This week Cisco Systems cut the ribbon on its Toronto Innovation Center — a place where developers and tech professionals can come together to integrate different building technologies in order to produce more efficient and sustainable building systems. To the casual observer, the innovation center looks like a small conference room with a handful of different electrical components and touchscreens attached to a pegboard wall. But in reality, the room is a working laboratory where Cisco, along with other technology companies, experiment with intelligent building systems.

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Traditional buildings have several different systems – electrical, HVAC, lighting, AV and blinds – that all work independently, which often leads to inefficiencies. Integrating these systems enables homeowners and commercial building owners to save energy (and money), to reduce water waste, and to interface with homes and offices in new ways. Some of the systems currently in development at Cisco’s Toronto Innovation Center include sensors that automatically close windows when it rains; integration of door locks and lights with motion sensors; providing controls for lighting, blinds and AV on phones, touch screens and TVs.

“Just as we see technology have large-scale impacts on large projects, we see technology have an impact on the home,” explained  Ron Gordon from Cisco Canada. Integrating different systems in the home doesn’t just change the way you interact with your home — it gives you a more effective way to monitor your energy usage, and to cut down on waste.

The launch of the Innovation Center coincides with Cisco’s Smart+Connected Communities initiative, which seeks to help governments and private partners to develop more efficient systems. The Innovation Center is useful because it gives builders a place to test out scalable systems before actually implementing them in new buildings. “Everything works on Powerpoint,” says Nolan Evans of FlexIT Solutions. “But you need to see if it actually works.” Some of the technologies that are currently being tested at the Cisco Toronto office include the integration of lighting and temperature controls, blinds, and door locks on a VoIP phone system, HVAC and water use monitoring, and a touch-screen map of the NYC subway system that enables visitors to find cultural attractions in relation to subway stops.

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