MotionLab.Berlin – Hardware Innovation Hub & Makerspace

How Biome provides a holistically sustainable solution to integrated building systems

Biome

A lot has happened in the last few years. Progress is happening and many areas are rapidly driving innovation. But despite this, there are still many things in which too little has changed – especially when it comes to social responsibility, climate justice and environmental protection.

And that is precisely where we see our responsibility. We make things right and wake up industries. We are shaking up those who have been asleep for so long. And we do it, with the most talented students and the strongest partners we could find. We make up for what didn’t happen. We MakeUp Internet of Things!

Together with CODE University for Applied Sciences, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and the IoT+ Network, we developed the MakeUp Internet of Things incubation program. Over a period of two years, more than 130 students will complete the program and be trained as experts in the field of Internet of Things (IoT). The goal is to educate within IoT and promote the realization of IoT projects by combining technical knowledge with software programming and the construction of physical products.

 

Today we find out in the report from Graham Hanson, Laman Mahammadli, Emily Morgan, Racheal Yusuf and Jorge Guedes what they’ve been working on.

Introduction

Project Biome is an interdisciplinary research project, launched in Spring 2021, to explore the intersection of IoT and Sustainable in the Built Environment. We aim to provide a holistically sustainable solution to integrated building systems, with a focus on Comfort Control & Energy Management. This is the project’s second semester as part of the MotionLab + CODE scholarship. In the first semester (Spring 2021), our team of three were in early research and development. Laman Mahammadli (Project Manager) and Graham Hanson (Interaction Designer) were researching the problem, “Smart Building technology does not currently offer holistically sustainable solutions.” Through our research on operational sustainability, we drew the conclusion that the application segments ‘Comfort Control’ and ‘Energy Management & Connectivity’ were the two most impactful segments. This, in combination with market and user research on young professionals in Europe, informed our decision to develop an IoT product ecosystem offered as a circular service model. Meanwhile, Emily Morgan (Software Engineer) applied research in sustainable IoT, where products use minimal hardware and energy, and users are in full ownership of their data. She developed a secure log-in and LoRa infrastructure for the future product ecosystem.


In Fall 2021, our project team consisted of four members: Graham Hanson & Laman Mahammadli from the original team, this time taking on new roles. Graham focused on Project Ownership while Laman focused on Front End Development. Racheal Yusuf joined as a Project Manager while going through the 3 month TechStart program. Jorge Guedes joined as an Integrated Engineer, developing our first IoT product.

Semester Progress

As a four-person team with limited time commitment, our progress was not as projected (continued in ‘3. Reflection’). We did, however, accomplish our goals within market research and finally developed our first functional prototype. Market Research was continued by Racheal Yusuf and assisted by Graham Hanson, this time with our target customer as landlords with their renters as end users. We found that, in Germany, a majority (nearly 52%) of residential buildings operate with individual, non-TRV (thermostatic radiator valves) which are manually controlled. Most of these operate on central heat pumps, meaning there is a potential for efficiency gains by not only centralizing heat control per flat, but all dwellings to the central heat pump. The main alternative solution for landlords, replacing heating systems, is too expensive to justify the benefit. Alternative no-code solutions for renters, such as smart radiator valves (tado or Bosch), offer limited functionality and require a start-up cost between 200–900 euros (assuming dwelling has 3+ radiators). Not to mention, they still suffer efficiency issues due to lack of building integration. Other developments, such as psychographic models of customers and end users, are included. Our market research quickly flipped into service design, given the limited project duration. Our concluding work in this area was the development of a service model, where a scalable smart building ecosystem is offered as a subscription which guarantees operational sustainability and healthy building management (unpacked in following paragraph).

