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Contractormag 11708 Looking Over The Edge


Sept. 27, 2018
Learning about our journey to the Edge.

I am always playing with words; when I can’t find the right words to express myself I create my own. Here is another one: Edge-ification, the process of moving intelligence and control to the Edge.

Why am I so Edgy? In my mind, our journey to the edge is a big thing. There is a joke in our industry that we are always moving toward or away from centralization. We are definitely moving away from centralized “cloud” thinking and moving our thought to humanized, mindful, interacting edge devices.

With intelligent, self-learning devices and the use of Artifical Intelligence moving to the edge, the future cloud will more resemble a library of tools to build our new self-sufficient, bot-like devices and be the information banks for those devices.

I was pleased with our last chapter of the never-ending story of our transformation, Open Software, Open Hardware, and Open Minds

I love that graphic by the way -- it looks a lot like me with a big square hole in my head! Open to new ideas, and with my signature blank stare (or should that be stair?). To that open mind, I would like to add the concepts of Edge-You-Cation and Edge-ification. Please tolerate my bending of the English language to make a few edgy points.

We are nominating Leo SaLem our " Edge-You-Cator of the Year."

Leo has been in the industry almost as long as me. As you can see from his bio below, he has kept an open mind and is vested deeply in edge-ifcation.

Leo SaLemi began teaching at George Brown College (Toronto) 35 years ago when he was hired to teach Industrial Instrumentation and Controls to address the skill shortages of the early 80’s. Today he teaches and coordinates the three-year Electromechanical Technology – Building Automation and will be the first to admit that the curriculum created when the program was first launched in 2013 had next to nothing on IoT, Raspberry Pi, MQTT, Sedona, AI or Cloud Computing simply because it did not exist at the time or were not mainstream yet. And now things like Edge Analytics, Far Field Voice, BIM FM and Emotional Buildings are making their way to into the Building Automation sectors so we need to move fast and keep pace with these changes which becomes a challenge when it can take 2 or more years to implement a change in the curriculum or add a new course.

Leo has provided his thoughts about the changes we all need to make in education to move forward. I have pulled a few quotes from his October article, Education the Never Ending Story


We need to take an ‘Agile’ approach to education and teach students what they need to know ‘now’ and not wait for 2 to 4 years before they can apply that knowledge.

An example of how our ‘Agile’ approach keeps the curriculum current is demonstrated when back in April of this year Contemporary Controls released the BASpi, an add-on shield for the Raspberry Pi that is programmed using Sedona making it a great tool to teach DDC. In September (now) each of the 40 students in their final year was issued a kit consisting of a Windows10 Insignia notebook/tablet, a Raspberry Pi, a BasPi, an Arduino, an ESP8266 and an assortment of sensors. They will learn ‘how-to-learn’ to program with Sedona and then set up their own DDC to control real actuators, pumps, VFDs using a real-time temperature, flow, and level PID process. Most of the learning will occur using online videos where the student can learn at their own pace and the in-class time will be used for the hands-on portion and demonstrations. (Note, this course also teaches DDC using Reliable Controls.)

The final year of the Building Automation program also features the Capstone Project where students design and build an industry-related project many of which are in collaboration with an industry partner or as part of the on-going research efforts at George Brown. This year some of the projects involve automating a downtown condo using smart technologies; creating a BIM to BAS Augmented Reality platform; building a smart controller for a dual fired residential furnace, and building prototypes to integrate far-field voice applications using Alexa and Google Home.

Moving forward our goal is to develop a 1-year Building Automation certificate program for students who already have a diploma/degree in other fields or are interested in moving into the BAS industry. We have the leadership to make things happen at George Brown as demonstrated by the first of its kind, the new 1-year certificate program in BlockChain Development inspired by Dr. Rick Huijbregts, GBC Vice President, Strategy and Innovation and former VP at Cisco Canada.

This article, The Need for Open-Software, Open-Hardware - Why and How by Calvin Slater builds on his article from last month, Building Better Bots with Machine Vision.

The Open-Software Open-Hardware edge controller is not an imaginary item. It would seem from the description above that such a device would be too costly and complicated to produce and employ. This is not the case. There are already many devices from several manufacturers in production right now that can fulfill some or all of these requirements. For example, the EAC controller from Anka is an Open-Hardware, Open-Software Programmable Edge Controller. The device is based on a very popular 1GHz Cortex-A8 processor intended for industrial control applications. The controller ships with a completely open-source Linux operating system and a variety of pre-installed building automation control applications and services. The EAC is a fully programmable DDC controller that uses Sedona for graphical-control applications as well as serving point level Haystack metadata which has been combined into a fully open-source application known as  Sandstar. In addition to Sandstar, the device is capable of running other applications and services concurrently such as Anka Visualytik framework.

