How Far Does Automation Go?
Your fire safety system is basically a parasite with its tendrils all over the building. It can tap into breakers, elevators, hvac, security, and more inside the building, but is that as far as Building Automation goes? How much can we automate inside a building, if we throw our budget out the window and just build until our engineers are completely fried?
Let’s start with human-level, the things operating a building around us, that we’ll never see or realize are there, managing the environment in the background. We all know that our HVAC systems turn off and on in response to temperature. That is pretty much just the tip of the iceberg.
With modern controls we can regulate the air temperature, pressure, humidity, and in some sense, even the ‘freshness’ of the air. We can create rooms with positive pressure, such as surgical words, to prevent bacteria from getting in. We can create negative pressure to help air circulate or pull in fresh outside air. There’s humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and operating schedules to ensure a given volume of air travels into or out of a room on a schedule. There’s even occupancy sensors to concentrate the most environmental management effort where it matters: around people.
Then things go a step farther. There are occupancy sensors managing the lights, but with modern LED systems, some buildings actually change the intensity and color of the lights throughout the day, on top of just simply toggling lights on and off. This saves on electricity, which at building-scale, matters even with efficient LEDs and can make the setting more appealing for different occupants, with less harsh lighting in the evening hours.
This automation starts to get really wild when we factor in computers and display systems. Hospitals have internal ad networks, there’s work stations, and everything else like that, can be remotely managed. Computers can be remotely booted, via automation controls’ networking interfaces. Industrial-level display platforms can be remotely started, scheduled, and managed, to have complete control of what you’re seeing on screen any time of day or night, or just shut it off altogether to save power.
Security systems bring things up a notch further. Modern cameras, interfaced to computers, can track if an individual if even authorized to be in an area, track what they bring in and take with them, and track the movement of objects in view. These modern systems can even set off alarms if an object goes missing, going so far as to lock down a room if a threat or alarm is triggered.
If you have the money to spend, you can have a facility that makes the voice-commanded sci-fi ships of the 60s through to the 90s look like antiques.
The Next Level
Things step up a whole dozen orders of magnitude when it comes to manufacturing. We’re not even going to talk about it, we’ll just link a video of a near fully automated plant. Robots and automation controllers are making it such that the only humans involved are dropping off supplies and driving off with the assembled product. We’re not there yet, but it’s in our reach.