Rosetta Home beta testing is coming soon

This is the first in a series of updates regarding CRT Lab’s open source Building Health Monitoring Platform, Rosetta Home. To sign up to be a beta tester, fill out our form.

Rosetta Home data

For some of you reading this, this may be the first time you’ve heard the term Building Health Monitoring Platform. If you’ve been by the lab in Chicago, or heard one of us speak in the last year or so, you hopefully know the term.

At CRT Labs we’ve been researching and developing a technology platform to enable real-time and historical analysis of a building’s health. At this point you might ask yourself what does “Building Health Monitoring Platform” mean exactly? Let me tell you what it means to us.

Residential and commercial buildings are complex organisms: they breathe, need energy to function and generally attempt to reach a point of homeostasis. You could view the energy needs and HVAC outputs as a simple form of metabolism. Understanding the sometimes complex relationships between air quality, energy usage and the occupants’ comfort levels requires monitoring many subsystems, as well as the perceived comfort of the occupants.

Rosetta Home is our attempt to quantify this data into meaningful feedback for the building owner or occupier. Most of the data is quantitative in its essence, while perceived comfort level is most definitely qualitative. Combining these data points to convey meaning is no small feat.

Let me give you a quick breakdown of the current subsystems we employ to enable this analysis.

  1. Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)

This is one of the most important aspects of a building’s health that is often overlooked. Excessive CO2 levels contribute to drowsiness and negatively impact work efficiency and general well-being in a building. Our Touchstone project is an open source hardware project led by our esteemed Architectural Engineer Akram Ali. We’ve tested dozens of sensors to create an affordable, efficient IEQ device. Besides just air quality we also look at other environmental factors such as noise levels and ambient light, hence the “Environmental” in the name, rather than just “Air” quality. All together we are monitoring 8 different variables.

  • Temperature
  • Relative Humidity
  • VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds)
  • CO2
  • Particulate Matter
  • Barometric Pressure
  • Light Intensity
  • Sound Intensity

If you feel like digging through some source code and hardware designs, feel free to check out the project on our Github.

  1. Energy Monitoring

Through the use of Smart Meter Connected Devices and/or direct monitoring of the electrical system using a device such as the Neurio, we are able to gather real-time data on electrical usage for the whole building. To break that down even further we employ plug load monitors for high-draw appliances and systems. We are currently using WeMo Insights which also allows the system to control the plug load as well.

  1. HVAC Utilization

To monitor residential HVAC utilization we are using a nifty little thermostat called the Radio Thermostat. This WiFi enabled thermostat gives us local access (LAN) to all the information about HVAC runtimes and heat/cool cycles. The data we receive from the Touchstone allows the system to have complete control over the thermostat, which allows Rosetta Home to optimize HVAC runtimes to enhance comfort and reduce costs.

For commercial installations we are working on integrating BACnet and Modbus protocols to talk to the different commercial systems.

  1. Hyper-local Weather

Obviously, outdoor environmental conditions play a huge role in how buildings perform. Solar radiation, wind, temperature and humidity can drastically effect a building’s efficiency. In order to really understand a building’s envelope efficiency and solar potential, it is essential to know this data as close to home as possible – pun intended ;). Wind speed and wind direction can also help us determine external air quality issues that may otherwise go unseen. Rosetta Home works with consumer-level weather stations, as well as more professional weather monitoring systems such as the Vantage Pro2.

  1. Consumer app

In order to collect the qualitative data of occupants comfort we utilize the application that occupants will use to interact with their system in general. Through totally optional polls, we will attempt to extrapolate useful information about the occupants’ comfort and overall well-being while in the building. We are trying hard to make these as quick and unobtrusive as possible, while relaying important data points for analysis.

The Update!

Great! This sounds amazing, you say. I want this for my building NOW! Where can I buy this amazing platform!

Don’t worry, it’s coming very soon. We hope to be handing out beta-tester units by the end of February. Let me explain what we’ve been pushing and tweaking in the final months before launch. 

  1. Hardware is HARD

We’re working with several vendors to optimize the production process of building Touchstones. We’ve spent months optimizing the board itself, and now it’s time to optimize production. We just completed our first pseudo-production run at mHub with the help of Twisted Traces.

It went well, but we definitely need to automate more of the process, so we’re working through that now.

Silkscreening boards and assemblage by pick and place. @mhubchicago

A post shared by CRT Labs (@crtlabs) on

  1. IoT Security is easy… to do incorrectly

This is one that you CANNOT get wrong. Most people have heard of Mirai. It wreaked havoc on the Internet in 2017. We believe in consumers’ privacy as well as their security. We’ve worked hard to lock down all of our in-home systems as well as cloud infrastructure to be compliant with the best security practices around today. We’re currently finalizing our key security infrastructure.

