click here for more information.

Tucker Watson, Software Architect at Activelogix, described their software called Needle, which was designed for tagging a Niagara AX database to conform with the Haystack standard. The software runs in the AX environment as a REST server and provides a Haystack server and tagging application for Niagara AX systems along with tools to identify and correct invalid historical data at the source. Click here for more information.

Sedona Workbench Alternatives

The roots of this open movement started with the open source Sedona software. Sedona offers a compiler, virtual machine, runtime, and associated software licensed as open source under Academic Free License 3.0. To implement a system, users only need to buy the Sedona Framework Workbench from Tridium.

Two other open alternatives were presented at the Haystack Connect event.

The CPT Suite from Online Tools Inc. of China operates like the Sedona Framework Workbench for configuration and programming.  CPT Suite is a simple tool to build your Web Server for EasyIO FG and FC Series Controllers with a one‚Äêtime purchase.

The OpenManagement Platform from OpenBMCS in Australia is embedded in EasyIO controllers and accessed with a standard browser to manage building systems and program controllers. OpenBMCS is available for qualified OEMs to integrate into their controllers. 

Thoughts & Observations

The Haystack movement has the potential to be the next big wave in building automation by fostering an entirely new open system in the industry that goes beyond open protocols to encompass system software.

The Haystack semantic modeling project is the next logical step in the evolution of open-architecture building systems by providing access and control of all data with methods consistent with the Internet. Semantic modeling provides the way to inherently provide context and logical access to the growing array to data collected and stored by building automation systems.

Since Sedona is open source, another logical step is the integration of Haystack semantic modeling into the Sedona Virtual Machine.

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