Technologies for Smart Buildings are in great demand, as the market surges in this segment. Vendors are responding with products and solutions designed to make buildings more intelligent, more secure and more connected.
Building facility managers have wised up to the fact that the advantages of Smart Building technologies translate to reduced costs, greater efficiency and happier tenant customers. Embedded technologies, including wireless networking, sensor hubs and IoT architectures, help Smart Buildings monitor and automate indoor air quality and lighting, reduce tenant heating and cooling usage, establish predictive maintenance routines and more. According to IHS Markit, the overall Smart Building market will be worth $17.5 billion in 2022.
Smart Building technologies have interesting overlaps with the smaller scale world of Smart Homes and the broad realm of Smart Cities, in which Smart Buildings are key elements. Smart Lighting and Smart Utility solutions intersect with the Smart Building arena as well. Over the past 12 months, developers of microcontrollers (MCUs), sensors, IoT gateways and other technologies have rolled out several solutions aimed at helping emedded engineers develop their Smart Building system designs.
LIGHTING AND AIR QUALITY
For its part, Renesas Electronics provides application on its website called “Building Automation Lighting with Air Quality Sensors Solution” (Figure 1). The example system design in based on its RA4W1 MCU. The solution combines LED control with environmental sensors that can detect high concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and the estimated concentration of carbon dioxide (eCO2) in rooms.
The design leverages the RA4W1 MCU with integrated Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) 5.0 for secure connectivity. The company’s HS3002 sensor tracks temperature and VOC levels. Its ISL29125 light sensor is used to detect ambient light/color and a second optional ISL29125 sensors is used for true color LED control. An ISL97901 LED driver does the LED “intensity” control. Renesas’ ISL85033, a wide VIN dual standard buck regulator with 3A/3A continuous output current, connects the system to the building’s 15V-24V power bus.
Introduced last year, the RA4W1 was the first RA MCU with an integrated BLE 5.0 radio (Figure 2). The single-chip RA4W1 MCU includes a 48MHz, 32-bit Arm Cortex-M4 core and BLE 5.0 core delivered in a 56-pin QFN package. Together, the RA4W1 MCU and easy-to-use Flexible Software Package (FSP) enables engineers to immediately begin development with Arm ecosystem software and hardware building blocks that work out-of-the-box with RA MCUs.
According to Renesas, the RA4W1 MCU makes it easy for embedded designers to develop safe and secure IoT endpoint devices for Industry 4.0, building automation, metering and other applications. The MCU is also well suited for developing IoT edge devices for wireless sensor networks, IoT hubs, add-ons to gateways and aggregators to IoT cloud applications.
The single-chip RA4W1 48 MHz MCU features field upgradeable 512KB flash memory, 96KB SRAM, and connectivity such as USB, CAN and Renesas’ HMI capacitive touch technology. It also includes Renesas’ Secure Crypto Engine supporting embedded system developers with symmetric encryption and decryption, hash functions, true random number generation (TRNG), and advanced key handling with key generation and MCU-unique key wrapping.
The MCU includes full BLE 5.0 functions such as 2Mbps data throughput, all advertising extension functions with maximum advertising length (1650 byte), periodic advertisements and channel selection algorithm #2 for applications requiring large amounts of traffic.
The RA4W1 also offers a low peak power consumption at 3.3mA during receiving and 4.5mA (at 0dBm) while transmitting. An industry best sensitivity of -105dBm in 125kbps mode is achieved without additional loss from external components, according to Renesas.
Meanwhile, IEI Integration offers a detailed solution for building property management that integrates several of IEI’s embedded computing products (Figure 3). IEI says the property management solution helps to enhance management and energy efficiency of parking lot, fire system, security guards and other shared properties or areas. There are several sensors and control systems connecting and communicating with SCADA so that the supervisor can understand the utilization of properties in different buildings from a remote site.
IEI’s TANK-860-QGW can be configured to perform monitoring, playback and management tasks by connecting a USB keyboard and mouse and by using an HDMI display to deliver live Full HD video monitoring. By using the shuttle button, you can drag it to fast forward or rewind in order to quickly find the screen that you want and you can also control the speed. The TANK-860-QGW is an embedded PC designed to run a homegrown QTS Gateway Linux distribution based on Qnap’s Linux-based QTS platform for its NAS (network attached server) systems. The system can monitor IPMI equipment, servers, PCs and production line equipment and can be set up as a LoRaWAN server.
