Game Plans Plural: Q&A with ARM IoT Solutions Manager Aniriuddha Deodhar



The author of “Intelligent buildings: For smarter, healthier, more productive people,” a white paper, shares his insights.

Editor’s Note: The Smart Building game plan is not one plan, but many, explained ARM IoT Solutions Manager Aniriuddha Deodhar when he spoke with EECatalog recently. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow.

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EECatalog: You authored the white paper Intelligent buildings: For smarter, healthier, more productive people, which puts forward the idea that Smart Building solutions should be “low cost, low maintenance, easy-to-use and highly secure.” What do you see being done correctly right now to make that happen?

Aniruddha Deodhar, IoT Solutions Manager, ARM

Aniruddha Deodhar, IoT Solutions Manager, ARM

Aniruddha Deodhar, ARM: Companies are already thinking about how to reduce their upfront costs by going after devices that have a very small form factor—that reduces the amount of silicon and hence their upfront costs, as well as the amount of energy used for running them.  ARM, of course, has been a leader in energy-efficient devices, and our newly announced Cortex-M processors are ultra-low power to where they may be operated by harvesting energy from the surrounding environment. For example, using temperature differential, ambient light or even simple movements. Coupled with the sophisticated software controlled sleep and deep sleep modes, devices with these processors are able to last for tens of years.

And when you have cloud services to securely on-board, and provision devices, maintain them throughout their lifecycle, and update the firmware over the air, you don’t need to send people around to fix or update them (e.g. a security patch). That reduces maintenance costs as well. What’s more, development costs shrink because now you have devices that are embedded with TrustZone security that is hardware-enabled. So, you are quickly able to start off on an IoT development platform.

A number of ARM partners have showcased reference architectures such as what I’ve just described.  For example, STMicroelectronics recently showcased LoRA reference architecture with ARM processor based sensors and gateways, by essentially bolting together sensors, gateways and applications in the cloud.

EECatalog: What are the barriers involved in accelerating the implementation of smart buildings?

Deodhar, ARM: While we all need to work towards making IoT essentially plug-and-play, many of the barriers are not technology barriers. The problems that crop up are such things as contractual problems related to split incentives, and those related to facilities management contractors being incented on time and material and thus less motivated to implement projects that reduce their work. Other barriers are related to complex financing mechanisms with stringent payback requirements. Those types of concerns must be solved, but it’s already possible to deploy newer technologies that convey the benefits of security and lower cost, for example.  This is something they can do very easily.

EECatalog: ‘Smart Buildings’ is not something one can talk about as just one homogeneous thing, is it?

Deodhar, ARM: No. For example, while bigger buildings such as the archetypical office buildings found in downtown areas are retrofitting rapidly, the small- and medium-size buildings (which account for 98 percent of the buildings) are still at the early stage of IoT awareness. The technology to meet the demands of small and medium buildings needs to get to the point where ordering and installing an IoT system is as simple as ordering and installing a home router or an Amazon Alexa.  We all need to do a better job of addressing the problem of small- and medium-sized buildings, which don’t necessarily have IT people on board nor the budget or mindshare for solving complex deployments. We want to get to where it is just ‘set it and forget it.’

Developers have the microprocessors and software they need to do this; now they need to work with small- and medium-size building owners and understand what platforms support the business case.  Does the building need security cameras? Is it an office or a retail outlet? Those questions are important because, for example, energy consumption could be a greater concern for a retail outlet than it is for an office.

Those are the kinds of things that need to be done, but there is already a latent demand for retrofitting to make buildings smarter. It comes from building owners who want improve ROI on their real estate investment, reduce OPEX, defer CAPEX and recruit higher-value tenants.  Because employees appreciate smart buildings, improvements to make a building smarter can lead to higher talent retention and reduced absentee-ism—all those benefits are there for the taking.

EECatalog: The different segments within the smart building sector would mean you couldn’t just have one master ‘game plan.’

