If you are in the building automation market, here is something to look for in the next several months:
A large Asian company is preparing a building automation system based around standard IP technology. The system essentially consists of wireless sensor nodes that will do things like monitor temperature, motion, occupancy etc. Facilities managers can hook them into networks to automatically change thermostat settings or, later down the road, control lights in an effort to curb energy consumption in business.
The products will come by the first half of 2010, according to Vijay Parmar, CEO of GainSpan, which makes the low-powered WiFi chips that will go into these nodes. A larger market for this kind of technology from a variety of vendors could grow rapidly. Look at Huawei, he said. When the Chinese networking company began to export equipment, people scoffed. Now it's one of biggest manufacturers of those products in the world.
"I used to think this [standards-based building technology] was two to three years out. But now I think it could be in the next year or year and a half," he said.
Cisco Systems has also announced plans to expand the reach of EnergyWise, its software for controlling networking equipment and phones, into building management. In January, Cisco completed the acquisition of Richards-Zeta Building Intelligence, which makes building control software.
The entry of a large Asian manufacturer into the market would be interesting development. Right now, the building automation market is very barbell shaped. On one side, you have the giants of the industry like Johnson Controls and Honeywell. These companies have inserted technology into virtually every modern building, but their systems tend to rely on close network architectures, can be somewhat expensive and do not always allow for dynamic power control. They've also been somewhat reluctant to adapt.
"It has been tough to get people like Siemens or Johnson Controls to move," said Parmar.
On the other end of the barbell are a host of start-ups or somewhat smaller companies like Adura Technologies, Cimetrics, Lumenergi and Tendril. Some of these companies have raised venture funds and landed impressive clients – Cimetrics' software, for instance, helps gate energy consumption at the University of Florida and Auburn among other large campuses. Great stuff, but many are only now planning how to get to scale.
A large Asian manufacturer could bring both a willingness to adopt new technologies and the scale to popularize it. Success cannot be guaranteed. New, promising projects often asphixiate in conglomerates. On the other hand, many of the conglomerates already believe energy technologies that can revive their fortunes. Japan has a long history in developing energy technologies – some of the largest solar panel manufacturers are based in Japan. Panasonic is already talking up energy efficient homes. Interest in Japan for information on energy technologies has also grown rapidly in the last few months, according to our Japanese correspondent Hayashi Sakawa.