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The new technology unlocking smart buildings for existing stock

The wireless canopy makes smart building technology easy and inexpensive for existing buildings.

Only about 5 per cent of buildings are equipped with the right infrastructure to make them smart but a new low cost wireless canopy technology has the potential to “make every building a smart building”.

The “Syncromesh” technology developed by Australian-owned company Cognian enables smart building connectivity without expensive wiring and makes retrofitting a smart building platform onto an existing building far cheaper and easier, according to the company’s co-founder and chief executive officer Mark Blum.

The company secured an Accelerating Commercialisation grant from the federal government in early 2018, which helped it develop the technology, grow to a team of 15 and secure its first customers.

Started in 2016, it’s customer base already includes commercial buildings in Melbourne and Sydney CBDs, the Crowne Plaza Terrigal Pacific hotel on Sydney’s Central Coast, and a number of universities and schools.

Blum told The Fifth Estate the “reasons why the company believes so passionately in smart buildings is that they are sustainable buildings, and secondly, they provide the right environment for the occupants for wellness and productivity”.

No more wires

Most commercial buildings have some sort of lighting control, such as motion sensors that turn lights on and off as people enter or leave a room.

However, such controls work in isolation and can’t provide information about a building or space that can be responded to. But with connective infrastructure, a building can automatically self-modify so that room temperature, shading, energy and water use are managed efficiently.

Putting in the wires to link up all the lights and heating systems is straight forward in a new building. However, Blum says it’s extremely expensive and disruptive to retrofit these wires into an existing building.

Starting with lighting – which accounts for about 20 per cent of the energy consumed in a building – his company installs low-cost devices with Bluetooth chips into the light fittings.

These low energy units, which run off the light’s power source rather than batteries, connect the light sensors in a building so that they can be centrally controlled and managed.

Once all the lights are connected, the system can be scaled up and connected to HVAC systems and other sensors.

The chips can detect phone signals, so it is possible to know how many people are in a space at any one time. This can be useful for managing meeting rooms and other facilities.

Cognian co-founder and chief executive officer Mark Blum

The wireless canopy makes smart building technology possible for existing building stock, but Blum says the system is cheap enough to compete with conventional smart building wiring that goes into new builds.

No software vendor lock-in

The company isn’t the only one operating in the multibillion-dollar IoT market with wireless solutions. But Blum says it has some strong differentiators, namely that it’s “very open”.

The “plug and play, play it with all” ethos means there’s no lock-in with a single software vendor. Building owners can pick and choose the best sustainability apps to connect to the platform, and upgrade them as they see fit.

The company plans to perfect the technology in the Australian market before taking it global. Blum says the large stock of older heritage buildings in Europe makes that a particularly attractive market.

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