Sedona framework applications offer the possibility of being portable as long as a few required conditions are observed and agreed upon up front by various parties. Project Sandstar has proven this concept to be a reality. In order to use a Sedona DDC app (known as a .sab file) running on one device and load it on another completely different hardware device, both devices must support the same Sedona kits. A kit is analogous to a module in the Niagara framework which is where Sedona originated. The kits that a particular Sedona app are reliant upon are declared in a section of the application file known as the schema. If two Sedona DDC applications have a common schema, then they are cross-compatible and portable across devices regardless of physical hardware. Of the kits enumerated in the app- schema, there are two that are of critical importance to platform independence. The first one is the is the platform kit. Sandstar uses the generic default “platUnix” kit. This kit can be built and is compatible with, many Unix based operating systems of which Linux is a member. This offers an extremely wide variety of choices for embedded SOC based hardware that Linux has been ported to, especially with respect to Arm processors from various manufacturers who have participated in the Linaro Consortium.

The second kit of more critical importance is the one for the controller’s physical I/O (i.e., the UIs, AOs, and BOs etc.). There is no default template in the Sedona framework for this. This kit must be fully implemented by the controls designer(s) for each device. This kit is the most critical for hardware independence as it models the controller’s actual physical points. Project Sandstar has demonstrated a solution to this issue by the implementation of a fully open source I/O kit known as “EacIo.” The kit contains DDC components for physical I/O that are commonly found on most controllers. Every controller has different quantities of these of these I/O ports as well as different types of signals they accept. The EacIo kit does not dictate what ports will exist on a device, but rather it abstracts them through the channel property. By modeling the I/O points as channels, a particular input or output point can exist if the channel exists. This layer of abstraction not only allows hardware independence with regard to the Sedona world but also creates a mechanism to support point-level Haystack metadata to be seamlessly integrated into the application.  Haystack tags are generated on the device at the time of device programming and commissioning. This is the best time to complete this work as it avoids performing repetitive tasks. The Haystack data is served from the actual controller rather than a separate remote proxy device. Sandstar rolls all of this functionality into a single application that can be easily built and run on multiple Linux based platforms. The Sandstar software is an application much in the same way any application is a separate executable entity on any personal computer or smart device. It can be installed, updated, or uninstalled without affecting the underlying operating system.

Because the EAC uses Linux for an OS, and the system is completely open to authorized users, the device can be managed by a qualified system administrator much in the same way an IT department manages its machines. Authorized individuals can apply patches and updates to the system without greatly affecting existing installed BMS applications. The system administrator does not necessarily have to have a vast knowledge of building automation system software. Likewise building automation system technicians do have to have great knowledge about Linux System Administration. This is because Sandstar and other programs on EAC run as separate applications in user space. This creates a distinct boundary between the system platform and user applications.

All of these characteristics combine to together as an example of what the edge controller to streamline building automation interoperability might look like. The EAC controller is just one example.

Boom! We all need to grow younger and open our minds to Edge-ification. Training is a large part of that.

Even traditional Industry folks have started the journey to Edge-fication, acknowledging that the new technology will make for some strange bedfellows. Check out this press release from Johnson Controls.

Johnson Controls GLAS® smart thermostat now available for pre-order GLAS now works with Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant in addition to Microsoft Cortana®, allowing users to control thermostat functions such as temperature changes with their voice using a smart device connected to each service, such as an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker. Users can ask Alexa, the Google Assistant or Cortana to adjust the temperature, and the GLAS smart thermostat can be controlled hands-free. With these enhanced voice-control capabilities, GLAS creates a seamless experience communicating

Traditional BACnet vendors are part of the movement to the edge as well. Delta Controls has introduced a new room sensing device with a top-down view from the center of the room. The O3 Sensor Hub detects motion, sound, light, and temperature with high levels of accuracy. With a complete sensor package, O3 provides BAS with a centralized input to make economic decisions and provide an industry-leading occupant experience.

Although these are all baby steps to Edge-ifcation they are the necessary first steps and why our discussion has turned to Building Better Building Bots Mindfully.

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