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Intelligent Building Agents Project


Achieving national goals of net zero energy buildings requires substantial reduction in the energy consumption of commercial building systems. Although significant progress has been made in the integration of building control systems through the development of standard communication protocols, such as BACnet and BACnet/IP, little progress has been made in making them “intelligent” about optimizing building system-level performance. The focus of this project is to demonstrate the potential for distributed, intelligent software agents to perform this optimization and to develop a research infrastructure suitable for development and testing of advanced agent-base optimization techniques that can improve the energy and comfort performance of building systems.


Objective:  To demonstrate the feasibility of intelligent agent control techniques for reducing energy consumption in commercial buildings by optimizing the performance of interacting building systems and to create a research infrastructure suitable for ongoing development and testing of advanced agent-base optimization techniques by 2014.

What is the new technical idea?  The new technical idea is to adapt advances in intelligent agent technology to solve the control optimization problem.  Intelligent agents have been successfully implemented in a variety of applications, including search engines and robotic systems, and a considerable amount of information already exists in the artificial intelligence community on different agent architectures (e.g., deliberating, reactive, and hybrid), agent design and implementation, and agent programming. Intelligent agents know or can learn the performance and status of the systems and equipment they monitor and can communicate and collaborate with other agents to achieve a common goal, such as minimizing energy consumption and/or cost of operation, maximizing comfort, identifying and diagnosing problems, etc.  Intelligent agents make it possible to solve the problem of building system optimization in a “distributed manner” which greatly simplifies the computational methods required. Developing intelligent agent technology for this application will require a combination of simulation and prototyping tools along with laboratory facilities utilizing real mechanical systems that can be operated in a reproducible but realistic manner to test agent performance.

What is the research plan? An intelligent building agent simulation program (IBAS) has been developed and used to evaluate some prototype intelligent agents for their suitability to optimize the performance of building systems. The results to date demonstrate that intelligent agents have the potential to solve the optimization problem for building systems and also to be used for automated fault detection and diagnostics. A collaboration has been established with university researchers to explore technology options for a second generation IBAS platform with more flexibility and capability based on lessons learned from the first generation. A second university collaboration has been established to significantly improve the numerical stability and utility of the NIST- developed simulation program HVACSIM+ by adding a capability to dynamically switch solver routines depending on the problem presented. In FY2014 these  collaborations will continue and will result in a set of software tools for rapid prototyping and initial testing of agent- based optimizations.

In parallel with the development of these software tools, a new laboratory is being designed and constructed that will enable research on intelligent agent control of a mixed system of chillers, boilers, and air distribution components under realistic and reproducible operating conditions. The detailed design of this laboratory will be complete in FY 2013 and the construction will be completed in FY 2014.

This project will result in some candidate agent-based optimization techniques and a rich set of software tools and laboratory facilities for additional research and development. Experiences gained from this project will provide the basis for a follow-on project to further develop and rigorously test intelligent building agents under more realistic conditions for a wide range of equipment types. This is expected to involve CRADAs with control system manufactures to further developed and begin field testing of intelligent agent systems and speed commercialization of the technology. Lessons learned from this research will also enable development of draft specifications for several intelligent building agents (e.g., an Air Handling Unit agent, a Chiller agent), including a list of functions to be included in each agent, technical design features, software architecture, and methods for system identification, communication, and negotiation among agents. NIST will work with standards writing organizations, such as ASHRAE, to develop guidelines and/or standards based on these specifications to facilitate the implementation of intelligent agents in building control applications.

Major Accomplishments:

Potential Research Impact:

  • Kelley, G.E. Bushby, S.T. "Are Intelligent Agents the Key to Optimizing Building HVAC System Performance?, HVAC&R Research, Vol. 18, Issue 4, 750-759, 2012.

Improved Energy Efficiency of Operations:

  • Prototype intelligent building agent simulation tool completed. This tool will be used by researchers to explore the potential impact of this emerging technology. (FY 2011)
hi-tech Building

Start Date:

October 1, 2011

Lead Organizational Unit:


Facilities/Tools Used:

Virtual Cybernetic Building Testbed


Project Leader:  Steven T. Bushby

Associate Project Leader:  Dr. Amanda Pertzborn


General Information:
Steven T. Bushby, Program Leader
301-975-5873 Telephone

100 Bureau Drive, M/S 8631
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8631