ACS Buildings: Enabling great places to learn, work and play

Making buildings healthier, more sustainable and comfortable at the same time, through a unique combination of building management expertise and ICT. ACS co-founder Guido Bartelink discusses joining CES Las Vegas, projects he’s particularly proud of, challenges and exciting future plans. 

The company was founded by Guido Bartelink and Sietse Damstra in 2013, and focuses on increasing sustainability in construction processes. ACS developed a cloud based building management system, which enables the central control of all installations present within a building. ACS uses smart software based on big data and Artificial Intelligence and with the help of software, sensors and hardware, buildings become increasingly 'smart' and can save a considerable amount of energy.

How did things start?

“ACS actually started as a joint venture with Bosch, originally centered around an invention called BaOpt, which is a completely different way to control an indoor climate. The simplest way to explain it is using the natural aircurrents in a building to control temperature and CO2 levels. From there we, took the development further and created ACS.  Technically, we’re no longer a startup, because we’ve been developing our products for about 5 years and launched about 3 years ago.”

“We moved to Groningen, which was a very deliberate choice. Our sales department is located in the city of Groningen and our R&D and development happens in Leens, to the north, in the former earthquake zone. With all the pilot programs there, like the 5G field lab, we feel right at home.” 

What makes ACS unique?

“We are experts in two things: IT and buildings. And at the intersection of the two is our company. The core of our philosophy is that we work entirely from data. By structurally collecting and storing data, we lay the foundation for optimizing a building in terms of comfort, energy and health.

“We use techniques from IT (Big Data and A.I.) and telecom (Haystack) to create detailed insights into the installations in a building and then improve them. The funny thing is that we think it’s very normal to be able to contact a cell phone on the other side of the world within a few seconds, but have no insights at all in the different components of an installation in a building. That can and should be done differently and better. So that's our thing. And with our systems, we want to lead the way worldwide.”

What’s been the biggest challenge?

“The construction world is very conservative, with a lot of standardized, go-to solutions when it comes to buildings. So in other words, it’s not easy to convince construction companies or real estate developers to do something different or new.  They would rather go for the ‘safer’ option of doing something they already know how to do, but of course that doesn’t help if you want buildings to be more sustainable or comfortable in terms of indoor climate. So our projects are our ambassadors in that sense, because it’s really something you have to experience for yourself.”

Any projects you’ve done so far that you’re particularly proud of?

“We’ve done about 200 projects already, but two that I’m particularly proud of would be the City Theatre in Groningen and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden. In a theater, the primary concern is that visitors experience a performance in the best possible way. Air quality plays a major role in this. It shouldn't be stuffy at the top of the stands for example, and visitors sitting lower down shouldn't experience any draughts. And for our Ikea project in Orleans, France, for example, by creating a comfortable air circulation, we helped them save about 28% on gas for heating and a whopping 70% on energy consumption, by making the fans run independently of each other. That was far more than we predicted with our calculations and just amazing results.”

“As for the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, exhibiting and experiencing the fragile collections requires a very well controlled indoor climate. In rooms containing dinosaur skeletons, for example, climate class A is an absolute requirement. And the large fluctuation in the number of visitors in the building made it a pretty big challenge. We’ve made sure there’s a homogeneous distribution of air, so the temperature in the rooms remains constant. This also ensures a pleasant environment for visitors.”

 You also joined CES Las Vegas this year. What was that like?

“It’s one of the biggest trade shows in the world, so that was really great to experience, even though it wasn’t a physical event this year. The fact that this edition was purely digital was actually great for us, because normally it would probably have been too expensive for us. We didn’t get our own booth or anything, we just went there to make new contacts and see if we could learn something new.”

Biggest take-aways? 

We met with a company from Silicon Valley, who are doing similar things, which was a great learning experience. The market for products like ours is really growing in the US, but the biggest take-away for us I think, is changing how we talk about our products. Americans like the bigger story of course, but that made us realize we were being far too humble. The 40% savings is something we should be shouting from the rooftops. As a company of passionate nerds, we tend to talk more about the technology, haha. Another thing I really didn’t expect, was meeting a lot of companies from the Northern Netherlands there too. It’s great to locally connect through an international event”

What will the coming years be like for ACS?

We’re working on a couple of things that I’m really excited about. The first is extending the Digital Twin we make standard in our projects with a Neural Twin: a self learning optimization program. Simply put, it allows us to make an exact digital copy of a building and its indoor climate, which means that you can train an A.I. algorithm to become even better at making predictions, for individual buildings, but also a group of buildings or even a city.”

“Another thing I really care about is sustainable food production, which is becoming more important than ever. If you can make agriculture and use of land more efficient, or increase the yield from existing crops for example, that will really help in the fight against climate change. So we’re currently looking at ways to use our technology in greenhouses, to help optimize the indoor climate, which will not only make these greenhouses become more sustainable, but also enable them to grow more food than they normally would.”