CTN 405: Using AI and VR To Make Buildings and Contractors Smarter

On Episode 405 of ControlTalk Now The HVAC and Smart Buildings Podcast we dive deep into AI and Virtual Reality and how savvy contractors and building maintenance departments are using these new tools to cut costs and save money.

My guests this week are Scott Cochrane and Mike Mitchell from Cochrane Supply. Mike does a live demo, which you can see in this video, and shows us exactly how useful VR can be when installing or troubleshooting a system in a building.

Scott and Mike also give us a breakdown of the 2023 Controls Con Event happening in April.

Register for Controls Con here.

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More Thoughts

HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) Controls Contractors are always looking for new ways to save money while providing customers with the best possible service. As technology advances, contractors have a wealth of tools available to help them streamline their installation and servicing processes. One such tool is virtual reality (VR) goggles and artificial intelligence (AI). By using these tools, HVAC Controls Contractors can save money when installing or servicing existing jobs.

VR goggles give contractors the ability to quickly analyze a job site without having to be physically present. With VR goggles, they can gain an understanding of the layout of the space, allowing them to plan accordingly before sending out employees on-site. Additionally, contractors can use AI to identify areas that need additional attention in order to ensure that all components are properly installed or serviced. By utilizing AI’s predictive abilities, HVAC Controls Contractors can reduce costly mistakes that may occur due to human error or oversight.

Furthermore, VR goggles and AI can help reduce costs by increasing efficiency when it comes to scheduling personnel and equipment for a job site. By utilizing VR goggles in combination with AI algorithms, HVAC Controls Contractors can accurately estimate the time it will take for tasks associated with an installation or service call. This not only helps them to reduce labor costs but also avoid unnecessary delays caused by over-scheduling personnel or equipment.

Ultimately, by utilizing VR goggles and AI when installing new jobs or servicing existing jobs, HVAC Control Contractors can increase their efficiency while reducing costs overall. With accurate data at their fingertips and better insights into job sites than ever before, contractors are sure to reap many benefits from investing in these technologies now and in the future

Show Transcription

Eric Stromquist 4:32
Interesting. Well, Commander Mike, we might be getting a whole new definition of cyber stalking. Okay, guys, thanks a lot. All right, man. I’m so pumped about my guest this week. I got the one and only Scott Cochran from Cochran supply and his chief sidekick and bottle washer and Chief Technical Officer, Mike Mitchell, Mike that’s what all the kids who are in the bars these days right that the Mike Mitchell headset.

Mike Mitchell 4:56
That’s right. It’s the the sexy look. It’s the gal 30 guys, depending on what, you know,

Eric Stromquist 5:02
I think I could do well on the virtual world as long as you know, I had a good looking avatar, right. So

Mike Mitchell 5:08
that’s right. That’s right. instantly make you look good.

Eric Stromquist 5:11
When if not, you can make everybody else look good too, right?

Mike Mitchell 5:15
Yeah, rumor has it. Just cool.

Scott Cochrane 5:18
Eric Mike is in the bar right now. That’s what you don’t realize.

Eric Stromquist 5:24
That virtual beer taste.

Mike Mitchell 5:28
It’s a little dry.

Eric Stromquist 5:30
There’s some things artificial intelligence is not going to be able to do but guys, I am so pumped up because you got a big event coming up that if you’re in building automation controls, HVAC controls, Smart Controls, or hell, if you just want to come to Detroit and have a good time and see Mike in his glasses. This is the place you want to be. Tell us about the big event coming up.

Scott Cochrane 5:50
Well, thanks, Eric. And Eric, thanks for us. Thanks for having us on the show. It’s been a little while. And I’m super glad you decided to come out of your retirement and join our industry again. Welcome back, buddy. Welcome back.

Eric Stromquist 6:06
Well, you know, the thing I love about you, Scott is you put your money where your mouth is, I mean, I put this thing up about advertising on controls, transcend them, and you’re the first guy who reaches out and says, Hey, man, you need to monetize this. So thank you for that.

