Leveraging Linux for Energy Smarts: Q&A with Steve Raschke, CEO CANDI Controls

How smart energy innovations can leapfrog the IoT standards wars to slash costs and carbon.

CANDI Controls, Inc. offers smart building connectivity solutions. Intel featured CANDI technology at its Intelligent Buildings Conference (IBCon) booth in June. CANDI CEO Steve Raschke spoke recently with Embedded Intel Solutions. Edited excerpts follow.

Embedded Intel Solutions: What recent technical innovations have you announced and how will embedded engineers benefit?

Steve Raschke, CEO, CANDI Controls, Inc.

Steve Raschke, CEO, CANDI Controls, Inc.

Steve Raschke, CANDI Controls, Inc.: CANDI and Intel are enabling embedded designers of Internet of Things equipment, sensors and switches to avoid the risk of the protocol standards wars. Designers can now go to market without the fear of making the wrong choice in communication technologies.

If the embedded developer is using an Intel Quark or the next generation smaller class product to power an IoT device, one of the biggest problems they face today is which IoT communication protocol to adopt. There is a standards war going on in the IoT—it’s crazy. Dozens of new wired and wireless schema are competing to own the network, data and physical layers. Several consortia have emerged to describe new reference architectures for communicating between IoT devices and clouds. And there are many solid legacy protocols with strong track records. From the developer’s perspective, it may feel like the risk is so high of choosing the wrong protocol that it might as well be a no-fly zone.

Figure 1: Raschke notes that traditionally the systems to help building owners and managers execute energy-conscious moves, such as automating lights near a building’s sunlit windows, have been prohibitively expensive—but that is changing. (Photo Courtesy CANDI Controls)

Figure 1: Raschke notes that traditionally the systems to help building owners and managers execute energy-conscious moves, such as automating lights near a building’s sunlit windows, have been prohibitively expensive—but that is changing. (Photo Courtesy CANDI Controls)

What CANDI and Intel are doing is minimizing that risk, reducing that fear of incompatibility for IoT product managers and developers. With Intel BMP [Intel® Building Management Platform], we enable non-WAN-connected embedded IoT devices to securely connect via on-site gateways to cloud services with high quality data, and to integrate communications with other on-site devices, regardless of protocol differences.

Now developers can pick a protocol that best fits their IoT device, knowing that there is going to be an Intel BMP-powered gateway somewhere in that building. They will know that whatever they pick it can become interoperable with other things, and it will also be able to communicate to leading Cloud services that add value, such as Microsoft’s Azure IoT Suite.

CANDI makes it possible for Intel’s Building Management Platform to work across Intel’s popular partner hardware platforms. The advantage is that Intel’s gateway OEM/ODM partners can quickly enter the IoT market with out-of-the-box solutions for their Distribution, VAR and SI customers. This is a benefit to gateway manufacturers wanting to enter the IoT space. The advantages include easy hardware integration, pre-validation by Intel, McAfee embedded security on board, and the Wind River operating system tuned for IoT gateway applications.

And CANDI brings industry-leading IoT device/data expertise to the Intel BMP partnership. Our software transcends IoT protocols to create control, data acquisition and edge capabilities both on the gateway and via remote access. CANDI knows how an air handling unit needs to be addressed. Or how a lighting control system is addressed. Or how meters, thermostats and sensors are addressed. We apply this expertise to the most frequently found devices in smart buildings, as well as to popular next-generation IoT sensors and switches. Then we add secure cloud-to-gateway tunneling for remote administration, alerts, over-the-air updates and the like. This means that a gateway with CANDI and Wind River together on board is capable of far more than just being a platform; it’s a managed product specifically designed to integrate with the world of IoT.

Embedded Intel Solutions: How is CANDI addressing the need to protect investments while at the same time enabling companies to get a firm foothold in what will be needed going forward?

