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Why New Daedalus?

Daedalus was the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world. Today, embedded intelligence is enabling the most profound changes in the way we create and use buildings since his day.

Building Intelligence meets the Intelligent Building. The Intelligent Building negotiates with the Intelligent Grid. How will this transform how we interact with the physical world?

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The knowledge problem of building systems and energy markets

Energy blogger and economist Lynne Kiesling writes at the site “Knowledge Problem”, presumably a reference to Hayek’s observation that individuals are filled with limited and mostly erroneous knowledge. This knowledge problem makes it impossible for centrally planned economies, or for anything other than markets, to collect or filter the knowledge necessary to answer questions of production and distribution.

Markets for autonomous building systems, and therefore energy markets, suffer from another kind of knowledge problem, one that damages the market and prevents its development. In this market, the gap between what we know building systems can do, and what owners and operators are aware that they can ask for is immense. Their intermediaries, the sales forces of non-innovative systems, seem bound to keeping them uninformed, to support account control. In the middle stand the public utilities commissions (PUCs), effectively willful in their populist Luddism. The architects and building engineers seem as little informed as their customers, or perhaps merely uninterested in spending and time in this low margin, low bid portion of their projects.

These are strong words, and strong accusations, but they were bolstered by my recent time at FIATECH. At FIATECH, those companies with the most intense process oriented facilities work with the best engineers and the best construction companies to address inefficiencies caused by lost information in capital projects. In this forum, the engineers who design the largest chemical plants meet with sophisticated owner / operators of those same plants. And yet, even here, a strong dichotomy of knowledge was obvious.

The best engineers, and the owners of the best construction companies did not blink an eye when I talked of autonomous agent-based systems, each defending their system-based mission, and responding to economic choreography from the business enterprise. They readily acknowledged as almost too obvious to speak of that immense improvements in efficiency heightened amenities were readily available for the taking. They were well aware that 60% of the energy flowing over the power grid was supplying operations that could see their energy use cut in half almost overnight.

This group thought, though, that markets based upon economic responsiveness would never develop. The PUCs would never act in any way that would reduce their own power. The power companies would continue to market just enough “green campaigns” to keep the unsophisticated non-technical populace happy—and not disturb their iron grip on existing franchises. Building owners will never demand performance and interactivity and so there is no use developing it.

Building owners and operators have opposing prejudices. They can readily imagine participating in energy markets. They readily leap to tell me the services they would like to be able to get from their buildings. They are eager to get some transparent access to high-level information on building maintenance and operations to control costs and be able to audit their own operations.

Building owners, however, are sure that the technology is not developed. They report that their suppliers are unwilling or unable to provide these services. I have often been told that we don’t know how to do this yet. Last fall, at a charrette on intelligent buildings, it was the consensus of the consulting engineers in the room that we did not know enough to make building systems autonomous and responsive.

So there we have a different knowledge problem. The most technically sophisticated, with deepest knowledge of the current state of the art know that although the technology is already available, that pure politics would never allow the market to develop. Those able to make purchasing decisions are willing to buy, but know that the technology is far away. The knowledge problem for building systems is getting the best engineers and the forward looking owners to know what the other knows.

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