IEI says its building solution partner has integrated the property management application into the TANK-860-QGW, which performs as a micro-server for collecting data from sensors and communicating with other control systems, such as fire systems and lighting systems. It is also used as an NVR (network video recorder) for surveillance purposes. The IOVU-10F-AD performs as a self-registration kiosk and VoIP phone, so that the floor manager or security guard doesn’t need to stand by at the reception desk for authorizing access to visitors. This helps to improve management efficiency.
While the property management solution IEI describes is based on its TANK-860-QGW, that TANK unit is somewhat outdated. IEI’s more recent QTS gateway product is its TANK-870-Q170-QGW (Figure 4) that embeds 6th/7th generation Intel Core processors. The fanless embedded computer has a built-in QTS Gateway operating system that can be visualized immediately. The unit supports remote connection (myQNAPcloud) and hybrid backup (Hybrid Backup Sync). Its Q’center software centralizes management of multiple QNAP NAS units and the IPC that’s equipped with the QTS gateway OS.
A key piece of Smart Building technology is predictive maintenance. Feeding those needs, in February Infineon Technologies launched its XENSIV Predictive Maintenance Evaluation Kit (Figure 5). The kit was co-developed with the IoT service provider Klika Tech and is powered by the cloud service provider AWS to offer an end-to-end solution for customers. The kit includes hardware (sensors, MCU, embedded security), software as well as CloudFormation templates.
Coming from the Smart Factory realm, Infineon says that predictive maintenance techniques are one of the key features of Smart Buildings. Predictive maintenance can lead to 70% fewer breakdowns and 25% fewer maintenance costs, while well-maintained equipment can extend their lifetimes by 20%. HVAC end-users, such as building owners and facility managers, especially need predictive maintenance functionality in their equipment since the failure of equipment can result in severe disruption of a building’s operations.
Infineon says the eval kit serves as a perfect starting point for quick and easy evaluation of sensor-based condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. Target applications include heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment as well as motors, fans, drives, compressors, refrigeration and other components of Smart Buildings.
The XENSIV Predictive Maintenance Evaluation Kit is an extension for the XMC4700 XMC Relax Kit. It can be equipped with XENSIV sensor satellite boards with a broad range of XENSIV sensors for data collection and condition monitoring. Airflow measurement at the compressor is done using the DPS368 barometric pressure sensor. Current measurement at the fan and compressor is based on the TLI4971 current sensor. Position sensing of the motor is performed with the TLI493D-W2BW 3D magnetic sensor.
Sound anomaly detection in the unit is accomplished with the IM69D130 MEMS microphone and linear movement vibration measurement is done the with the TLE4997E linear Hall effect sensor. Other sensors included are the TLE4964-3M Hall sensor that provides opened and closed lid detection, and the TLI4966G Double Hall sensor performs speed and direction measurement. The eval kit does data processing, which uses Infineon’s XMC industrial MCU, the XMC4700, powered by an Arm Cortex -M4 core. Secured connection and authentication along with multi-account registration is provided by Infineon Techonlogies’ OPTIGA Trust M embedded security solution.
The software provided fully supports the FreeRTOS kernel (see p.56). AWS Cloud integration is completed by full AWS CloudFormation templates and a software application stack. A GUI and basic anomaly detection are also included. For connectivity, Wi-Fi and Ethernet are integrated on-board, as well as a mikroBUS ClickBoard interface for extended connectivity.
SMART FIRE PREVENTION SOLUTION
Smoke and fire alarm technologies are far from new in all buildings of all kinds. Now that’s evolved into intelligent schemes for fire prevention. In June, Semtech announced that LDT, a South Korean-based solutions provider to display and IoT industries, integrated Semtech’s LoRa devices into its smart fire prevention system that uses sensors and a network camera to detect any flames, smoke, passive infrared and alarming changes in temperature within a commercial property in real time (Figure 6). As a result of LoRa integration, the LDT smart fire prevention system is able to provide real-time analytics, sensing, connectivity and geolocation to measure fire levels, protecting commercial facilities, such as shopping malls and local markets, from fire damage and safeguard human life.
To implement the LDT smart fire prevention system, a gateway is installed on the ceiling of each floor of a building and sensors are installed in all rooms. Once a sensor detects a fire threat, the real-time fire data is sent to a gateway that uses LoRa that is connected to the smart fire prevention system via a LAN. From there, an automatic response can be triggered depending on the conditions in the building. The response is sent to emergency personnel and the property manager via a mobile device or computer allowing them time to respond effectively.
