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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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Wednesday
Oct312007

The Case for oBIX in Laboratory systems

Well, if not oBIX, something like it.

Most data in modern research is collected by automated systems. Computers assess, quantify, and print out data. Some may be able to produce spreadsheets. Some produce graphs. (I remember measuring graphs with great care to turn them back into numbers in a previous career). Some may extrude CSV (comma separated values) files, to be imported into databases. But almost everything starts with machine measure and tabulation.

Often the information you need to understand the experiment has been recorded, but it is only available in a nearby system that the researcher either has no access to, or does not know he can get.

The biologist who recently asked for access to our operations data is one example. He works with plants in greenhouses. Greenhouses strive for, but do not always produce, specialized conditions. Understanding plants, and small differences in growing plants, often involves understanding the conditions they grew in precisely. We have a system that tracks minute by minute the temperature and humidity of the areas it monitors. In areas in which natural lighting is being used and augmented, light levels are also tracked. This researcher asked for access to the minute by minute temperature, humidity, and light for each zone in the greenhouses. What is wonderful about this request is that we can provide it essentially for free

There other systems, specialized systems that researchers work around. Back when I worked in a Biochemistry lab, we had large variances in the reactivity of the materials we worked in. After half a year, I guessed that these problems were caused by variances in the level of liquid hydrogen in the large carboys we stored samples in. Today, those carboys are replaced by ultralow freezers. While I never could prove this, I got outstanding results by working straight through (a 50 hour shift every other week) and thus eliminating variability. You can find the results on the web if you are interested in quassinoids.

There is a large cancer research center on campus. As part of the background for each grant that it submits, it includes general material on the quality of the facilities and how they enhance the research performed therein. One of the pillars of quality is an ultralow freezer tracking system.

This system monitors all the laboratory freezers in the building. Data on the quality of the freezer systems is carefully monitored. Each freezer has its tolerance, and it can be documented that each system stays within its tolerance. This documentation is part of the overall facilities quality report. If your sample is stored here, it will not be accidentally thawed out.

What is not available is any easy way for researchers to access the same information. If they ask the right person, they can get a spreadsheet describing the details of the performance of a particular freezer. They can request these periodically. This system, like most building monitoring systems, has no way to let researchers pull direct feeds of data from the freezer monitoring system. There is no way for one of several researchers using the same freezer to set personal alarms on conditions that matter to him. Most of the researchers are unaware that they can ask for anything.

Every automated laboratory system produces its own special data format. There is an effort underway, UnitsML, that hopes to establish a data standard for every measurable physical condition. All testing runs, all data, will be able to be delivered in a standard UnitsML format.

When the researcher can freely get to information on conditions whether from Laboratory equipment, from specialized laboratory infrastructure, and from buildings in self describing formats over the internet, then better analysis is possible. When students can use this information as well, without too many people interfering with experimental conditions, than education is improved.

I could go on…but the motto of out Building System integrator seems appropriate here. “No Data Left Behind!” These words are good for research as well as for building operations.

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