Scott Cochrane 6:18
And we are proud to be your sponsor. We think you do a fantastic job. And we were you know, you’re one of the best industry advocates of all time, my friend proud to be on your show. So, so thanks for the opportunity. And thanks for letting us pitch controls con. So yes, controls con. We’re super excited at our in person event going to be held here in Detroit, April 26. To the 28th at the Motor City casino and downtown Detroit. We you know, we we’ve been hosting this event for nearly this will be 18 years now this will be our ninth event. And it’s grown every year. We’ve we used to it used to be called the Niagra mini Summit. And with the growth with all the great vendors and partners we work with, we changed the name to controls con. And now it’s really become a honestly, it’s become probably one of the best bas shows on earth.

Eric Stromquist 7:16
Let me hop in. I’ve been and I’m coming. And you’re absolutely right. It is

Scott Cochrane 7:21
not controlscan was Mike Mitchell and his team, the our IT team. They all came back from a comic con conference. We got the pet’s name because we were trying to come up with the name so if anybody ever wondered where it came from, it was out of our IT department and they were they they came up with it. We looked up the URL and it was available. Done. Controls nailed it was became alive. So So yeah, so we history. It is the rest is history. So Motor City casino on Thursday afternoon are going to be our keynotes. And we have we I feel like we’re really going to cover the industry this year we so the the theme of this year’s conference is dawn of a new era. And it alludes to the fact that we’re moving from this DDC serial world, to this IP cloud world. And all the products and the things we’re using in the buildings are all changing over to this, this new IP cloud connected type devices, right? Completely different from the serial devices we’ve been putting in. And frankly, I liken this to the pneumatic to DDC revolution, because the amount of new products we see entering the in the entering the market over the next couple of years is dramatic. And the effect they’re going to have on both the quality of your installations, both the what you can do in the buildings with the amount of data with the amount of with cloud connected connect capabilities. And then of course, we get to redesign all of our architectures right with these new IP based devices that don’t sit on serial networks. And of course, with all this comes the new the new threat, of course, the major threat of cybersecurity, teaching mechanical industry, how to service and IP network, you know, there’s all these new new flavors that are coming into it. So so that’s what we asked everybody to spotlight here at controls con. Our keynotes include Martin Ville, new the general manager, disk tack, Bill Schwebel, who is the vice president and general manager for building automation systems at Johnson Controls. Victor Elbrus, who’s the general manager at tritium, Tom Danzer, who’s the Business Development Manager for the Lemo. So we have, I think, a very neat group coming up. We will also have some surprises from some Cochran people on stage. So I think the keynotes are going to be incredible. And frankly, I’m going to I’m going to get like I always do, we’re going to get the we’re going to get the skinny out of these people. Okay, we’re going to find out what they’re up to. And we’re going to share it with the entire industry. Everybody in that room. It’s

Eric Stromquist 9:51
going to be great. Yeah, dude, it’s moving at warp speed. I’m sure you guys have been following like, artificial intelligence like chat TPT and stuff like that and For the people that I follow, and people like Jordan Peterson, you know, it’s happening right now. And it’s going to happen faster than any other technology we’ve seen up to this point in time. And so I think you’re right, Scott, I think is very timely to get this now. Because if you have you wait to the summer, it might be too late.

Scott Cochrane 10:14
Well, you got it. And I think to one of the things like Mike Mitchell’s got on his Augmented Reality goggles there. And one of the things we’re going to show you folks, you know, the industry is how how we can bring now with what’s happened with all of our industry moving over to this IP cloud connected world, we can start to take off the shelf IT products, bring them into our business and start to create new value. That wasn’t there. Yet. The team have just done a fantastic job. With the HoloLens. Mikey’s going to show Mikey, could you speak a little to what you guys are what you guys have been cooking up there?

Mike Mitchell 10:52
Oh my gosh, yes, sure. Sure. Well, I could talk a little bit about the HoloLens itself and the things that we’re doing there. But I can also talk about the whole second day controlscan and all that kind of stuff.

Scott Cochrane 11:02
I only got a half hour, so you gotta go quick.