Semtech’s LoRa device-to-cloud platform is a globally adopted long range, low power solution for IoT applications, enabling the rapid development and deployment of ultra-low power, cost efficient and long range IoT networks, gateways, sensors, module products and IoT services worldwide. Semtech’s LoRa devices provide the communication layer for the LoRaWAN standard, which is maintained by the LoRa Alliance, an open IoT alliance for Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) applications that has been used to deploy IoT networks in over 100 countries. Semtech is a founding member of the LoRa Alliance.
Smart Buildings rely on the latest and greatest sensor technologies as the means to collect the needed data to provide intelligent building automation and monitoring. Humidity sensors are part of that mix. Along such lines, in June Texas Instruments (TI) introduced the first devices in a new family of humidity sensors that provide high reliability, accuracy and low power consumption—along with built-in protection of sensing elements. The HDC3020 and HDC3020-Q1 enable engineers to create more reliable industrial and automotive systems that withstand potential damage caused by moisture, and react as needed to changing water vapor conditions over time, says TI.
For controlling air quality and flow in buildings, the need for improved reliability and safer, more comfortable environments has increased the adoption of relative humidity (RH) sensors. Offering improved RH measurement accuracy with reduced long-term error, when compared to existing RH sensors, the HDC3020 and HDC3020-Q1 preserve data integrity under stress conditions and are the industry’s first to provide integrated correction to adapt to drift caused by natural aging, environmental stress or interactions with contaminants (Figure 7).
The HDC3020 and HDC3020-Q1 achieve lower drift in extreme conditions than competing devices, with less than 0.21% RH accuracy drift per year and less than 5% RH drift from temperature and humidity stress (tested up to 85% RH and 85°C). This sustained accuracy enables longer system lifetimes, eliminating the need to frequently replace or recalibrate the sensor.
SECOND LINE OF DEFENSE
When exposed to stress or contaminants, the sensors also provide a second line of defense, where even a small accuracy drift from the sensor’s time-zero specification can be removed using integrated drift correction technology. Low drift is especially important in long-life applications, because it enables better performance and greater reliability over time.
TI says the HDC3020 and HDC3020-Q1 provide the highest accuracy—verified with a procedure traceable to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—across the full supply voltage of 1.62V to 5.5V and the widest temperature and humidity range at ±1.5% RH. This high accuracy enables more precise control of a system, increasing efficiency by ensuring that the system only runs when necessary.
The HDC3020 and HDC3020-Q1 humidity sensors are available in several pin-to-pin compatible package cover options, such as removable polyimide tape and permanent IP67-rated filter covers. The covers provide ingress protection against dust and moisture for the devices during assembly and system lifetimes, and help maintain accuracy when the sensor is exposed to contaminants. Preproduction versions of the HDC3020 and HDC3020-Q1 are available exclusively on TI’s website in 8-pin leadless plastic small-outline packages.
POWER-CONSCIOUS BUILDING AUTOMATION
Energy savings is a huge motivator for Smart Building technology investments. With that in mind, last Fall STMicroelectronics (ST) released KNX software for its S2-LP ultra-low-power radio transceiver to enable energy-saving standardized wireless connectivity for Smart-Building controls.
Ready to run on an STM32 MCU or alternatively on a BlueNRG-2 BLE system-on-chip (SoC) that embeds an Arm Cortex-M0 core running at 32MHz and a comprehensive set of I/O peripherals, the software contains a certified KNX-RF stack, RF adaptation layer and S2-LP library needed to connect the transceiver to create an ultra-low-power wireless KNX node (Figure 8). Operating in the 868.3MHz band at only 10mA with +10dBm output, the S2-LP delivers energy efficient, secure and robust wireless connectivity, prolonging battery runtime and reducing the overall cost of the solution.
Combining the S2-LP radio and BlueNRG-2 SoC enables a unique hybrid and low-power optimized KNX/Bluetooth solution in two chips, allowing a smartphone to access KNX-based networks and provide an intuitive and stylish interface for conveniently monitoring, controlling, configuring, provisioning, and updating the KNX nodes, says ST.