Raschke, CANDI Controls, Inc.: CANDI is working with Intel to help optimize, test and secure the Building Management Platform product package, which includes the Wind River operating system, McAfee embedded, and CANDI’s IoT Server software. This June we submitted to (and passed) an intensive third-party NIST security audit. In July we completed an Intel-sponsored hack-a-thon that tested the software for stress, security and performance. Today we’re deploying field trials to test provisioning and end-to-end data reliability. These events all provide feedback that helps Intel and CANDI improve our software. Changes will be reflected in updated Intel Wind River and CANDI documentation.

CANDI is also working with Intel on validating and documenting Intel BMP’s API and data service features. These will allow other developers to partner in offering more IoT device drivers, API extensions, and additional services such as mobile apps and cloud-based services to leverage the platform’s data and device management features.

CANDI’s R&D lab enables developers to experiment with new IoT devices, legacy equipment, and different protocols. In addition, our field operations team monitors industry news and data sources for hardware trends in the smart building space. When we see significant traction for new IoT hardware specific to smart buildings, we add that hardware to our R&D lab and build a development plan around it.

Embedded Intel Solutions: What changes can smart buildings bring about?

Raschke, CANDI Controls, Inc.: The Department of Energy has published extensive surveys over many years on the amount of energy that small- and medium-sized buildings—buildings from 25,000 square feet to 100,00 square feet—consume. It is on the order of billions of dollars and something like 30 to 40 percent of all the energy used in the United States. According to the Department of Energy, about 30 percent of that energy is wasted. And around 85 percent of these buildings don’t have any technology to track, manage or control that energy waste.

So altogether buildings are wasting 10 billion dollars or more just on poorly managed energy. Much of that can be saved by just dropping in IoT devices and intelligent processes to meter and then eventually control energy in buildings to make them more efficient. It sounds simple, but there are huge savings when you exercise control over actions such as turning off the air conditioning unit when the building is not occupied, turning off lights near sunlit windows, or adjusting rooftop chillers and pumps when it’s a cool day because the air conditioner doesn’t need to run.

The traditional way to do that was to put in very expensive building control systems. Now, what Intel is making possible with the new Building Management Platform that CANDI powers is for about $500 a small Intel-powered gateway can be dropped into a building and quickly configured to talk to the systems and sensors in the building. The data that’s gathered can quickly reveal to the building owner/operator how to save energy. Then, third-party apps connect via the API to control things and achieve the savings. This all happens at one fifth to one tenth of the cost of anything in the past. The price point is a no brainer, and the ROI suddenly makes sense even in smaller buildings.

There are about 5 million buildings that are under 100,000 square feet in North America which don’t have any kind of energy management technology deployed today. It’s a massive market just waiting for an IoT solution. Intel’s BMP gateways suddenly open up that market at a price point that’s profitable for systems integrators, energy management companies and analytics providers. Our hope at CANDI is that together with Intel we can enable massive reductions in operating costs, energy waste and carbon emissions via these BMP gateways.

Embedded Intel Solutions: What Intel ecosystem strengths do you think will be most noticeable over the next five years, and how will CANDI help embedded engineers fully leverage those?

Raschke, CANDI Controls, Inc.: We believe Intel’s approach to IoT will be most noticeable over the next five years in two key areas. First, Intel’s strategy is driving proliferation of IoT devices and data at the edge, which means lots of Quark-style chipsets generating zettabytes of data. Second, that deluge of data has to be processed, analyzed, archived and distributed by Xeon-class servers and cloud infrastructure. Obviously Intel should benefit immensely both at the top and the bottom of the IoT stack.

We’ll see corollary benefits, too. For example, as we refine and better leverage Wind River Linux and McAfee products in today’s BMP gateways, we vastly simplify the development effort and shorten time to market for future IoT products and solutions.

Thinking about what’s next, it’s clear that IoT applications will drive more intelligence and processing to the edge. CANDI and Intel are partnered to empower OEM/ODM gateways with more local processing, which means today we’re pushing the boundary of numbers of devices connected and actionable data points in real time on local networks. That embedded processing capability needs to grow significantly and require less power over the coming years. It’s a good bet that in the next phase of IoT, intelligence at the network edge will mean shifting much of today’s server/cloud code onto lightweight, low-cost embedded devices.

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