Mike Mitchell 11:06
All right, here I go. I’m rolling. Well, we’re, we were collecting a whole bunch of information from all the different vendors, and then we’re gonna be giving them a chance to present in ourselves, you know, our Cochran Tech Services team with their expertise presenting on a whole bunch of different topics, concerning distech sigmetrics, and their new router system, tritium and BACnet SC, bring in Johnson Controls for some of that. And with BACnet SC as well, we’re gonna get around with the fantastic fabulous tritium guys of James Johnson and Kevin Williamson, they’re going to be talking about some of the new tritium products coming out, we’ll have our stump the chump, of course, because there’ll be a lot of jumps on stage that that you guys can find stuff with questions and answers and stuff like that. And it’s always fun. And then augmented reality, we’re doing a ton of really cool things with it. Right now, we’re just working with another of our integrators, they happen to do a lot of LIDAR scanning of mechanical rooms. And that produces a really nice 3d model of a mechanical room and all the equipment in it. So we’re working with them. And we’re overlaying real time data about the equipment in that room and other information that they choose. And it’s all served up out of Niagra. So they get to walk, whether they’re in the room, and they can see these data panels all over the room and see see information about their VFDs their chillers, their boilers, pumps, whatever. Or if they’re outside that room, say they’re 300 miles away for 3000 miles away, for that matter. They can pull up this application and act and it looks as if they’re standing right live within that mechanical room. Okay,

Eric Stromquist 12:36
hang on, hang on, we’re gonna unpack this because this bears a little bit of unpacking, because, first of all, let me say you are doing this stuff two or three years ago. I mean, before I even heard about the goggles, you guys were already on board with it. But one of the ramifications so and then Scott, I want you to chime in too is one of the biggest challenges we have is enough good technical people in the field. So if I’m understanding this correctly, you could have somebody out in the field. They’re wearing your augmented reality, you could see what’s going on there. You could say go over and tweak this valve, go do this, go do that. So you could have like a master troubleshooter back at your main office? And sort of like Yeah, is that absolutely one of the use cases?

Mike Mitchell 13:18
Yep. Yep, that’s that’s absolutely it. And not only that, they also have availability, that that guy remotely can talk to the person and also guide them through certain things like, Hey, you go over to that control panel, you see those five buttons on the side, you need that particular installation document, they can hit that button, that installation document comes right in front of them. And if they’re older, like me, they can express the document bigger to see it a little better.

Scott Cochrane 13:43
You notice that you knew we’ve been doing this for a while the adoption has been it’s been slow, right? And a lot of them even though the great capabilities come at great change of the people involved in our industry, the people that serve it have not really had a chance to even understand what this technology could do, let alone use it on their job sites. So so we have kind of jumped the gun a little. With that being said, as as we did get out a little further on each year, we found more and more people are getting interested in this. So we definitely see the tide turning especially now with this. I call this dawn of this new era as more and more customers are contractors and integrators have become more IP, more more network proficient they are they’re finding new and exciting tools like this, and taking what we do and beyond and new applications.

Eric Stromquist 14:38
And I’ll give you another use case that because there was a company back remember Google Glasses, not nearly as cool as what you guys are doing. But there was a company in Tennessee that I interviewed and they did commercial but they also did residential. So they had two use cases. They had a guy that had been with him forever that couldn’t get around anymore. So he would sit in the office they you know He would talk to him. And they would just look at the Google Glasses and see what was what the other thing they used it for, which I think you could do with this too was the sales reps would be out. So their sales reps position on the residential side, but you could do it on commercial side, too, you know that you know that some be broke, you know, maybe the wife was at home and the husband was at work, or maybe the husband was at home and the wife was at work, but they needed to collaborate. So typically, what would happen is, one couldn’t make a decision without the other. So they would, you know, send a proposal, and then maybe it got shot. So what they would do with these glasses is they could immediately get on the phone with the other spouse if they didn’t make a decision. And let me show you what’s wrong. And what we’re gonna do. And then close more sales because of using using this technology, eliminating the lag for the decision makers. Sure.

