EDITORS CHOICE 12.02.19

Smart Building Conference 2019 report

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Interoperability was the theme of the day at this year’s Smart Building Conference, held on the 4th February at the RAI, Amsterdam.

In its ninth year, the conference gives attendees the opportunity to learn about the current trends in residential and commercial smart buildings and how the technology is pushing this market.

To kick off the conference, Oliver Iltisberger, managing director for ABB’s Smart Building business looked at the future of digital buildings. Looking at the smart home, Iltisberger emphasised the importance of energy management to create an efficient smart home environment. He also highlighted the role of artificial intelligence which he predicted will become a major player in driving smart homes. Use cases such as facial recognition, personalisation, security and elderly care are just some examples used of how AI can push the smart home industry.  

Iltisberger went on to talk about how smart buildings are made up of devices being interoperable, a key theme running throughout the day. Personalisation such as individual greetings and lighting and heat preferences are vital to a person’s well-being, creating a healthy environment both in the home and office.

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Looking at both home and office environments, Iltisberger explained that with costs coming down, it is making it easier for medium sized businesses to make smart installations. Particularly in a commercial environment, smart buildings can improve on health and safety by using lighting tailored to guide people to nearest exits when an evacuation takes place and specifies where the hazard is in order for emergency services to locate it fast and for evacuees to avoid it. 

Moving on to the next session, Gabriel Wetzel, CEO of Robert Bosch Smart Home, gave an interesting presentation looking ‘In & Around the Smart Home of the Future’. He asked the questions: “Why has it taken so long to see developments in smart homes and why is technology not moving fast enough?”

In response, one of the main points looked at how smart devices are advertised. Wetzel showed ‘Like a Bosch’, an advertising video that is a remake of the song ‘Like a Boss’, showing a young man with a moustache carrying out his daily routine using Bosch’s Smart Home solutions. The message he was getting across was that advertising methods need to change to appeal to consumers. He explained that communication between technology suppliers and consumers needs to be improved and adverts need to be made fun and not too technical as consumers find it hard to understand. 

Discussing smart devices, Wetzel made a number of points as to what will make them appealing to consumers. He suggests they should be designed with the best technology that makes it easy to use with little or no set up and emphasises the importance of making it attractive and visible within the home. Another important factor is having security built-in to devices to prevent hacking. In addition, devices should be designed to respect the user’s privacy by having the capability to hide the camera for example. 

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Wetzel compared the challenges of the smart home market to the travel market in that smart home products must appeal to all family members and guests and address individual needs with a simple set up. 

Wetzel commented: “Appetite comes with eating. Devices need to offer individual entry points to motivate people to start by buying one product which will then lead to buying others.” He continued to say that user benefits, feedback groups and customer services also need to be worked on to drive this market.

Moving to the residential track of the Smart Building Conference, the theme of interoperability continued through each presentation. Focussing on different areas within the residential market, the sessions highlighted key trends and issues faced while opening discussions with the audience on a variety of topics. 

Walte Zerbe, senior director of Technology & Standards, CEDIA, discussed ‘Next Generation Infrastructure’, focussing on networking within the home. He made the point that wires will always be needed for critical applications saying: “Wireless has become too crowded in recent years and no longer has the capacity to cope with the number of devices making wires essential.”

It was identified that power is one of the biggest problems in smart homes. Noise generation is causing equipment to fail so there is now a requirement to replace noisy power supplies with clean supplies. Zerbe also explained that voice control needs vast improvements to enable more natural speaking to enhance smart home use. 

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Jens Binder, managing director of ithinx, looked at how LowPowerWAN will be a key player to revolutionise digitalisation. He talked the audience through the new home fuel cell for heating and power generating and explained how it connects using NB-IoT. 

Continuing the theme of interoperability, Matthias Strobbe, IoT Business Development and Smart Grids Research, IDLab, IMEC Research Group, presented ‘IoT Interoperability: Does Talking Equal Understanding?’ He explained that interoperability is vital in smart devices as it limits consumers to particular devices that only work with other devices they already own. 

In a later presentation, Enno Vandermeer, founder/CEO of Roon Labs, says that interoperability is a huge focus at Roon Labs because currently, the limitations are causing multi-zone infrastructure problems from integrator and consumer perspectives. Vandermeer said: “Consumers get stuck with one brand. You get a good user experience, but it is limited or doesn’t work at all with anything else in the home and this creates a walled garden ecosystem.” To solve these issues, he explained how Roon is able to stream to network devices across various ecosystems, working through anything and creating an interoperable environment.

The residential track’s ongoing theme of interoperability was demonstrated throughout the conference programme advising attendees how best to make their smart home devices user friendly, more approachable for everyone, and how to create a functioning network with interoperability.