10 Smart Building Technologies for Facilities Automation
A lot of our articles on green technology focus on innovations that wean us away from the burning of fossil fuels, whether it’s improving solar fuel efficiency or designing advanced nuclear power plants. But another strategy to lighten the load on mother Earth rather than start packing for Mars is to be more efficient in the way we operate. That desire for efficiency – it could be energy, transportation, or a dozen other things – is helping drive the wholesale adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). We’ve spent a lot of time talking about smart cities of the future, as well as the different smart home solutions for improving security and managing utilities. Another piece in the puzzle of building out the IoT network involves smart building technologies.
Smart building technologies are different from Industrial IoT, which generally involves networking sensors and instruments in order to monitor machines to ensure they
don’t rise up in a bloody revolt operate more efficiently or even predict a breakdown before it occurs. Smart building technologies, on the other hand, are similar to smart home solutions in that they emphasize ways to collect data about the environment and people to maximize outputs while minimizing inputs, such as improving a building’s energy efficiency to cut down on electricity usage. One obvious example is smart glass, which involves encasing buildings with tintable glass that knows exactly how to respond to solar heat and even glare.
CB Insights produced a smart building market map, and we’ve torn off one small corner (above) to highlight some of the types of smart building technologies from startups. Some of these companies are offering solutions that go well beyond screwing in a few smart light bulbs for automating building facilities by tracking the ways in which the spaces are used.
Take our first company: Boston-based Robin, which has raised about $27 million since it was founded in 2014, including an $18 million Series B earlier this month. Robin is out to solve the second-biggest problem facing office buildings (the first being that hot-blooded men are freezing out all the delicate flowers, according to the latest cutting-edge research from scientists): Maximizing meet room space. Robin offers a sort of search engine for the office to help employees find the perfect place to
nap … apply for other jobs … hook up with co-workers … um, meet, based on amenities (think couch and coffee for couplings meetings) or specific needs. Robin says the platform also provides insights on conference room usage and an interactive office map to optimize the layout (not to mention some spiffy digital signage).
For example, one of the biggest funded 3D printing startups, Formlabs, says it cut no-show meetings by 25% with Robin. There must be an ROI in there somewhere, as Robin offers plans starting as low as $20 a month.
To continue the theme of office space: Austin, Texas-based PointGrab has grabbed $12 million since it was founded more than a decade ago in 2008. The company produces the CogniPoint sensing platform, an IoT device a little bigger than a fire alarm that also mounts on the ceiling. CogniPoint uses machine learning and computer vision to
spy on employees detect the ebb and flow of office workers in order to maximize office space, though other uses range from controlling office access to improving energy efficiency. The company says the analytics actually happen on the device, with the data then streamed to the cloud for further processing before passing the results onto the customer:
It can track foot traffic, for example, to manage maintenance, such as sending a cleaning crew to heavily trafficked areas, such as the breakroom. By the way, the paranoid among us will be glad to know that PointGrab says that the data it collects about the occupants remains anonymous.
Founded in 2017, San Francisco-based VergeSense is another startup using AI to track people through a facility. It is an alum of Y Combinator and has raised $1.6 million. Its ceiling-based sensors monitor foot track throughout a facility, delivering “actionable insights” on where employees are spending the most time goofing off. VergeSense says its platform is used by 15 Fortune 500 companies and monitors more than one million square feet of office space.
A startup in Berlin called Basking, founded in 2017, uses WiFi signals to monitor building occupancy. After applying a series of algorithms to filter the WiFi data and assess the positioning of devices using location triangulation, its software accurately determines the number of people and their location within the space in near-real time.
That data eventually helps maximize office space, which Basking says could help building owners gain 40% in savings and additional income from rentals or co-working spaces.
This slot was reserved for a startup called Entic out of Florida that had raised $12 million before another startup in Washington, DC acquired it in March. Founded in 2012, Aquicore has raised about $11.7 million to build out a platform to automate energy and utility usage in buildings. Aquicore says it uses machine learning to help automate utilities for real estate rentals, from tweaking operations to managing tenant billing. For example, in one case, it saved a client an immediate $30,000 when the system detected a metering error in the water utility. In another case, Aquicore decreased a 1930s office building’s annual energy costs by more than $100,000 by shifting the building’s start time, among other recommendations:
Energy savings is certainly an easy case to make. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, commercial buildings account for nearly 20% of U.S. energy consumption and 12% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown that implementing a few energy-efficient strategies could reduce energy use by up to 30%, MIT reported. That means Aquicore has some competition.
Founded in 2011, Austin-based Bractlet has raised $5.2 million in disclosed funding over nine rounds, picking up $1.2 million as recently as last November. The startup claims its energy-savings algorithms leverage its team’s expertise in physics and thermodynamics to deliver energy savings. Its proprietary power meters collect real-time energy consumption data that it feeds into its Intelligence Engine, while also accounting for everything from building design and occupancy to heating, cooling, lighting and plug loads to HVAC system performance to real-time weather.
Founded in 2013, Senseware is a Virginian startup that has taken in $3.2 million over four rounds. Data are collected from a building’s existing mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and environmental systems, as well as augmented by Senseware’s own wireless hardware. It offers specific packages for applications like real-time energy management or indoor air quality monitoring.
Founded in 2012, 75F is based in the Minneapolis area and has raised $2.9 million for its smart building technologies, which includes a range of sensors and control devices to manage and monitor everything from temperature and lights to occupancy and noise. In one case, a yoga studio chain installed the company’s control system to regulate the up and down dogs of different classes that needed varying temperatures. Other customers include Shell and Mercedes-Benz.
Update 09/04/19: 75F has raised $18 million in Series A funding to scale support and operations, invest in R&D, upgrade office locations in both the Twin Cities and Bangalore, India, and open additional satellite office locations. This brings the company’s total funding to $20.9 million to date.
Founded in 2009, New York-based Enertiv has raised $4.3 million in disclosed funding over eight rounds. Its platform creates a digital twin of every machine or piece of equipment involved in maintaining a building’s environment. The system has been trained on three billion machine hours to not only identify operational efficiencies for saving energy but also to predict when things might break down or to alert custodians in real-time to a problem.
Hardware for Smart Building Technologies
Founded in 2009, French startup Qowisio has raised about $11 million to develop its own IoT ecosystem, from the communications infrastructure to the sensors that collect data and send it to the cloud for processing to the apps that access the information. It has dozens of different sensors for a wide variety of applications, including for smart building uses such as monitoring and adjusting temperature or lighting:
Like another well-funded French startup called Sigfox, Qowisio deploys its own low-power communications network for internet-connected objects using ultra narrowband technology to power the wide-area network.
Future smart cities will require countless smart buildings, smart streets, smart cars, smart lights, and more, in order to truly function in an automated way. The ongoing rollout of 5G networks and satellite networks will support the heavy communications demands of the IoT ecosystem as it grows from millions to billions of sensors and devices in the coming years. Some of these smart building technologies will likely be part of that future.
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