Whether hosted on the BlueNRG-2 or STM32 MCU, ST’s KNX-RF software enables innovation and power savings for push-buttons, light switches, occupancy sensors, roller-shutter controls, dimmer actuators and other devices for lighting, heating, HVAC and energy-harvesting systems.
The software meets the latest KNX-RF Multi specification, which supports secure (S mode), encrypted communications and frequency agility with five channels to help avoid interference and permit fast and slow communication modes to save power. Further features of KNX-RF Multi boost reliability and allow larger numbers of KNX devices to coexist on the network, including listen before talk (LBT), fast acknowledge with auto-retry and support for repeaters.
To create the new KNX-RF Multi software, ST teamed with its authorized partners, Tapko for the certified KNX stack and Actimage for the RF adaptation layer. The S2-LP package joins ST’s STKNX highly integrated transceiver for KNX TP communication over twisted-pair cable and extends the company’s portfolio of certified solutions for Smart Building communication, which comprehensively covers the major industry standards.
IoT PERSON DETECTION
Smart Building innovation isn’t only about enhancing capabilities that already exist. It’s also about adding new capabilities, like person detection. This became much in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic when limits to building occupancies were a priority. In April, Maxim Integrated announced that its MAX78000 neural-network MCU detects people in an image using Aizip’s Visual Wake Words (VWW) model at just 0.7 millijoules (mJ) of energy per inference (Figure 9). This is 100 times lower than conventional software solutions, and the most economical and efficient IoT person-detection solution available, says Maxim. The low-power network provides longer operation for battery-powered IoT systems that require human-presence detection, including building energy management and smart security cameras.
The MAX78000 low-power, neural-network accelerated MCU executes AI inferences at less than 1/100th the energy of conventional software solutions to dramatically improve runtime for battery-powered edge AI applications. The mixed precision VWW network is part of the Aizip Intelligent Vision Deep Neural Network (AIV DNN) series for image and video applications and was developed with Aizip’s proprietary design automation tools to achieve greater than 85% human-presence accuracy.
The MAX78000 MCU and MAX78000EVKIT# evaluation kit are available now at Maxim Integrated’s website and through authorized distributors. The MAX78000 is $8.50 (1000-up, FOB USA) and the evaluation kit is $168.00. AIV DNN series models, tools and services are available directly from Aizip.
STANDARDS FOR BUILDING AUTOMATION
Because the idea of Smart Buildings is relatively new, standards for the industry are new as well. Significant progress in the area was made last summer when several technology alliances and organizations united behind an IP-based backbone standard for building automation. In June 2020, BACnet International, KNX Association, OCF, Thread Group and the Zigbee Alliance announced they were teaming up “to better align commercial buildings with users’ connectivity needs and to improve the integration of smart building products.” Note: In May of this year, the ZigBee Alliance rebranded itself as the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA).
The new initiative these organizations are collaborating on is called “IP Building and Lighting Standards” (IP-BLiS). Together, they are promoting a secure multi-standard IP-based infrastructure as a backbone in building automation to replace the inefficient, still-widespread use of siloed solutions. For this purpose, the operation of leading technology standards is to be harmonized, the fragmentation in smart building connectivity reduced and a broad acceptance of coexistent solutions promoted.
At present, there is no automation technology available that covers all of the use-cases required to fully automate a commercial building. From elevators and energy management, to lighting, water supply and air conditioning, to access control and surveillance systems: there are countless application scenarios for technologies in Smart Buildings. That said, some individual building systems still use a wide variety of proprietary solutions that often require separate hardware-based gateways and infrastructures. This fragmentation results in higher costs for planning, installation, maintenance and administration of smart building projects.
In order to overcome these barriers, the members of IP-BLiS intend to combine light control and building management systems with IT networks by using a secure all IP-based configuration while harmonizing the operation of their technical standards accordingly. This will allow data from a wide variety of building systems to be accessible via a single IP address.
