posted 3.03.2020

Celebrating open standards: KNX at 30

The world’s only smart control standard for residential and commercial buildings is in better shape than ever.

Nelson Mandela’s release from jail in South Africa. The unification of East and West Germany. The launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. Alongside other dramatic events in 1990, the quiet debut of KNX scarcely warrants mention.

But over the last three decades, the lingua franca of intelligent control and automation systems has transformed the possibilities for interacting with our built environment.

KNX builds on three earlier automation and control standards – the European Home Systems Protocol (EHS), BatiBus and the European Installation Bus (EIB or Instabus)

 Over the years we’ve seen countless building management and control platforms come and go. Many of them focus on just one functional aspect such as lighting or security. They’re frequently proprietary, only talking to devices from one manufacturer. And the other limitation of a proprietary approach, of course, is the risk of obsolescence if a provider goes out of the business or simply chooses not to support that platform any further.

In contrast KNX is the world’s only genuinely open and robust standard for building control and automation. It’s unquestionably been the catalyst for today’s smarter, greener buildings. And it’s made virtually every marine, residential and commercial AV project I’ve been involved with since the 90’s quicker and easier to deliver.

At its heart the KNX story is all about interoperability. There’s massive worldwide support for this truly open standard, with thousands of compliant products and solutions available from more than 500 vendors.

If there’s a problem with a KNX dimmer, switch or thermostat on board a superyacht from a European shipyard, a compatible replacement component is always readily to hand from a multitude of suppliers, whether the vessel’s berthed in the US or the Far East.

This vibrant KNX ecosystem has also contributed to the standard’s enormous popularity for small and large projects alike – from private music studios and home cinemas to museums, hospitals and hotels, civic buildings and transportation hubs.

From a designer’s perspective there’s a lot more to love about KNX. It’s a bus-based system, requiring less cable pulling when a homeowner wants to add another lighting dimmer, switch or heating control. It’s refreshingly easy to reconfigure the system as your client’s needs evolve, taking just minutes to plug in a laptop and blow some new code into your devices.

Flexibility, security, scalability and future-proofing aside, a fundamental advantage of KNX lies in its original concept as a distributed system. This topological approach has much in common with today’s edge computing paradigm, where there’s embedded intelligence inside each essentially autonomous node on the network. There’s no single point of failure, so individual subsystems for lighting, blinds and shutters, HVAC and energy management, entertainment, security and access control can continue running quite happily if there’s a problem elsewhere. And it’s this intrinsic robustness that makes KNX hugely appealing to large scale system designers.

If you want to get down to the nitty-gritty, the real beauty of KNX is its ability to orchestrate the whole vertical ‘stack’ of control layers in any residential or commercial development. At the lowest level, building management systems, aircon, under-floor heating and similar services run on BACnet and a series of proprietary protocols. At the next level up security, communications, alarms and monitoring systems run as IP traffic. And then at a higher level still there are human interfaces that allow real people to monitor and provide control inputs to the entire stack.

KNX plays nicely with all these elements, providing sensor inputs, user inputs, device mediation and logical control as well as monitoring the resultant output.

KNX is the only global standard for building control with a complete set of supported communication media

KNX is everywhere. Here in the UK you’ll find it at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2, building on its successful deployment at Terminal 5. Other high-profile sites include the British Library, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and Dublin’s O2. It’s also in the University of Leicester Medical Centre… at a massive 12,800 square metres the UK’s largest non-residential installation yet.

Worldwide, the footprint of KNX across 190 countries consolidates the claim of this inspiring technology – a very youthful 30-year-old – as the most popular and enduring building management standard ever.