  1. Understanding the data is important

We can create the best technology in the world, but if it’s totally unaccessible to our users, no one benefits. Our illustrious designer Joe Sullivan has put in a ton of hours along with our summer intern John O’Sullivan (yes it’s very confusing) to build a fantastic user interface to investigate the massive amount of data that’s generated by a building. Having quick views of a buildings health is important, but so are deep dives into historical data. Making these work together in a mobile friendly interface takes a lot of research and testing. We are deploying the first version of our interface over the next month, and will be looking for as much feedback as you are willing to give to help make it better and better.

So, in closing, Rosetta Home will be out in the wild at the end of February. Some of you are on our beta testers list, so look for more updates soon on how we will be distributing those systems. You can also help us by filling out a quick questionnaire.

aq·ua·pon·ics

aq·ua·pon·ics
/äkwəˈpäniks,ˌak-/

a system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic animals supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water.

Aquaponics @ CRT Labs

The Grove aquaponics set-up for CRT Labs, with kale above and goldfish in the tank.

 

If you’ve been by the lab over the last year or so, you’ve most likely seen our aquaponics systems. Filled with fish, ghost shrimp, herbs and vegetables, these systems work based on a symbiotic relationship between the aquatic life and the plants growing above. It’s a complex relationship based around the nitrogen cycle.

It’s great having living systems in your office space, but creates an interesting challenge when those living things rely on a small group of individuals that work remotely, travel constantly and in general have a very inconsistent office schedule. Aquaponics systems also have a decent amount of maintenance. More than once we’ve come back to the office after a weekend to find the water reservoirs empty, plants wilting and some very murky water. 

Ironically, for being a R&D technology lab we’ve come up with a decidedly low-tech solution: an Aquaponics Chores spreadsheet. The idea being that anyone can quickly scan the sheet that is taped next to each unit and see what needs to be done that day, and who did the previous day/week/month chores. We’ve broken tasks into 3 sections: Daily, Weekly and Monthly. I want to go over each task and give a little more detail on how it helps keep our aquaponics systems as productive as possible. It also helps spread the knowledge to other members of the lab besides myself, and combats the Bus factor.

Aquaponics Chores

Aquaponics Chore Chart, recently implemented by the labs

Daily

  • Feeding
    • Our aquatic friends require sustenance to survive, and this is also the only “input” into the system. To have a truly organic system, you need to use organic fish feed.
  • Water Levels
    • Correct water levels are crucial for optimal pump operation. Low water can also stress the fish, causing shortened lives, disease and eating issues.
  • Pumps are running
    • Just as crucial to feeding the fish is making sure the pumps are running, and not just running, but actually moving water. The only filtration in the system are the plant roots themselves, the fish can quickly die if this part of the nitrogen cycle stops working as nitrite is highly toxic to fish, as is ammonia.
  • Lights are on
    • Plants need light!
  • No dead animals
    • Besides being gross and unsightly, decomposing organic matter can add additional load to the plant root filtration system, sometimes more then your plants can handle.

Weekly

  • Tank scrub
    • Algae will undoubtedly start forming on the aquarium walls, besides hiding your pretty fish, the algae also extracts nutrients from the water that would otherwise go to your delicious veggies and herbs.
  • PH levels
    • Optimal PH levels are low 7’s, plants prefer slightly more acidic levels, in the low 6’s to high 5’s while the fish and bacteria prefer slightly more alkaline in the high 7’s to low 8’s. So it’s a constant compromise to keep the 2 systems in check. Although once a system has been running for a while the PH levels become very stable, unless there are unforeseen inputs into the system.
  • Nitrgoen levels
    • Since the whole system relies on the nitrogen cycle working efficiently, it’s important to check nitrate, nitrite and ammonia levels to ensure the system is operating correctly.
  • Plant pruning
    • Once the system is up and running, plants should grow quite vigorously. Weekly pruning helps keep the plants in check and also provides fresh herbs and greens for the kitchen.

Monthly

  • Filter Cleaning
    • I mentioned before that the only filtration in our aquaponics system are the plant roots themselves, this isn’t totally true. The pumps themselves have small filters to keep out large debris that may clog the pump and/or irrigation lines. It’s important to keep these clear for maximum water movement.
  • 25% Water change
    • This isn’t always necessary depending on how often you’re topping off the system, when plants are growing and/or humidity is very low. You may be topping the system off every few days, which is equivalent to 25% water changes every month. It helps keep the water “fresh” so you don’t get to much build up of any one nitrogen process.

We’ve just introduced the task sheet to the lab, and haven’t had much travel/absences yet, but hopefully this will help others understand the requirements of the system as well as keep our fish and plants as happy as possible. If it works out, maybe we’ll “appify” the process and open it up to other aquaponic farmers :). If you have any questions at all about aquaponics, hydroponics or other cool urban agriculture systems feel free to drop us a line.