Mike Mitchell 15:43
Here’s another good use case two is auditing, any kind of building auditing or anything like that energy, etc, when you need to have somebody on site physically present to do it, you can have a remote person done the goggles, they’re looking at all the systems, all the different details on that, but also have an app open at the same time following them around and you’ve got the one remote guy who knows his biz, who’s the actual meat and potatoes behind it. And he’s the one telling them where to go, what to look at, Okay, check this, check that Baba Baba. And then okay, under the next building, he does five or six buildings a day and he doesn’t have to travel and you get the noobs that are out on the site actually doing, you know, the walk around

Scott Cochrane 16:22
that whole vision. But the one that we ran, Mike ran into this, he got this feedback, when he put the he put the HoloLens on a on a salty technician, you know, like a guy that had been running that building for a long time. And that person was their first thought is, oh my gosh, guess what I can get digital information and use both hands at the same time now. So now think about that, about all the digital, all the digital stuff you do with your phone, or with your with your iPad, you know your device. Now you can do and keep both hands free. You can call you can call the office, you can get a spec sheet, you can pop up a wiring diagram, and you can do it all through voice activation, and just moving your hands you don’t even need to hold anything. So so the Tech of the future, forget about it. I mean, they’re going to be like, like freaking a superhero. Seriously, with all that information in there at their disposal and their hands are free. It’s a whole different way of doing doing technician stuff.

Eric Stromquist 17:23
For sure. This is already available, right you guys we

Scott Cochrane 17:27
have made it available to any of our anybody who’s using Niagara, we’ve created essentially a driver that allows you to bring the real time Niagara data into the HoloLens environment. And then we developed an app that sits inside the HoloLens that allows you to take the data from Niagara and share it with other apps within HoloLens. So if you have like a BIM model, or if you have other things that you don’t like Mike’s talking about this is what allows you to bring the real time data into that environment is what we wrote that that

Eric Stromquist 17:56
capability. So here we go guys, forget about digital twins. You guys got me? Yeah, pretty much. I do. Kudos, like I said, promise my audience I keep it not too long. But so needless to say, you will learn more about that. That’s one of the reasons you would be controlscan What else guys what else you guys got? That’s cool. Right off the bat.

Scott Cochrane 18:21
Eric, I think it’s probably one of the best bas trade shows that you can come to so so we have 30 plus vendors all will be bringing their latest and greatest and showing it on a on the essentially we take over the whole board room like this huge room at the Motor City. And along the outside wall are just all the different vendors and as you know, we Cochran supply I feel like we work with some of the best vendors in the industry. Like I said, they’re all going to be there so you can come to our controls con you can meet the vendors see what they have. You can network with others that are looking at you know that work with those vendors. So it’s an awesome opportunity to network learn more about the products available. And then with you know, we’re forecasting, you know, well over 500 customers in attendance in the industry, people certainly one of the best networking events you can come to, to meet others in our industry. We’re such a little eclectic group. It’s amazing. As, as a part of the industry where we bring people together, you guys, I can’t tell you like how funny it is how much people our industry we like to get together. This is a great place to do it at the Motor City.

Mike Mitchell 19:30
Here’s a shout out to all our integrators and all that if you want to meet the tech support guys, that you’ve been talking to submitting tickets and all that they’ll all be there as well. We’re gonna have our own booth and we’ll have a training booth next week too.

Eric Stromquist 19:40
Right? You guys do great training and you know, it’s gonna we hadn’t talked about that in a while. But I know you had a whole training center

Scott Cochrane 19:46
branches. Yeah, we make sure we have a good training center and in person trainings coming back, coming back, right, Mike? Mike runs our training.

Mike Mitchell 19:54
Yeah. I’m glad to see and

Scott Cochrane 19:57
all virtual you got for a couple years. With the uptick in in person is refreshing people were chomping

Mike Mitchell 20:02
at the bit to get back to this actually seeing each other and that too, there’s something to be said for being right there.

Eric Stromquist 20:08
Where there is well, there are some also to be said, you know, balancing analog with digital, you know, I’m a photographer, right? And you know, and everybody, most photographers shooting film again, right? There’s just, you just have to, it makes you think differently and act differently. And I think my guess is Mike, you probably are vinyl guy. I’m guessing you gotta turn tables. You run out did you know I can do?

Mike Mitchell 20:30
Between me and Joe, my brother?

