When you’re building a space station on our planet, one that "stands as an icon symbolizing NASA’s dedication to solving the environmental challenges we face on Earth," data tracking is a big deal—after all, it’s impossible to be more efficient without knowing the pain points. The Sustainability Base, a LEED Platinum test bed in Silicon Valley for NASA technology, has a greywater system, a Bloom Energy solid oxide fuel cell, rooftop solar panels, and an exposed ceiling that lets building managers swap things out as technologies advance. It also tracks a whole lot of data.
One of the biggest quandaries in the "big data" space is how to actually make all that information useful. Autodesk is trying its hand in the Building Information Modeling (BIM) space with Project Dasher, a research project that gathers data from disparate sources in a building and visualizes it in 3-D. Project Dasher is already in use at a handful of sites; in the coming months, it will be installed at Sustainability Base.
"The whole building is kind of a living lab. Siemens does the building control system, and we’re collecting data from there. They also have independent sensors, like light sensors, and we’re working to try to collect that data," explains Azam Khan, the head of the environment and ergonomics research group at Autodesk Research and the lead on Project Dasher. On top of that, Dasher turns those disparate data sources into visualizations.
Dasher builds on existing Autodesk software—specifically, Revit, a piece of BIM software for architects and engineers. "Everything is tagged with what it is. The software knows this part is a wall, that’s a floor, a door, etcetera. Adding that metadata lets you go to the next level of analysis, checking which parts of the model make sense and moving towards a meaningful simulation of the building. Project Dasher combines databases to visualize sensors on the geometry of building," says Khan. The software could, for example, make a heat map of energy usage, air quality, or water usage.
The value of Project Dasher is visible in buildings where it’s currently being piloted. In an Autodesk building in Toronto, there are two sub-meters per floor in the six-floor structure, along with individual meters at certain power outlets, so that the company can visualize how power use breaks down. "We’re taking datasets and bringing them to life," says Khan.
Dasher is also installed at CanmetENERGY near Montreal, Canada; Autodesk Waltham; and Johnson Controls headquarters in Milwaukee. Right now, Khan and his team are working on combining NASA’s data sets in preparation for launch. The challenge of getting that done quickly and efficiently is still unsolved. Says Khan: "Another part of our research is understanding what we can automate and how well we can automate it. We need to make this deployable at scale. That’s a challenge in general for the industry."