Back in the early part of the decade, VCs and futurists were going bonkers for mesh technology. But they had a problem. What do you do with it?
The limited bandwidth and low-power consumption of sensors made deploying mesh for telecommunications problematic. A few researchers showed how it could be deployed to observe animals or manage security cameras.
Power management has emerged as the potential killer app, according to Jack Bolick, the new CEO of Adura Technologies. Adura, partly born from research at UC Berkeley, emerged last year with a unit for controlling lights. It has installed demonstration units at UC Berkeley, Webcor and a few other places and will launch a commercial version in the fourth quarter. (A beta will be debuted in September.)
Approximately $32 billion of the $90 billion that is spent on electricity for commercial buildings gets spent on lighting, he said. In a large public space like a lobby, Adura's technology could curb power consumption by 20 percent to 30 percent.
"Only 7 percent of lights are controlled in a distributed manner and what is controlled is very wired and rigid," he said.
Ultimately, it will move into building management, controlling things like compressors and boilers in heating and cooling systems. The payoff on systems could come in four years for customers, or less if government incentives are added. The goal is to have 100 million square feet under control by 2014. (Note: There is also a company called Adura that does electric bus drive trains. No relation.)
Managing power in buildings and homes has become one of the growth markets in the green world. The opportunity can be boiled down to this: Buildings consume 39 percent of the energy in the U.S., an ungodly amount is wasted on things like air conditioning empty rooms, and the controls business is dominated by older technologies from conglomerates like Johnson Controls and Honeywell.
Tendril wants to use wireless mess in homes to control power consumption. Lumenergi has a networked dimmer switch for florescent lights. HID Laboratories has network controls for large HID lights used in big box retailers. Tririga and Cimetrics, meanwhile, have systems for tracking and controlling HVAC and other devices. Cypress Semiconductor also wants to move into this market.
Adura is going to take a circumspect path to market. It will only focus on commercial buildings, Bolick said. (Interestingly, this makes the strategies of Tendril and Adura complimentary and both have received funds from VantagePoint Venture Partners.)
Additionally, it will primarily focus on lights. When it enters the wider market for energy management, it will not try to displace companies like Honeywell. Instead, Adura will try to piggyback existing management systems to give facilities managers more granular control. Those systems aren't going anywhere, Bolick noted, and why should a startup try to take on a huge corporation? Bolick was one of Honeywell's chief execs on wireless control systems before Adura.
Employees will also be able to override changes in lighting and air conditioning. "You don't want to impact productivity so the flexibility is down to the lowest level," he said.
The product itself sort of resembles a small power supply. It contains radios (based around the ZigBee protocol) and microprocessors and plugs into a florescent light fixture next to the ballast. If there is one every 80 square feet, an entire floor can be covered.
Controlling through mesh provides two advantages. One, you don't have to install wiring, which adds costs. Wired systems also are made to handle a lot more data than is needed for building management. Wired sensor systems can be used to seal up areas in a factory after an explosion, for instance.
"This is for non-mission critical," he said.
Two, the units in the mesh can "heal" the network-bypassing broken radios-when necessary. If you used a point-to-point network, a broken radio would mean that one area or region would no longer be controlled.
Adura will also side-step one of the vexing problems of green building – who will pay for it – by selling it to the tenants of a commercial space directly. The tenants can also remove the units when they move. Currently, tenants are discouraged from installing energy efficiency technologies because they might move and building owners are discouraged because energy efficiency can add costs.
Pictured: Adura's mesh unit is the top black rectangle inside the light fixture.
Join industry leaders and influencers at Greentech Media's Green Building Summit in Menlo Park, Calif., June 11.