Image courtesy of Flickr user zugaldia

How augmented reality from Google will change energy management (or not)

Gridium is based in Silicon Valley, which exposes us to an endless parade of smart folks working on mostly silly projects (Facebook feed redesign!) and a distorted sense of what is normal (two Tesla’s fighting for a charging spot?). Mainly we keep our heads down and focused on saving our customers money.

But every now and then, we run across something that might affect our industry and is worth paying attention to. Google Glass, a slim computer plus eyeglasses mashup that promises “augmented reality,” is still a ways off from mainstream acceptance, but already offers a tantalizing glimpse of how much room there is for innovation in portable computing.

Not familiar with Google Glass? Take a ride through some experiences courtesy of their promo video:

I hate rollercoasters and snakes. And as useful as the video is for getting us excited about a new technology, rollercoasters and snakes are not going to drive $1,500 purchases no matter how many breathless reviews roll in.

Google’s unwavering mission over the last decade is to organize all the world’s information. A significant portion of that information lives in the messy physical world. If you’ve used Google Maps, you’ve know that they solved that problem with impressively obsessive attention to detail, driving 5 million miles and even hiking the grand canyon to bring you location-based information.

Each building is a snowflake. Google glass will help our industry access, store and create value from that data.

But what about the interiors of our buildings, where most of us spend most of our time? What about equipment? What about the store of knowledge in our mechanical systems and operations? Each building is a snowflake, and in many cases only a handful of people really know how the building works. It’s no secret that our most talented engineers are entering a wave of retirement and that the industry faces a critical talent shortage. Here’s where Google glass will help our industry access, store and create value from that data.

Consider a simple energy audit. Currently, to get an audit done, a skilled engineer has travel to the site, meet the chief, and rapidly walk the building while taking notes and snapping photos. The chief has to (try to) reserve four hours of uninterrupted time, which almost never happens. No wonder audit reports take so long to complete and have major errors. With multiple projects going on at any one time, a chief may have to review building operations several times a year.

Why not send the chief around with Google Glass to record the walkthrough while accompanied by videoconferenced engineer? Screen grabs could be used to count light fixtures or record nameplates, possibly by automated means. Archive the footage for use on future projects. Asset due diligence? Just upload it along with the leases for inspection.

Many Gridium customers are moving to a regional maintenance model where skills are concentrated in a central organization and tasks distributed to less experienced workers. Inevitably what is easy for a twenty-year chief is hard for a journeyman contractor. Yet labor rates are astronomical. Why not give the field organization Google Glass for troubleshooting and final inspection from the comfort of your office?

A final, more serious application. Safety in big buildings is a critical function for facility professionals. Many accidents spiral out of control for lack of a skilled operator that can quickly act to stem the critical issue. Envision a world where a pair of Google Glasses hang in the emergency kit, ready to receive and execute critical instructions from a calm operator in an emergency situation. That’s worth $1,500.

What do you think? Would you try these glasses on in your team? What would you do with them?

About Tom Arnold

Tom Arnold is co-founder and CEO of Gridium. Prior to Gridium, Tom Arnold was the Vice President of Energy Efficiency at EnerNOC, and cofounder at TerraPass. Tom has an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College. When he isn't thinking about the future of buildings, he enjoys riding his bike and chasing after his two daughters.

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