Deodhar, ARM: There are going to be multiple game plans. And there is another 98 percent figure to think about—98 percent of buildings are existing buildings. Two percent of buildings are new construction, and once they are built, they last 50 to 100 years or more.  About half of the commercial buildings in the US were built before 1980. Most of the buildings we will experience in our lifetime are already built or being constructed now.  Traditional buildings are not going away, so opportunity exists for technology deployers such as ARM, for system integrators, for consultants, for engineers and architects to make existing buildings smarter.

Game plans would vary even among existing buildings.  The requirements for hospitals and mission-critical facilities are not the same as those for offices.  Lowering not just OPEX, but more important, reducing inventory and making sure it is well maintained is especially important for hospitals, factories and warehouses, for example. For some buildings, real estate is core to their business—think Walmart or Starbucks—and such businesses would typically have their own architecture, engineering and construction teams and facilities management.  On the other hand, for a company like ARM, real estate is a means to an end for keeping employees happy and productive.  Businesses who own their buildings have a different game plan than those where one of the challenges could be a landlord who is not incented to have a large CAPEX for the sake of a smart building (this is the infamous split incentive problem).  Developers creating solutions for this market need to ensure they have the right product for the right segment.

EECatalog: What myths or misunderstandings, if any, need to be addressed concerning what is and what isn’t a smart building?

Deodhar, ARM: Just adding devices doesn’t make a building smart.  A smart building is sustainable with regard to the resources—energy; water; gas—but also with consideration for human capital and the way the building communicates to the grid.   A smart building must also be responsive: to outside security threats, to the needs of people inside the building; to what the IoT and operational technology demand. The building should improve the occupant’s health, safety, productivity and security.

You could have a hut or a yurt that is sustainable because it does not have heating or air conditioning, but is not comfortable—or you could have a building in a desert which is heavily sensor’d, but not sustainable. None of them would be considered “smart”.

This is why at ARM we make a point of asking—whether we are developing a project or developing one in conjunction with partners—what problem are we trying to solve? Are we trying to reduce energy consumption? Are we trying to cut operating expenditure by putting production maintenance into place? Are we trying to improve health and safety?

EECatalog: What can the U.S learn from countries outside the U.S. with regard to leveraging the benefits of smart buildings and what can countries outside the U.S. learn from the U.S.?

Deodhar, ARM: What the U.S. could learn from other countries is that climate change is real with real impacts. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that.  Already there have been several state initiatives in states like Massachusetts and California as well as in cities like the energy disclosure ordinances in San Francisco initiatives around funding and the energy disclosure law and so on, but I think more can be done. The UK is the standard bearer in a number of these progressive initiatives around climate change.

The U.S. excels at designing good buildings, but these buildings also need to be operated more efficiently by those using them. In Asia, it is almost the opposite:  I have seen this specifically on the energy side—in Asia the buildings may not be designed very well for energy efficiency or with a thick insulation envelope, but they are operated efficiently because people are used to turning off the lights and air conditioning (which is often not central) when not in use.

The focus on the business model and use case which predominates in the U.S. is helpful because government regulations or dictums or funding alone do not move the market—that can lead to ghost towns or uninhabited buildings or smart building showcase projects that really go nowhere after a few years or, which like the Olympics, are often not profitable.

EECatalog: Does retrofitting typically make economic sense?

Deodhar, ARM: Yes, for example, at ARM’s San Jose, California facility there was a budget for replacing older fluorescent tubes, and we learned that installing smart lighting made not just environmental sense but also ‘dollars and sense’ because for the same cost and reduced OPEX and ease of implementation we could install a smart lighting system rather than just changing lightbulbs.  With the plunging cost of sensors, ease of development, and all the apps that help you keep track of the system, it becomes a no brainer.

ARM is also building a new headquarters at our Cambridge, UK location and [in tandem with] that we’re retrofitting existing buildings with everything from lanyards enabled with location-based tracking—this makes possible services such as letting people know which meeting rooms are occupied and helping cars find parking spaces. The IoT projects we’re weaving in as we construct new buildings and retrofit existing buildings will help lower the total cost of ownership as well as making for a much better experience for employees.

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