Eric Stromquist 20:32
Yep. Hey, Mike, can you get those fancy goggles on me? I mean, can you show us some video or something like that?

Mike Mitchell 20:37
Yeah, sure. Sounds good. Sounds good. Let me let me bring it up here. First things I’ll show you is we’ve got an application log. It shows some of the detailed information about our connectivity between the HoloLens and the Niagra. Four platform. We’re running it on our OT network here as a web supervisor, different scans that has been made with with LiDAR, and it’s does texture mapping as well. So you’re actually seeing me walking in our cafeteria. But looking at a mechanical room and stepping through it and seeing all the piping, we’re seeing all the pumps there. We’re seeing, you know, expansion tanks, control panels, VFDs. And then we also bring into this our QR codes, as well that identify particular pieces of equipment. And you can look at those and it brings up even more information about them.

Eric Stromquist 21:24
So you get like a punch list or something, right? Yeah, you’ll get

Mike Mitchell 21:27
the actual equipment, you can see small scale versions of the actual equipment and manipulate those to see how the you know how the schematics and everything lays together, detail points panels on those, and then actually see it in real time space to in life where the equipment is

Eric Stromquist 21:42
so cool, Mike. So hey, listen, could you maybe walk outside and you know, we have one of the local bars or something? So cool, guys. So the one thing I know about you, Scott, and Mike, too, is you guys are standing still, like I said, People now are just getting to the Microverse as I like to call it not the metaverse but the Microverse What do you see next?

Scott Cochrane 22:02
Well, I see a whole industry built around cybersecurity coming up here real soon, Eric, our industry’s got a big problem. You know, when we when we when we figured out how to connect our, you know, the buildings to the Internet through a network and owners network. We all did it. And we left ourselves in a real precarious situation now, because we have all this gear on owners business networks. And and we’re going to need to fix that pretty quick. And so I see, I see our industry, the BAS industry shifting into a into a cybersecurity mode where we’re really, we’re not just designing bas systems to work or to move data, but to also be cybersecurity at the same time

Mike Mitchell 22:50
to and the simplification of the implementation of those kinds of systems as well secure by default, you know, that’s been a big thing with Niagara now, lately, and that’s that I think is going to proliferate through through a lot of people’s gear, making it easy for those integrators to make it a secure system. And they don’t have to worry about a thing. They just install it. They’re regular things that they do throughout the day to get that thing implemented. And it’s already secure. I’ve heard a rumor

Eric Stromquist 23:15
and you might not be able to devote just but Scott This is about Mike his alter ego is actually the Kiana Neo character Neo and I understand that you know your version and making it simplified and Mike would be your character go through this little glasses a years with this little gun and goes into the cybersecurity matrix and you actually just kill the bad guys so I can you can make a movie out of it right is is that it’s

Scott Cochrane 23:39
been known to do some cybersecurity assessments of some of the existing bas systems. And yes, Eric it kind of sounds like what you just described.

Eric Stromquist 23:47
Guys, I tell you what the place to be is gonna be Detroit April 26 through the 28th Lots of good stuff going on from pre con over 30 speakers. Mike’s got his goggles on he might even let you wear a pair and see what that’s like I’m assuming they there’s still a few spots left right

Scott Cochrane 24:03
where we sold out all the vendors spots so he apologized any vendors who didn’t make it but we were limited spots there but no we’re still accepting attendees but but we are running out of room they have wrapped us we do plan on hitting it so if you plan on registering please do so as soon as possible so you can be a part of it.

Eric Stromquist 24:22
Put a link in the show notes us click that go right there guys. Thank you so much for taking our community. Okay, there you got us another week on control talk now your smart buildings video cast and podcast. Very special thanks to our two AI guest, Alex and Kayla, and of course, Scott Cochran and I guess the one and only Commander Mike Mitchell. Alright, have a we have a great week. Remember, be bold, stay in control. stay relevant, as Hunter Thompson used to say buy the ticket. Take

Mike Mitchell 24:55
me upside down when I say So

Unknown Speaker 25:07
sorry, I’m sorry, I’m losing all my focus. And he’s in control there, you know, the golden baby gammy Hi


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