What is MicroSCADA Pro doing in an art gallery?

Bringing light to the enlightenment

ABB device management isn’t just about substations and safety systems, these days MicroSCADA Pro can turn up anywhere – even the Kiasma museum of modern art in Helsinki.

Kiasma deployed an ABB software based solution to manage its lighting, which has to illuminate more than 8,000 art works across 9,000 square meters. The whole system was up for renewal, so a KNX-based lighting network was fitted and is now managed with a custom-designed interface atop ABB’s MicroSCADA Pro platform.

MicroSCADA Pro can automate lighting controls, but more importantly a curator (equipped with a wireless laptop) can instantly change the illumination of a gallery, or a single spotlight, to ensure the displayed work is shown off in the best possible light.

Home automation enthusiasts have been doing this kind of thing since the 70s, using the archaic X10 standard, which is good enough to dim the lights and kick in the Tom Jones on command, most of the time, but for commercial use the KNX standard is preferred, and that’s what Kiasma has deployed.

KNX, properly known as EN50090 or ISO/IEC14543, is an international standard for system automation. It uses wires to carry power and commands to relays and switches to control the lights and other devices. The relays then switch mains voltage on, and off, as required, and report back on environmental changes.

Commands (“telegrams” in KNX speak) are sent over the wires, with up to 64 devices in a single network. Up to 15 networks can be connected into “areas”, and 15 areas can be backboned together, potentially giving a single MicroSCADA Pro system control over 14,400 devices, though that would be a monumental system.

The MicroSCADA Pro connects to the KNX control bus via an IP gateway, which provides the simplicity of ABB’s MicroSCADA interface to custom deployments.

But that’s all hardware. Once fitted, it’s very easy for an operator to tweak the detail of a lighting scheme to the needs of even the most demanding artist. ABB’s MicroSCADA Pro conceals the complexity of the network behind menus and commands designed in conjunction with the museum, so the curators can concentrate on making things look good while the software keeps track of how they did it.

ABB has supplied similar systems to airports, and the nearby Helsinki Music Hall, but those environments aren’t so capricious and its the flexibility of the Kiasma installation that makes it such an interesting one.

The Internet of Things is bringing intelligence to everything from door locks to running socks, and as embedded computing gets cheaper, and smaller, we’re on the verge of an explosion in intellect, which will see our pacemakers talking to our percolators.

ABB’s MicroSCADA Pro was designed to gather information from sensors and present it so the user could act in response. The software doesn’t care if the information comes from a Chilean mine or a Finnish art gallery; the interface might be different but the core operation of interfacing between the human and the interconnected intelligence remains the same, and is going to be increasingly in demand as the world around us becomes a world of responsive things.


Image credit: Dalbera via Flickr, under a Creative Commons license

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About the author

Bill Ray

Bill Ray is an engineer turned scribe, now working for ABB as a Technical Writer. He previously worked for the scurrilous internet rag The Register, prior to which he made phones, at O2, and set-top boxes, at Cable & Wireless. He's authored two technical books on Java and now spends most of his time trying to understand the power business.
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