Siemens turns up thermostat on smart buildings market
Siemens turns up thermostat on smart buildings market
(Credit: Siemens)

Siemens turns up thermostat on smart buildings market

Last week’s purchase of Building Robotics was the third in a string of smart building-focused acquisitions by German industrial giant, Siemens, as Jessica Twentyman reports.

How’s your office today? Too hot or too cold? Too bright or too gloomy? The promise of smart buildings is not just that they run more efficiently, but also that they’re more comfortable for workers. But as plenty of sweaty desk-bound employees will testify this summer, workspace nirvana is still some way off for many organisations.

Changing that scenario was the impetus behind last week’s acquisition by German industrial giant Siemens of Building Robotics, a company that has built a sizeable user base over the past five years for its Comfy app, which enables employees to take action when their offices fail to provide a pleasant working environment.

Via their smartphones, they can report their discomfort, and the app will interface with a software platform that automatically adjusts the local HVAC and lighting settings.

The idea is that employees take control of responsive workplaces – although the effect this might have on interpersonal relations when co-workers disagree on their settings isn’t clear.

Oakland, California-based Building Robotics, which had so far raised around $19 million in venture capital funding, will join Siemens’ Building Technologies division for an undisclosed sum, and continue to operate as a vendor-agnostic platform provider.

Three of a kind

The purchase follows in the wake of two other Californian acquisitions by Siemens Building Technologies in May; that of J2 Innovations, a Los Angeles-based building automation specialist, and Enlighted, a Sunnyvale-based provider of an IOT platform for smart building sensors.

Unlike those previous deals, which were targeted at smart buildings programmes and facilities managers, the Building Robotics deal is more occupant-focused, in that it aims to bring a “consumer-like experience to commercial buildings, which simplifies the interaction with buildings to increase employee productivity and engagement”, according to Matthias Rebellius, CEO of Siemens Building Technologies.

Another upside, of course, is that Comfy can potentially help companies make energy savings, and perhaps minimise their environmental footprints.

Over time, the instructions that employees enter into Comfy can be combined with building usage data to fine-tune different zones in an office building, based on the preferences of regular workers.

In a blog post announcing his company’s acquisition by Siemens, Building Robotics CEO Andrew Krioukov claimed that Comfy “crunches 50 million data points on a regular basis, to help workplace strategy and real estate teams increase employee satisfaction, while driving operational savings and improving space utilisation.”

That’s based on its use across “millions of square feet globally”, belonging to corporate customers, he said.

From Siemens’ perspective, it now has a trio of innovative offerings that it can use to capitalise on the smart buildings trend, where it competes against players such as Honeywell and Johnson Controls.

Siemens’ Building Technologies division brought in revenues of €6.5 billion in 2017, up six percent from 2016. The business (like some other parts of the Siemens group, such as its Digital Factory division) is largely based on the Siemens MindSphere IoT platform.

Internet of Business says

In the US, the smart buildings and smart homes markets, along with other environmentally friendly technologies, such as electric scooters, may be under threat from the looming US-China trade war.

As we explored in our detailed report on the issue, a range of technologies, including smart thermostats, lighting, and electric bikes, are among those affected by threatened 25 percent import tariffs for Chinese companies exporting to the US.

As many of these technologies, and many US innovators, rely on Chinese manufacturing and components to keep costs down, the impact of any significant uptick in prices could damage a range of businesses, along with their environmental ambitions.

Whether the tariffs are a mere negotiating tactic by the US government, or about to become the epicentre of a multibillion-dollar trade war, is unknown at this stage. Internet of Business will be tracking the story over the coming weeks.