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Image 1. Smart Radiator Valve (Part 1)
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Image 2. (Part 2)
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Image 3. Thermostat

Jorge Guedes, as our Integrated Developer, focused on building a prototype radiator valve which is centrally-connected via LoRa-integrated “thermostats” and can be remotely operated using the building’s LoRaWAN Gateway. This infrastructure benefits from being secure, lean on hardware & energy, and operational without an internet connection. He succeeded in creating the pictured prototype, which consists of one thermostat unit communicating over LoRa to one radiator unit. In theory, it is integration-ready and simply needs its device ID plugged into the backend developed by Emily. He was challenged mostly by the sourced motor, which was scrapped from a 3€ smart radiator and not necessarily hack-friendly.

 

Another big challenge was learning how to set up the ESP32 LoRa transceiver, being the first
time he worked with IoT hardware.

In the area of design, Graham Hanson had to bring the concept to life finally. The aforementioned prototype fulfilled the technical requirements of the ecosystem, but the area of UX and UI needed a refresh since the previous semester.

 

Requirements were:

Practically zero-interface hardware

  • Decreases hardware needed
  • Supports against obsoletion
  • Encourages users to enroll through app, inputting preferences

Promote healthy building design

  • Use onboard sensors to manage healthy
  • Use journaling to increase productivity & health awareness

Can also be operated offline (in case of outage or variety of edge cases)

 

With the use of Design Strategy methods (like lateral thinking, pictured), a unique
outcome was created with an attempt to provide a new solution to the problem scenario.

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The resulting Service Design storyboard (next page) was developed, which responds equally to the problems posed by the tenant and landlord. Promoting individual sustainability, tenants are given benefits in comfort control and energy management. In-so, Landlords are given access to selected information and access to help the property management. Including but not limited to: emergency alerts, system service alerts & booking, as well as monthly sustainability reports.

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Finally, I redesigned the UI to fit the new target user and features. You can see a preview below, however note it’s just a figma prototype ☹ and still waiting to be integrated into the frontend. I also redesigned the brand, including a brand book, but left it out as its not very relevant to the MakeUp IoT Program. If you’re interested in it, I’m happy to share!

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Status Quo & Next Steps

Unfortunately, our project group fizzled out near the end of the semester and was not able to accomplish its goal of having a MVP to show for potential early testers. Writing to you as our project owner, Graham Hanson, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from MotionLab.Berlin and work beside the brilliant community of innovators this past year. I feel that our project has not made full use of the potential possibilities the MakeUp program has presented. This is partly due to unforeseen circumstances, but in the end comes down to lack of commitment or at least team engagement. I would like to stress that we all (Emily, Laman, Racheal, Jorge and myself) have learned so much from the workshops, mentoring sessions and being a part of the program. Even though we are exiting the program without a clear outcome, we will develop it over the coming semesters and look forward to launching our startup one day. Continuing on our learning journey, we hold ourselves accountable for our failings but more importantly all the knowledge given to us by the MotionLab.Berlin Team.

 

Before the project enters a new semester, we need to make an important decision. As the project owner, I have been less-than-focused on my learning journey the past year. If the project is to continue, we’re in dire need of an experienced and/or driven project owner and a big team of committed individuals. Looking back, we have failed ourselves and our stakeholders given the amount of resources we were provided. Moving forward, we will limit ourselves as a student project until we’re ready to launch our MVP. Project-wise, we have a lot of software development to be done. We will need to revisit the back-end to determine how ready it is to deploy. Additionally, the front-end needs to be finished and integrated. For design, we need to finish the prototype design and test the units as they are iterated. I reached a concept for the housing but had to hold progress as the hardware used was changing too much. 

 

All-in-all, this project came to a challenging conclusion but a valuable learning lesson. Even though it isn’t exactly a rad outcome, I’m happy that we pushed ourselves to learn more about sustainable product development and had the opportunity to work with IoT professionals. I will bring this idea to market and share our research, only it needs a bit more time and a lot more focus if that’s going to happen. Thank you again for the opportunity, MotionLab.Berlin! It’s been a heck of a ride and we’re incredibly thankful for everything you’ve done for the us, the program, in the past year. Stay healthy and keep being awesome!

 

 

 

With Love,

 

The Biome Team

Graham Hanson, Laman Mahammadli, Emily Morgan, Racheal Yusuf & Jorge Guedes

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