Automating The Secret Life Of Buildings: Interview With PassiveLogic CEO Part 1

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Automating the secret life of buildings is being explored by PassiveLogic, which focuses on an AI-controlled engine that saves over 30% on building energy use. In this exclusive interview, PassiveLogic CEO and founder Troy Harvey shared info about his inspiration, how buildings are like stationary robots, and how Tesla inspired him.

This is Part 1 of our interview. In Part 1, Troy and I talk about:

  • Other Use Cases For AI
  • Buildings Are Large Stationary Robots
  • Automating The Secret Life Of Buildings
  • Billions Of Dollars Worth Of Assets With Zero Insight Into What Buildings Are Doing

Other Use Cases For AI

Troy told me what he noticed a few years ago, that there are companies such as Tesla that are building autonomous platforms for vehicles, but not for much else.

“When you look at Tesla, they make and train Autopilot for their cars — not just for cars but for a specific make and model of cars. But then that car’s not going to be another car, a helicopter, or an airplane. It’s just going to be for that. So what do we do about these other kinds of use cases that we have?

The answer to this, Troy explained, lies with PassiveLogic. The internal joke is that Tesla can have the automotive and they’ll take everything else.

“That ‘everything else’ is a broad set of different problems out there when it comes to controls and automation. How do we control buildings? How do we control industrial systems, manufacturing systems, logistic systems, all these other systems that are generally in and around buildings?”

PassiveLogic looks at the building problem first. One interesting fact about buildings, Troy pointed out, is it’s a controllable marketplace and is much larger than transportation.

“By energy, it’s more than double that of transportation. With dollars and footprints and all these other majors of economy, it’s a much bigger marketplace. It’s actually more desperate for solutions as well. Where we see automotive having spent the last 15 years in a revolution, we’re just starting that charge on the building side. How do we get buildings to be 2022?”

Buildings Are Large Stationary Robots

Buildings use up twice as much energy as transportation. Troy pointed out that by making buildings 30% or 40% more energy-efficient, that isn’t like changing all cars from gas to electric, but is akin to eliminating cars altogether.

“That’s the scale of the energy utilization and impact on the building side. And that’s in fact what we show in our pilot is a 30% increase in the energy efficiency of buildings just from better control. But the conceptual or technical problem is actually quite interesting in buildings.

“You can think of buildings as really big stationary robots, and those buildings may not make sense. Why are they stationary robots? Why are they robots? When we look at the complexity of buildings, we look at how many sensors are in a building and how many controllable things are in a building. What we find out is that they’re way more complex than anything else that people make.

“Where Tesla might have 50 or 100 sensors and it can control three things — it can steer, it can brake, it can accelerate — buildings very easily have hundreds or thousands of sensors and hundreds or thousands of controllables and you get into buildings that very quickly in major metropolitan areas you have these large high rises and they’re like on the order of half a million inputs and outputs or sensors and controllable. They’re outside the scale of anything else people make or try to control.”

Automating The Secret Life Of Buildings

Troy noted that when most people think of the idea of automation for buildings, they think of things such as audiovisual and not the guts or the “secret life of buildings.”

“We look at the guts of the building, you know, the secret life of buildings where nobody really goes.”

He added that in the basement room of most buildings, there’s the engine that runs the building. It’s not like the engine in a car. The engines of buildings are made from uniquely designed pieces and parts for that specific building.

“You have to control the pumps, fans, boilers, chiller plants, the evaporating tower, and all these things in coordination. Usually, that whole design of the system has dozens if not hundreds of parts that all have to be run together. So, that forms what we might think of as the HVAC systems. And then you might have energy systems, renewable systems, battery systems, occupancy systems that look at how many people are in your commercial building today.

“If you’re providing lunch for your employees, what is your occupancy today? How many lunches are you ordering so you’re not under-ordering, or worse, over-ordering and having a lot of waste? There are all these mechanisms that we’re looking at.”

The mechanisms, he explained, are the building itself, the systems, the controllables, and the processes inside the building that are part of the bigger life of the building as an organizational unit of economy.

All the people in the building may be separate from the building, but they are affecting the building itself. Examples are how the building is cooled or heated, how comfort levels are adjusted, and enabling the building to adapt to the people inside it.

Billions Of Dollars Worth Of Assets With Zero Insight Into What Buildings Are Doing

One key problem that Troy brought up is that although real estate companies typically have hundreds of billions of dollars worth of assets in the buildings, they have zero insight into what the buildings are doing. They don’t know how to make them operate better or how to go from the simple model of owning the buildings and letting them appreciate to how do we make these digital value centers that can be plugged into by other resources and services.

“Buildings serve as a sort of cornerstone of a lot of the economy. I think a lot of our partnerships as we’re working with companies like Brookfield or Prologis.”

These companies are looking at how to make their buildings into these platforms for other units of economy where they can start plugin services.

“You can’t do that until you have a digital platform for it.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 of The Secret Life Of Buildings.

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Johnna Crider

Johnna owns less than one share of $TSLA currently and supports Tesla's mission. She also gardens, collects interesting minerals and can be found on TikTok

Johnna Crider has 1996 posts and counting. See all posts by Johnna Crider