The Long Road Around The Weather Underground

The year is 2013, I’ve bought a small vacation house in western Michigan, in the country, way out in the country. Western Michigan gets a lot of snow in the winter, or at least it used to. We haven’t had much snow the last 2 years, but that’s not the point. Weather can make or break a weekend away, so knowing what’s going on in the area, weather wise, is really helpful.

Being an engineer and programmer I really wanted to be able to automate systems around the house and track the weather patterns over time. There are certain websites that will give you access to this data, some charge a nominal fee, others not so nominal, and others offer that data for free with limited access. Free sounded really good, especially after buying a house, but limited access wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted access to the data as often as I needed, and near real-time. Also, for a reliable system, this would require extremely reliable internet, and my internet connection at the house is anything but reliable.

This led me down a very long path to finding reliable sensors that allowed local access to the data, outside of a simple display. After a few searches on the internet I found myself at Ambient Weather. This is a great site for everything weather related, most of their offerings are around a basic weather display, but they also sell some kits that are WiFi enabled. In general the the WiFi systems use their connectivity to send data to Weather Underground, which is one of those free but limited sites I mentioned before. Wunderground is a great community of weather enthusiasts who install their own sensor arrays and push data to “the cloud” aka Wunderground’s servers. Developers can get access to this data using the Wunderground API, which I’ve used many time before on less intensive projects.

This is great, but again my access would be limited. I needed reliable real-time data if I wanted to integrate it into an automation system. I knew the sensor arrays had radios to transmit their data to the base stations, but intercepting and decoding that data was a bit beyond my skillset at the time. Although I did pick up a SDR to attempt it, with little success.

Long story short, I ended up purchasing this system WS-1001 WiFi Observer. It has a decent sensor array and is very reliable, but I was stuck with using the Wunderground API for data access. It worked great for tracking weather patterns, but the automation system would have to wait.

Fast-forward almost 3 years, I started working at NAR in the R&D Lab. We have a mission to improve quality of life for homeowners and educate our membership on the coming technology shifts in real estate. Smart Homes and home automation were on the rise, and members wanted and needed to know more about the benefits and pitfalls of a connected home. My previous work on local automation really shined when it came to the security concerns of a connected home. With little to no internet required, the attack vector was extremely small, someone would need physical access to the network to do any real damage. The search began again, with vigor, for local weather data. Luckily other people with far more skills in reverse engineering RF had been busy building software and hardware to address my concerns.

Ambient Weather had sold a device to do exactly what I needed, the Airbridge Receiver, it was out-of-stock and pretty expensive, but it actually works with the exact sensor array I have and the more expensive Davis Instruments systems. I was eventually able to track down the producer of the receiver, SmartBedded, they market the receiver as the MeteoStick. I went ahead and purchased a few sticks as well as the individual sensor arrays that I’d had great success with over the last 3 years. A few weeks later all the components had arrived, I put together the sensor array and plugged in the meteostick, and holy crap, I had real-time weather data streaming into my laptop with no internet required!

Grafana Weather Dashboard

Grafana Weather Dashboard

We’ve since gone on to build out a whole system for monitoring the health of buildings, including our own IEQ sensors as well integration with smart meters for monitoring energy consumption. We call the system Rosetta Home. I’ll be giving a talk about the system at a technical conference at the end of March. We’re also working with several non-profit organizations that are doing work with residential energy retrofits.

Chris’ Day 1 CES-capades

VW and the Coldwell Banker panel.
What do you think of this VW? I kinda like it.

Hey, are you up and looking at cool cars the day after your flight gets in at 3am? Nah. But Chris is, and he’s wasting no time with that camera. You can check out the photos as he takes them here.

faraday future
Here comes the future. It’s growling at you.

That’s it for now. We’ll keep it coming. Is there stuff you want to see? Write us at @CRTLabs with the hashtag #realtorces.

Follow the hashtag #realtorces to keep up with us. If you have things you’d like them to see or find out more about, tweet us @CRTLabs and use the hashtag. Wish Chris and Dave good luck! You can follow them on their personal twitter handles as well. Chris is @entropealab and Dave is @conroydave. Good luck! Oh yes. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Coldwell Banker for the exhibitor passes they provided us as a sponsor of the show. Thank you to David Siroty and Athena Snow for making this happen. Follow their CEScapades here.

CRTLabs V1.0

Presenting CRT Labs v1.0. It’s been a few months in the making, but we’ve finally got the last of our furniture in.

Some of the details include;

Workbench and Hood
Workbench and Hood

 

Lounge and Meeting area
Lounge and Meeting area

 

Display Wall
Display Wall

 

Workspaces
Workspaces

 

Christmas Lights
Christmas Lights

 

I’ve also included a panorama of the space, it’s a pretty big image, so give it a second to load.