Contextual mobility for monitoring and control

Infrastructure to support contextual mobility is needed. Mobility solutions used to monitor, diagnose, maintain, and control buildings and energy management systems (EMS) are now being modified by advances in contextual mobility and have many benefits for mobile devices and operations. Such systems can derive context from location and role.


Figure 1: Tablets and smartphones, with an enabling underlying support infrastructure, can provide contextual mobility. Courtesy: PcVue Inc.Mobility is associated with smart devices, most notably phones and tablets. They are increasingly the preferred communications method for engineers and technicians on the move. Interaction with mobile devices differs from the way in which people interact with laptop and desktop computers. Historical approaches to mobility solutions used to monitor, diagnose, maintain, and control buildings and energy management systems (EMS) are being revolutionized by advances in contextual mobility.

In the distributed environment of monitoring and control, typically, independent servers are available for each physical area or zone of control. A zone may refer to all of the equipment in an area, such as a floor in a facility, or it may refer to a specific automation system.

Those responsible for automation systems are increasingly required to be on the move. They typically use smart devices to access equipment and other assets located in each zone. They must know how to connect to the control server responsible for that zone to get relevant information and controls. Due to many publishers of control server software, it is unlikely that the zones will organize information in a consistent way or have a common user interface. This greatly complicates access and increases the time required for mobile workers to carry out their responsibilities.

The responsibilities of mobile workers are defined by their organizational roles and may vary by the zone of control. For example, a person responsible for operating equipment in one zone may only monitor equipment in another. Likewise, within any given zone, operators may need different information than maintenance personnel. The required information and controls are therefore in the context of the person's role and location. What is needed is a system that is proactively and securely presenting the right contextual information, to the right person, at the right location, and at the right time.

There is a dire need for a new infrastructure to serve contextual mobility. The mobility infrastructure (MI) embraces the smart mobile device to increase the value and capability of the system. It consists of indoor positioning systems (IPS) deployed in zones of control, a proximity services application on the mobile devices, and a mobility server responsible for evaluating the appropriate contextual requirements and handling the communications needed to monitor and control equipment and other assets (see Figure 1). 

Proximity services for contextual mobility

Figure 2: Proximity services can give mobile workers up-to-date information about other mobile assets or stationary devices. Courtesy: PcVue Inc.IPS and the global positioning system (GPS) are standard features of today's mobile devices. Using IPS or GPS, the mobile device can determine its own current location. When an app on the device validates and maintains the user's credentials, the device can determine the role of the user and location in real time. In addition, using the same IPS technology, the app can sense nearby mobile assets along with the location and profile of the user and can synchronize this information with the mobility server.

The mobile device is connected using standard wireless network connections. Geo-tags, including bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons, near field communication (NFC) tags, and QR codes, are used along with Wi-Fi access point triangulation and other emerging technologies to determine the micro geolocation of the mobile device. In similar fashion, geo-tags may be applied to mobile assets for enhanced proximity services. As the user is on the move, the picture changes, creating a movement history that may be recorded by the mobility server as allowed by privacy considerations (see Figure 2). 

Mobility server, contextual logic engineering

The mobility server and its contextual logic engine (CLE) provide a cornerstone for the infrastructure. The mobility server determines the appropriate actions and distributes information and control elements to mobile workers in the context of where they are and their responsibilities at that location. The information may include real-time status or control of the equipment. It may suggest additional resources (drawings, schematics, etc.) needed by workers in the performance of their duties (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Mobility infrastructure interacts with mobile tools, such as tablets and smart phones, and existing systems. Courtesy: PcVue Inc.

When the CLE determines that conditions require new information and actions to be provided to the mobile user, they are automatically sent to the smart device. Some examples are:

  • Graphical human-machine interface (HMI) with status and ability to command
  • List of measurement values
  • Trend chart of key values
  • Display and/or modify a schedule of events
  • Manage alarms
  • Launch a Web page, display a document, or invoke other operating system resources.

The CLE also may make environmental comfort adjustments or provide access control. 

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