There are several advantages to this approach. Hardware-based gateways become unnecessary, as various devices across some of the most diverse systems can communicate via a single secure IP connection, and it will be much easier to seamlessly integrate IoT products into existing smart buildings. Furthermore, an IP-based approach will significantly reduce effort and costs while increasing security, allowing Smart Building projects to become more scalable. More information can be found at www.ipblis.org
MASSIVE IoT SYSTEMS
Particularly large Smart Buildings have to deal with connectivity over long distances. This is where Smart Building and Smart City technology requirements often intersect. Serving such needs, in May U-blox announced that it has specified Nordic Semiconductors’ nRF52833 BLE SoC to power its NINA-B4 stand-alone Bluetooth 5.1 modules. The small (10mm × 15mm × 2.2mm) BLE/Bluetooth 5.1 MCU modules with open CPU architecture are optimized for, and can be supplied preinstalled with, Wirepas Massive (previously Wirepas Mesh), a decentralized large-scale mesh networking solution (Figure 10). Wirepas Massive has been developed by global software connectivity company Wirepas, and is designed for a wide array of massive IoT applications.
The NINA-B4 series includes the NINA-B406, which comes with an internal PCB antenna (providing a robust low-profile solution with high performance and extensive range), and NINA-B400, which integrates a U.FL connector for use with an external antenna of the developer’s choice. This greatly reduces time, cost and effort for U-blox customers integrating Bluetooth LE in their designs. The NINA-B4 series also comes with U-blox’s u-connect software, supporting dozens of use cases and providing an easy-to-use interface to configure the connectivity required from an external application host.
The NINA-B4 module is suitable for running Wirepas Massive. The module is also able to run third-party device applications alongside the Wirepas protocol. Wirepas claims the software is the only solution to combine sensing, monitoring, control, positioning and large-scale inventory in a single technology. According to Wirepas, networks built with its technology are optimized by local decision-making to reach unlimited scalability, coverage and density while using the available radio spectrum as efficiently as possible. The company says the network is immune to frequency interference, making it ideal for use in harsh industrial environments.
SMART BUILDING DEPLOYMENTS
Wirepas Massive can be deployed in Smart Building, Smart Industry and Smart Metering applications, or whenever there is a need for large-scale industrial-grade network deployments, says U-blox. Wirepas Massive introduces 2x higher throughput, reduced power consumption and a dynamic provisioning algorithm. The algorithm automatically authorizes new nodes in an existing network and enables roaming for logistics use cases. Wirepas Massive also features open-source gateway software, a simpler protocol node-node system that doesn’t require any back-end link and high-density ultra-fast inventory (thousands of devices in less than one minute, for example in warehouses). It also boasts directed advertising mode for reliable ultra-low power light switches and advertising space extended to 32-bit to support ultra-large networks.
The NINA-B4 module also supports Bluetooth 5.1—including direction finding—and can operate at an extended temperature range up to 105°C, which, together with its long-range capability, makes it well suited for deployment in harsh environments. Designed to act as both a transmitter and receiver—using angle-of-arrival (AoA) and angle-of-departure (AoD) direction finding —, the NINA-B4 modules bring the benefits of high-precision positioning to indoor applications. The integrated nRF52833 SoC’s multiprotocol radio is capable of all direction-finding features for AoA and AoD applications. The SoC’s generous memory allocation enables integration of advanced embedded customer applications.
Nordic’s nRF52833 multiprotocol SoC supports the large-scale, low power Wirepas Massive mesh connectivity software enabling cost-effective, scalable IoT solutions with density, flexibility and reliability. For example, a network of anchor nodes and up to hundreds of thousands of end-devices could be placed throughout a location and wirelessly linked using the Wirepas Massive connectivity integrated in the Nordic SoCs. Collected sensor data and analytics could then be relayed via Wirepas Massive to a U-blox NINA-B4 module-equipped gateway, which in turn sends the data to the cloud.
Connectivity Standards Alliance | www.csa-iot.org
IEI Integration | www.ieiworld.com
Infineon Technologies | www.infineon.com
Maxim Integrated | www.maximintegrated.com
Nordic Semiconductor | www.nordicsemi.com
Renesas Electronics | www.renesas.com
Semtech | www.semtech.com
STMicroelectronics | www.st.com
Texas Instruments | www.ti.com
Thread Group | www.threadgroup.org
U-blox | www.U-blox.com
PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • AUGUST 2021 #373 – Get a PDF of the issueSponsor this Article
Jeff served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxGizmos.com and its sister publication, Circuit Cellar magazine 6/2017—3/2022. In nearly three decades of covering the embedded electronics and computing industry, Jeff has also held senior editorial positions at EE Times, Computer Design, Electronic Design, Embedded Systems Development, and COTS Journal. His knowledge spans a broad range of electronics and computing topics, including CPUs, MCUs, memory, storage, graphics, power supplies, software development, and real-time OSes.